Turkmenistan dictator's 40-year-old son Berdymukhamedov wins presidential election

Turkmenistan dictator's 40-year-old son Berdymukhamedov wins presidential election

Agency Report

The son of Turkmenistan's autocratic leader won presidential elections, officials said Tuesday, paving the way for hereditary succession in one of the world's most tightly controlled countries.

Serdar Berdymukhamedov, 40, won last Saturday's ballot with 73 percent of the vote, election officials in the former Soviet Central Asian country said, beating eight other candidates.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was among world leaders to congratulate the candidate shortly after the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) announced the results.

Few in the isolated country of six million people had doubted that Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's only son Serdar would win the vote.

Berdymukhamedov senior, who is now Turkmenistan's outgoing president, chair of the cabinet and senate chief, has been the regime's top decision-maker for 15 years.

The strongman known as the gas-rich country's "protector" has dominated public life since the country's founding president, Saparmurat Niyazov, died in 2006.

He tolerates no dissent.

Last month Berdymukhamedov said he would step aside and allow "young leaders" to govern, triggering a snap vote.

In the end Berdymukhamedov junior obtained a victory margin far lower than the 98- and 97-percent routs posted by his 64-year-old father in the hermit state's previous two elections.

Putin telephoned Berdymukhamedov senior first, who passed the telephone to Serdar to receive the Kremlin chief's congratulations on "a convincing victory", Turkmenistan's state information agency TDH reported.

TDH said Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan also phoned in congratulations, as did the leaders of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- the other four former Soviet states in Central Asia.

The elder Berdymukhamedov informed the leaders that he "intends to continue his active work in a new capacity", as chairman of Turkmenistan's senate, the agency added.

Maisa Mollayeva, a 42-year-old saleswoman at the central market in the capital Ashgabat, said news of Berdymukhamedov's victory was far from a surprise.

"He didn't enter the election to lose," Mollayeva said, smiling. "Most important is that the new president improves the lives of ordinary people, stabilises food prices and provides jobs," Mollayeva added.

- No change to neutrality -

One thing that is unlikely to change is the republic's neutral status in international affairs.

Serdar Berdymukhamedov told journalists last Saturday that status would remain if he won because it "allows Turkmenistan to develop fully-fledged relations with all states".

The country that honours its leaders with ostentatious gold statues remains strongly dependent on China, which dominates purchases of its natural gas, leaving the undiversified economy vulnerable to external shocks.

Smaller volumes purchased by Russia's Gazprom, meanwhile, could be threatened by the impact of sanctions targeting Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine -- a conflict that Turkmen state media have all but ignored.

The country has also not admitted any coronavirus cases since the outbreak of the pandemic.

The now-confirmed father-son leadership transition will be the first of its kind in Central Asia, a largely unfree and corruption-prone region rich in commodities.

CEC officials in Turkmenistan took their time to announce the results of one of the world's most predictable elections, which saw Berdymukhamedov face off against relatively unknown civil servants and provincial officials.

On Sunday, CEC's chairman Gulmyrat Myradov told journalists who had attended a press conference in expectation of hearing the results that the latter were being delayed due to "the need for a thorough count".

Across the Caspian Sea in the Caucasus region, Azerbaijan became the first former Soviet country to establish a dynasty, when President Ilham Aliyev took the helm upon father Heydar Aliyev's death in 2003.

Tajikistan, the ex-Soviet bloc's poorest successor state, is expected to follow a similar path.

Upper house head Rustam Emomali, 34, is in pole position to succeed veteran leader Emomali Rakhmon, 69, should Rakhmon retire or prove unable to fulfil his duties.

The younger Berdymukhamedov's inauguration is scheduled for next Saturday.

AFP

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