An international think tank urged the new leadership of gas-rich Turkmenistan on Tuesday to renounce former dictator Saparmurat Niyazov's iron-fisted rule, and described a vote for his successor as a "blatantly falsified election."
The election commission, meanwhile, was finishing the vote count after Sunday's balloting to determine the Central Asian nation's new leader. Deputy Prime Minister Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov was widely expected to replace Niyazov, who died on Dec. 21 after two decades of autocratic rule.
It was not clear if the election commission would announce preliminary results after meeting Tuesday, or do it Wednesday at a session of the People's Council - the highest legislative body.
The International Crisis Group think tank urged the international community to press Turkmenistan's incoming leader "to reverse Niyazov's most egregious policies and improve human rights."
Berdymukhamedov has startled observers with pledges of social reform inside tightly governed Turkmenistan, including lifting restrictions on Internet access, boosting entrepreneurship, and widening educational opportunities, the AP reports.
"It is uncertain whether promised reforms are anything more than election demagoguery," said ICC's Central Asia project director Michael Hall in a statement received Tuesday.
"The new leadership does seem to recognize the self-destructive path Niyazov's policies put the country on, but beginning the post-Niyazov era with a blatantly falsified election is not an encouraging sign," Hall said.
The United Democratic Opposition of Turkmenistan, representing several opposition groups whose leaders live in exile, has said it will not recognize the results of the vote, calling it illegal and undemocratic.
Sunday's vote was not monitored by foreign observers, and many foreign journalists were denied visas to cover it.
The state-run Turkmen Dovlet Habarlary news agency on Tuesday called the election the beginning of a new stage "of fundamental social and economic reforms."
Goran Lennmarker, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's parliamentary assembly chairman, on Monday described the country's first pluralistic presidential election as a first step in developing Turkmenistan's democracy, the AP reports.
Turkmenistan is of substantial interest to Russia and the West because of its enormous natural gas reserves - and its status as a stable, neutral country bordering Iran and Afghanistan.