Portugal Colonial - Turkmenistan leader's son to run for president

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Turkmenistan leader's son to run for president
Turkmenistan leader's son to run for president

Turkmenistan leader's son to run for president

The son of Turkmenistan's leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has been nominated to run for president next month, state media said Monday, after the autocrat said he would step down and authorities called a snap vote.

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"At the extraordinary congress of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan held in Ashgabat, the deputy chairman of the cabinet of ministers of the country, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, was nominated as a presidential candidate," the state television announcer said.

The Central Asian country on the Caspian Sea is one of the world's most repressive, secretive states and little is known about how the regime makes day-to-day decisions. The country has never held a competitive vote, and the younger Berdymukhamedov will almost certainly face no real opponents in the snap March 12 vote.

The gas-rich former Soviet republic has no free media, honours its authoritarian leaders with ostentatious gold statues and has not admitted any coronavirus cases since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Berdymukhamedov senior, the current president, chair of the cabinet and senate chief, has been the regime's decision-maker for the last 15 years.

In a historic speech in parliament on Friday, 64-year-old Berdymukhamedov said he had reached "a difficult decision" about his leadership because of his age. The country needed "young leaders", he added.

The expected father-to-son leadership transition would be the first of its kind in ex-Soviet Central Asia, a largely unfree, corruption-prone region that also includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The move comes after unprecedented violence in neighbouring Kazakhstan, left more than 200 dead, a crisis effectively ended the political career of Nursultan Nazarbayev. The 81-year-old strongman had remained powerful even after allowing a hand-picked successor to replace him as Kazakh president in 2019.

Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has said he wishes to remain in politics in his role as chairman of the Turkmen parliament's upper chamber.

- Rapid rise -

Berdymukhamedov junior is currently the second most powerful official, with broad influence over the economy as deputy chair of the cabinet. Having turned 40 last year, he is now eligible to run for president.

The state television announcer said that after Berdymukhamedov had delivered a speech to the congress, delegates had unanimously backed his candidacy for the presidency.

Last year Serdar Berdymukhamedov boosted his international profile with a four-day trip to Russia and by holding talks in the capital Ashgabat with Wang Yi, the foreign minister of Turkmenistan's top trade partner China.

His exposure on state media began to grow after he won a parliamentary seat in 2016. He retained his seat in 2018, winning 91 percent of the vote, recalling the crushing national poll victories of his father, who tolerates no dissent.

In 2021, Serdar Berdymukhamedov rose to the rank of vice premier in the cabinet headed by his father and gained a seat on the powerful security council.

He was also appointed the nation's auditor-general -- a role that allows him to oversee government spending.

- Economic challenges -

His father -- a keen equestrian -- is honoured with a golden statue in central Ashgabat, which shows him on horseback, with a dove perched on his hand.

A former dentist and health minister, Berdymukhamedov succeeded the country's founding president Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006 after his death, and recast his predecessor's extravagant leadership cult in his own image.

While government figures paint a picture of robust economic growth, rights groups have sounded the alarm over shortages of affordable food in the country of six million where the population has almost no access to foreign currency.

In 2015, authorities devalued the manat currency by a fifth under pressure from tumbling oil prices and the dollar's black market value is currently six times the official rate.

Turkmenistan's gas reserves are the fourth-largest in the world but limited pipeline infrastructure and a lack of economic diversification has left the economy vulnerable to external shocks.

If Turkmenistan was once almost wholly reliant on Russian demand for its natural gas, that role has fallen in the past decade to China, which now accounts for at least three-quarters of exports.