ASHGABAT, TURKMENISTAN (AFP) – Voting was underway in Turkmenistan yesterday for a tightly-controlled leadership election that is all but certain to yield ex-Soviet Central Asia’s first father-son succession.
Nine candidates are in the fray in the republic of six million people, but President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who tolerates no opposition and has dominated public life since the country’s founding president died in 2006, is not among them.
Berdymukhamedov senior signalled his decision to step aside last month and allow “young leaders” to govern.
The announcement has seen the role of victor-in-waiting fall to his son, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, 40, who has rapidly risen to the top of government.
A state television announcer confirming the beginning of voting at 7am yesterday said the elections showed “the irreversibility of the process of democratisation of modern Turkmen society”.
Polling stations that will close at 7pm were busy on a cloudy day in the capital Ashgabat, with young Turkmen wearing either suits with black ties or embroidered ankle-length red dresses chatting and giggling in the queues.
Gulya Agayeva, 20, told AFP she had been encouraged to vote by her teachers.
“They said it is our civic duty, that our future depends on our choice,” Agayeva said, confirming that she had cast her vote for Berdymukhamedov junior.
Officials contacted by AFP were unable to confirm when preliminary results would be announced.
An inauguration ceremony has been scheduled for March 19, state media said on Friday.
Berdymukhamedov senior, 64, benefits from a glitzy leadership cult that includes a golden statue of him on horseback and elicits comparisons to North Korea – a country that has already witnessed two hereditary successions.
Turkmen state television pays fawning tribute to his hobbies – horse riding, songwriting and rally car driving to name a few – and the so-called “protector” is a phenomenon on foreign social media, all of which are blocked.
The leader, who claims Turkmenistan has not suffered a single case of coronavirus, said last month that he wishes to remain in politics in his parallel role as chairman of the Parliament’s upper chamber.