More Candidates Seen As Loyal To Turkmen President Registered In Election

By RFE/RL's Turkmen Service

ASHGABAT -- Election officials in the tightly controlled Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan have registered three more presidential candidates known as being loyal to authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

On February 11, Berdymukhammedov, 64, indicated at an extraordinary meeting of the upper chamber of parliament that he intends to step aside to allow power to be turned over to “young leaders.”

Most observers interpreted that as meaning that he is preparing to hand the reins of the country to his son, Serdar, who in September turned 40, the minimum age required to become president under the country's constitution.

Serdar Berdymukhammedov was officially registered earlier this month as a presidential candidate representing the ruling Democratic Party of Turkmenistan following the opening of the nomination process for the country's three registered political parties.

All three parties support Berdymukhammedov, who has been in power since 2007.

The Central Commission for Holding Elections and Referendums said on February 21 that three more candidates had been officially registered for the early presidential election scheduled for March 12.

The new candidates are Babamurat Meredov, nominated by the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan, as well as two men proposed by "the initiative groups" -- regional sanitary official Maksatmurat Ovezgeldyev and energy official Kakageldy Saryev.

Over the weekend, the election officials announced that lawmaker Berdymammet Gurbanov and Perhat Begenjov, the director of a regional vocational school, both of whom do not represent any political party, had been officially registered as presidential candidates

A deputy governor of the southeastern region of Mary, Agajan Bekmuradov, nominated by the Agrarian Party of Turkmenistan, was registered a presidential candidate last week.

The poll is expected to be easily won by Serdar Berdymukhammedov.

Rumors have been swirling for a year that Berdymukhammedov will attempt to transfer power to his son.

Four exiled opposition activists and politicians -- Ahmet Rahmanov, Murat Gurbanov, Geldy Kyarizov, and Nurmuhammet Annaev -- have said they plan to take part in the presidential election.

It is unclear how they would be able to run in the presidential election as they would not be allowed to return to Turkmenistan.

According to rights groups and election monitors, Turkmenistan has never held free and fair elections since becoming an independent state following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.