Turkmenistan prepares for rubber-stamp election of president’s son
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s son, Serdar, 40, is expected to win out of the nine candidates taking part. Serdar became an MP in 2016 and has held numerous key roles since.
Berdymukhamedov, 64, who was has run the gas-rich dictatorship for 15 years, said last month that he would step aside for “younger leaders”.
He took power in 2006 after the death of Saparmurat Niyazov, renowned as one of world’s most eccentric leaders.
Niyazov ruled the sparsely populated country from 1985 until his death in 2006. He banned lip-syncing at public concerts and dogs from the capital, Ashgabat, because of their “unappealing odour”. He outlawed opera, ballet and circuses as “decidedly not Turkmen-like”.
He also purportedly banned beards, makeup for television presenters and gold teeth. Niyazov also told people to chew on bones instead and banned the Turkmen word for bread and renamed it gurbansoltan, after his mother.
The Turkmen state-controlled media has failed to cover Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the authorities play little role in global politics.
Serdar Berdymukhamedov is the youngest of the presidential candidates, who are mostly unknown civil servants.
“All [state] employees were strictly ordered by the authorities to cast their ballots on March 10 or 11. Those who can’t come to [vote early] must explain the reason to the authorities in written form,” a resident told Radio Free Europe this week.
The broadcaster said the websites for the Agrarian Party and the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, which both have nominated candidates in Saturday’s election, have uploaded nothing about their candidates or campaigns.
A Turkmen opposition website Chronicles of Turkmenistan, which is based overseas, described Serdar, who was deputy governor of Ahal province at the time, as like a despot-in-waiting. “His favourite expression when talking to subordinates was ‘I will wring your neck,’” the site claimed.
Serdar has held roles like deputy foreign minister, industry minister, deputy chair of the cabinet and a member of the security council. In November 2021 Berdymukhamedov placed his son in charge of the country’s oil and gas sector.
Ruslan Myatiev of the independent Turkmen.news website said constitutional changes promised by Berdymukhamedov may give greater powers to the legislature “in case something goes wrong with Serdar”.
Regular flights out of Turkmenistan were halted at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. Turkmenistan has not acknowledged a single coronavirus case and flights have not resumed.
Serdar Berdymukhamedov addresses the Cop26 climate conference last year in English. Picture credit: YouTube