Turkmenistan parliamentary vote spotlights president's son

Ashgabat (Turkmenistan) (AFP) –


Voting was underway in Turkmenistan Sunday in a parliamentary election which could indicate a path towards hereditary succession in the authoritarian, gas-rich former Soviet state.

Polls in the Central Asian country opened at 0200 GMT and were set to close at 1400 GMT.

A total of 284 candidates are competing for 125 seats in parliament, but only one stands out from the crowd -- Serdar Berdymukhamedov, son of all-powerful President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.

Serdar Berdymukhamedov, 36, is defending a seat in the Akhal region just outside the capital Ashgabat and is almost certain to win by a big margin.

His opponent is 53-year-old school official Olgudzheren Gurdova.

There is no recognised institution of political opposition in tightly-controlled Turkmenistan, which has never had an election deemed free or fair by Western vote monitors.

Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov won a third term effectively unopposed in a presidential vote in February last year with a crushing landslide of more than 97 percent.

According to the constitution, which was amended in 2016 to strip away the upper age limit for presidential candidates and extend terms from five to seven years, the president heads both the state and the government.

In the event the president is unable to fulfil duties, they fall on the speaker of the parliament.

Serdar Berdymukhamedov's elevation to the legislature in a by-election just months before his father's 2017 victory raised eyebrows in Turkmenistan where little is known about the president's relatives.

It also fuelled speculation among observers of the country that he might soon become the assembly's speaker.

Earlier this month he was part of a Turkmen delegation to neighbouring Kazakhstan, where he was photographed meeting Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The delegation was led by the parliament's current speaker Akja Nuberdiyeva, 60, who has served since Berdymukhamedov came to power following predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov's death in 2006 and is eligible for retirement.

According to his official biography released for the first time earlier this month, the younger Berdymukhamedov worked in the state oil and gas sector, the foreign ministry and as an advisor to the country's United Nations mission in Geneva before taking up his parliamentary seat.

Niyazov, Turkmenistan's first president after independence from Moscow in 1991 was not known to promote relatives to senior political positions.

Like his hardline predecessor, who styled himself "Father of the Turkmen", Berdymukhamedov is the beneficiary of an all-encompassing leadership cult that has seen both men honoured by golden statues in Ashgabat.