Following the resignation of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, snap elections were held in Turkmenistan in early March in which the former President’s son, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, emerged victorious. Although the ballot listed nine candidates in total, the election is believed to have been heavily controlled by the former President. Critics fear that the results indicate the beginning of a hereditary dynasty in Turkmenistan.
In February, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov announced he was stepping aside in order to allow “young leaders” the opportunity to make policy. However, despite state media claiming that the new elections demonstrate the “process of democratization” in Turkmenistan, independent observers are skeptical of the election’s validity. Several in-country sources have alleged corruption at every stage of the election—from the unauthorized delivery of ballots to rampant voter fraud at polling stations across the country.
During his sixteen years in office, President Berdymukhamedov established a veritable leadership cult in which he faced no legitimate opposition and maintained centralized command over the state’s economic and political dealings. Benefitting from his father’s control, Serdar Berdymukhamedov rapidly ascended through a series of political positions beginning in 2016, including deputy foreign minister, industry and construction minister, auditor general, and more.
Based on this history, Serdar Berdymukhamedov’s electoral victory is further solidification of the Berdymukhamedov family’s dominance in Turkmen politics. Serdar pointed to this when he asserted that his “main goal is to continue on the glorious path of development” set forth by his father. Moreover, the elder Berdymukhamedov plans to remain involved in the regime as head of the upper house of Turkmenistan’s parliament.
Although Serdar Berdymukhamedov vows to maintain Turkmenistan’s “neutral” approach to foreign policy as president, the election comes at a trying time for the country as a major exporter of natural gas. With the conflict in Ukraine prompting a global energy crisis, Turkmenistan’s new President will face some tough decisions regarding the country’s economic relationships with Russia and China, and the potential for trade with Western countries.