Turkmenistan will hold its snap presidential election, expected to be neither free nor fair, on March 12.
The election is set to serve as a de facto transfer of power, amounting to a symbolic process that will see the reins of power handed by Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, 65, to his 40-year-old son Serdar. None of the other eight registered contenders, seen as token candidates, are expected to pose any real opposition to his procession to the presidency.
RFE/RL reported this week that Turkmen public sector workers and their families in the southeastern Mary Province have been ordered to vote early and cast their ballots for Serdar.
"All [state] employees were strictly ordered by the authorities to cast their ballots on March 10 or 11. Those who can't come to [early voting arrangements] must explain the reason to the authorities in written form," one resident of Mary city told the news service on March 10.
The accounts of the situation from residents of Mary Province were just the latest evidence that Turkmen officials are seeking to massively manipulate the casting of ballots in the March 12 vote. Not that they will care about any outside criticism—so remote is Turkmenistan that it is yet to say a word about the war in the Ukraine and typically doesn’t bother answering calls from scientists attempting to warn Ashgabat that satellites have spotted methane gushing into the atmosphere from the country’s gas infrastructure.
Serdar’s ascendancy to power is set to mark the first successful dynastic transfer of power in Central Asia.
Little is known about Serdar, who rarely speaks in public. He has issued an election manifesto, published by the Neutral Turkmenistan newspaper, but it is filled with little more than mechanical pledges on developing democracy and civil society. Prior to the February announcement of the snap election, Berdimuhamedov tasked Serdar with overseeing the country’s economy, which was in a parlous state for years even before things got worse with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The president, who has ruled for 15 years, bears the honorific title of Arkadag (“Protector”) and may well continue to exercise much power from behind the scenes even after Serdar wins the so-called election, in November last year placed his son in charge of the country's oil and gas sector.
Turkmen foreign-based opposition-run website Chronicles of Turkmenistan described Serdar, who ran Ahal province at the time, as behaving akin to a despot-in-waiting. “His favourite expression when talking to subordinates was ‘I will wring your neck,’” the dissident publication quoted one source as saying.
Serdar Berdimuhamedov is currently the deputy prime minister of Turkmenistan. He was nominated for the presidency by the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan.