Turkmenistan will hold snap presidential elections after the country’s authoritarian leader announced he is ready to relinquish power to a new generation.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s statement that the country should be directed by younger people appeared to suggest that his son Serdar would succeed him; the son has risen through a series of increasingly prominent government posts and is now the deputy chairman of the Cabinet
The presidential election is to be held on March 12, the parliament declared on Saturday.
No election in post-Soviet Turkmenistan has been considered genuinely competitive. While eight candidates ran against Berdymukhamedov in the last election in 2017, all expressed support for his government and Berdymukhamedov tallied more than 97% of the vote.
Berdymukhamedov came to power in 2006 after the death of the eccentric Saparmurat Niyazov and he established a pervasive cult of personality similar to his predecessor’s. Under his rule, the country has remained difficult for outsiders to enter and Turkmenistan has not reported any cases of infection in the coronavirus pandemic.
It also has struggled to diversify its economy, which is overwhelmingly dependent on its vast natural gas reserves.
The 64-year-old Berdymukhamedov cultivates an image of robust and aggressive health with media stunts that included his firing a pistol at a man-sized target while riding a bicycle and hoisting a gold weightlifting bar, to the applause of his Cabinet.
Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this story.