Turkmen President Hints At Succession, Announces Election For March 12

By RFE/RL's Turkmen Service

Turkmenistan will hold an early presidential election on March 12, an official with the Central Election Commission said on February 12, after President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov hinted he plans to resign.

"The president...gave us an instruction to prepare for an early presidential election on March 12," a spokesman for the commission, Bezergen Garrayev, told AFP by telephone.

The date was announced a day after Berdymukhammedov told an extraordinary meeting of the upper chamber of parliament that he intends to step aside so that power can be turned over to “young leaders” amid speculation he is preparing to hand the reins of the Central Asian nation to his son.

The 64-year-old authoritarian ruler made the announcement to the Halk Maslakhaty, or People's Council, on February 11 as he marked his 15th anniversary as Turkmenistan’s leader.

"I support the idea that the road to public administration at a new stage of our country's development should be given to young leaders brought up in a spiritual environment and in accordance with the high requirements of modernity,” he said.

Rumors have been swirling for a year that Berdymukhammedov will attempt to transfer power to his son, Serdar Berdymukhammedov, who turned 40 in September, reaching the legal age requirement to become president.

Serdar Berdymukhammedov burst onto the Turkmen political scene last year when he was tapped to be deputy prime minister, one of several official positions he now holds. He is also a member of the State Security Council.

Should he succeed his father, Serdar Berdymukhammedov would take over one of the most secluded and impoverished nations in Eurasia despite its massive energy resources, including natural gas.

Serdar Berdymukhammedov was on hand during the meeting of the People’s Council and presented the nation's economic development plan through 2052. Details of the 30-year plan were not made public.

The elder Berdymukhammedov has mismanaged the nation’s economy as he focused on building a cult following. The country has experienced increases in the prices of fuel, goods and services, and food in recent years, in many cases rising at least 300 to 500 percent as subsidies were stopped and demand overwhelmed supplies.

Berdymukhammedov, who came to power in a rigged election in 2007 following the death of long-serving President Saparmurat Niyazov, did not specify when he intends to step down.

Turkmenistan has never held free and fair elections since becoming an independent state following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters