Low voter turnout prompts Turkmen embassy in Belarus to forcibly summon students

As the polls were closing at the Turkmen embassy in Belarus on the day of Turkmenistan’s parliamentary elections, only a few students had turned up to vote. The low turnout prompted the embassy staff to call up the deans of universities in Minsk attended by Turkmen students to “urgently send them to vote.” The diplomatic staff said the students would otherwise face “severe repercussions.”

“Late in the afternoon, all Turkmen students were called to assemble in the hall through the loudspeaker in our dormitory,” an ATN source at a university in Minsk said. “When we went downstairs, they told us to go immediately to the embassy and cast our vote for the elections, ‘otherwise there would be consequences’, he said.”

Most students scoffed and preferred to spend their Sunday evening by themselves. Only a handful decided to go to the polls.

Students who went to vote said that there were only 5-6 people at most in the embassy, which was the only polling station in Belarus.

“At the entrance, we were carefully searched, they took away our phones and cameras, so that we wouldn’t be able to record what happens inside the embassy. There has been a scandal recently, with some of our students underperforming at university,” a student at the Belarus State Medical University said in an interview.

Stacks of ballots were lying in the polling booth, the source said. It could have been possible to fill in 20 of them at once and just stuff them in the ballot box.

“At first I thought it was just a mishap, that embassy staff had forgotten them there, but a friend who voted in another booth said there was a stack of ballots there as well,” he said.

There were three candidates on the ballot, two women and one man. None of the sources interviewed by ATN could remember the last names of the candidates.

The turnout reached 91.7 percent in Turkmenistan, according to official data. The TDH state news agency said that over 16,000 Turkmens voted in polling stations abroad. Around 8,000 Turkmen citizens study in Belarus.

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