ASHGABAT Feb 12 Turkmen leader Kurbanguly
Berdymukhamedov is certain to secure a third term in office in
Sunday's presidential election, maintaining his grip on power in
the isolated gas-rich nation.
Berdymukhamedov, 59, has run the former Soviet republic of
five million people with an iron fist for a decade after
succeeding equally autocratic president-for-life Saparmurat
Niyazov who died in 2006.
Berdymukhamedov, a dentist by training, has kept in place
Niyazov's repressive political system which tolerates no
political opposition or public expressions of discontent, while
refocusing his predecessor's elaborate personality cult on
While Niyazov was known as Turkmenbashi, the head of all
Turkmen, Berdymukhamedov is often referred to as Arkadag, the
protector. Gilded statues of both leaders have been erected in
Ashgabat, the capital city.
Running against Berdymukhamedov are eight other candidates,
all of them either public servants, managers of state-owned
companies or nominees of political parties completely loyal to
the government. In the previous election in 2012,
Berdymukhamedov won 97 percent of the vote.
Last year, Turkmenistan amended its constitution in a way
that could allow Berdymukhamedov to stay in power indefinitely,
removing the 70-year age limit for presidential candidates and
extending the presidential term to seven years from five.
Also last year, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, the president's only
son who has previously kept a low public profile, became a
member of parliament after winning a by-election.
This consolidation of power has been taking place against a
background of slowing economic growth and shortages of foreign
currency due to Russia's decision to halt imports of Turkmen
gas, Ashgabat's main source of export revenue.
Moscow had long been the main buyer of Turkmen gas and sales
to China, although significant, have not completely offset the
loss of Russian money flows.
Faced with budget deficits after years of surpluses, the
authorities are considering scaling down a generous welfare
system which includes free gasoline rations.
Amid the gas row, Turkmenistan has also flatly rejected the
idea of Russia providing military assistance to the Central
Asian nations in the light of escalating violence in
neighbouring Afghanistan; it has also vehemently denied claims
of violent incidents at the Afghan border.
(Reporting by Marat Gurt; Additional reporting and writing by
Olzhas Auyezov in Almaty; Editing by Clelia Oziel)