March 23, 2018 / 3:03 PM / 4 months ago

Turkmen election may become step in succession plan

ALMATY, March 23 (Reuters) - Turkmenistan will vote in a parliamentary election on Sunday which may give President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s son a more prominent role and cement his status as a designated successor in the gas-rich Central Asian nation.

All three parties in the election support Berdymukhamedov, 60, who has run the former Soviet republic since 2007 tolerating no dissent and the 125-seat parliament mainly rubber-stamps laws proposed by the president who is also the head of cabinet.

However, the upcoming election may prompt a reshuffle among senior MPs and ultimately give Serdar Berdymukhamedov, the president’s only son, a bigger role, possibly that of speaker or deputy speaker.

Serdar Berdymukhamedov, 36, became a parliament deputy in a by-election in 2016 after holding several mid-level government jobs.

Since then, he has become a committee head and made a number of foreign visits, including one to neighbouring Kazakhstan this month which underscored his special status.

Under the Turkmen constituion, the speaker becomes acting president if the head of state becomes unable to carry out his work.

Serdar Berdymukhamedov has trained as agricultural engineer and later studied diplomacy in Russia and Switzerland, skills which he put to use during his work at the foreign ministry.

His father is the centre of an elaborate personality cult and is commonly referred to as Arkadag, or protector, who in official parlance is overseeing an “era of might and happiness”.

Turkmenistan’s economy depends heavily on exports of natural gas and came under stress after Russia, once the biggest buyer, halted all purchases of Turkmen gas in 2016.

Its main customer now is China and the Ashgabat government is building a new pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistan and China in an attempt to open up new export markets.

For ordinary Turkmens, lower export revenues have manifested themselves in foreign currency shortages and foreign exchange restrictions. The black market flourished as a result, where the Turkmen manat currency trades at less than a third of its official value. (Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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