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President For Life? Turkmen Leader Signs Mysterious Constitutional Changes Into Law

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov

Turkmenistan's authoritarian leader, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, has signed into law constitutional changes, the details of which remain largely unknown.

State-controlled media reported on September 25 that Berdymukhammedov, who initiated the constitutional changes a year ago and has led a commission he established that prepared a bill of amendments, signed the legislation after the People's Council and lawmakers approved it.

Turkmen citizens have yet to be informed about the exact changes to the constitution of the tightly controlled, energy-rich country, except that the single-chamber parliament, the Mejlis, will merge with the People's Council and become a two-chamber institution.

The People's Council (Halk Maslahaty) was created in 2017 on the basis of the Council of Elders. Berdymukhammedov is the body's chairman.

Critics have said that Berdymukhammedov plans to use the constitutional amendments to secure his lifetime presidency and its eventual succession to his son and grandchildren.

Earlier this month, dozens of Turkmen citizens held rallies in Washington, as well as in the cities of Houston and Pittsburgh, protesting the plan.

Government critics and human rights groups say Berdymukhammedov has suppressed dissent and made few changes in the restrictive country since he came to power after the death of autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006.

Like his late predecessor, Berdymukhammedov has relied on subsidized prices for basic goods and utilities to help maintain his grip on power.

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