Dynastic Succession Expected Following Elections in Turkmenistan

Dynastic Succession Expected Following Elections in Turkmenistan

The son of strongman ruler Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow is the projected winner of Turkmenistan's recent election. 

Citizens of Turkmenistan went to the polls on Saturday to choose the country’s next president as the government in Ashgabat prepares for the retirement of strongman ruler Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow. While the results have not yet been finalized, it is widely predicted that Berdimuhamedow’s son, Serdar Berdimuhamedow, will win—potentially establishing the first ruling dynasty in Central Asia since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The elder Berdimuhamedow, aged sixty-four, announced that he would not run for re-election in February, only weeks before the vote was scheduled to take place. Instead, he substituted his son, aged forty, who currently serves as Turkmenistan’s deputy prime minister. Eight other nominal candidates are on the ballot, including a deputy regional governor and a member of the National Council of Turkmenistan, the country’s parliament.

Once elected, Berdimuhamedow claimed in a televised speech that his main objective would be to “continue on the glorious path of development built during thirty years of independence and to successfully implement programs aimed to ensure a high level of social conditions for the people.” He also indicated that he would continue many of his father’s policies, including Turkmenistan’s strict neutrality in foreign affairs.

Berdimuhamedow also claimed that he would strive to diversify Turkmenistan’s economy, which is overwhelmingly dependent on natural gas exports. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia became the country’s largest export destination, although it has since been replaced by China.

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow came to power in Turkmenistan in 2006. His predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, had ruled the country since its independence from the Soviet Union and was known in the West for his totalitarian policies and personal eccentricity.

Berdimuhamedow has ruled in a similar fashion, establishing an elaborate cult of personality around himself and largely keeping the country closed off from the outside world. Alongside North Korea, Turkmenistan is one of only two countries to insist that it is totally free of COVID-19; as part of its treatment policy, the Turkmen government has banned face masks and the word “coronavirus.”

Turkmenistan is nominally a democracy, but it has been criticized by outside observers for lacking free media and a viable political opposition. In 2017, the year of the country’s last election, the elder Berdimuhamedow officially won with 97.69 percent of the vote.

Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters.