Turkmenistan leader’s son wins presidential election

The election commission announces after an unusual delay that Serdar Berdymukhamedov secured nearly 73 percent of votes.

Serdar Berdymukhamedov claps at a press conference
Serdar Berdymukhamedov has risen through a series of increasingly prominent government posts [File: Alexander Vershinin/AP]

Turkmenistan authorities have said the son of the Central Asian country’s leader won the presidential election after an unusual vote-counting delay, establishing a political dynasty in one of the world’s most tightly controlled countries.

Serdar Berdymukhamedov, 40, secured 72.97 percent of votes in Saturday’s election to lead the gas-rich country and succeed his father Gurbanguly, the central election commission said on Tuesday.

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His nearest rival in a field of nine candidates was university official Khyrdyr Nunnayev, who won 11 percent.

There was an unexpected wait for the result, after authorities said on Sunday they needed more time to count the votes.

Central Election Commission (CEC) chairman Gulmyrat Myradov told reporters that votes were still being counted, including those from people living abroad, and that preliminary results would likely be reported on Monday.

Turkmenistan, an isolated country of six million people, typically announces preliminary election results on the following day, such as when the elder Berdymukhamedov won re-election with more than 97 percent of the vote in 2017.

No election in Turkmenistan, which became independent with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, has been considered genuinely competitive.

Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has established a cult of personality over the last 15 years of his rule [File: Alexander Vershinin/AP]

Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, 64, announced the vote last month, saying the country should be run by younger people.

He had been the country’s leader since he was first appointed acting president when the eccentric Saparmurat Niyazov died in December 2006.

The elder Berdymukhamedov established a cult of personality with the title Arkadag, or Protector, and was keen to show his physical fitness with stunts including driving sports cars, target shooting and hoisting a gold weightlifting bar to applause from his cabinet.

Under his rule, China replaced Russia as the main buyer for Turkmenistan’s vast gas reserves.

‘Glorious path’

Serdar Berdymukhamedov has risen through a series of increasingly prominent government posts and most recently has served as the country’s deputy prime minister, answering directly to his father.

He recently turned 40, the minimum age for president according to the Turkmen law.

“My main goal is to continue on the glorious path of development built during 30 years of independence and to successfully implement programs aimed at ensuring a high level of social conditions for the people,” Serdar Berdymukhamedov said while presenting his platform in a televised speech.

Speaking to reporters after casting his ballot, he promised to continue the country’s neutral foreign policy if elected.

During the campaign, all candidates praised Berdymukhamedov’s father, who said he will retain the post of the head of the country’s upper house of parliament.

On voting day, folk dancers and singers performed as loud music blared from loudspeakers at polling stations.

Engulfing the stations were fumes from burning harmala, a plant widely used in Turkmenistan to fumigate homes and public spaces to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was among world leaders to congratulate the candidate shortly after the results were announced.

Putin telephoned the elder Berdymukhamedov first, who passed the telephone to Serdar to receive the Kremlin chief’s congratulations on “a convincing victory”, Turkmenistan’s state information agency TDH reported.

TDH said Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan also phoned in congratulations, as did the leaders of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

A woman dressed in Turkmen national dress casts her ballot at a polling station
A woman dressed in Turkmen national dress casts her ballot at a polling station during presidential elections in Ashgabat [File: Alexander Vershinin/AP]
Source: News Agencies