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Turkmen Succession Speculation As Son Of Leader Takes The Reins For National Horse Day

Serdar Berdymukhammedov, the son of the Turkmen president
Serdar Berdymukhammedov, the son of the Turkmen president

The 39-year-old son of Turkmenistan's autocratic leader oversaw festivities surrounding a national holiday celebrating local horse and dog breeds, as speculation grows over potential hereditary succession in the secretive Central Asian state.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, 66, has appointed his son Serdar to a number of top positions this year, making him the second-most powerful figure in the country.

In a symbolic move earlier this month, Serdar replaced his father as head of the national horse association and was named "honored dog breeder of Turkmenistan."

The local Akhal-Teke horse and Alabai sheepdog play a prominent role in state propaganda, with monuments in the capital Ashgabat devoted to them and untold funds spent on promoting their breeding.

Earlier this year, Berdymukhammedov ordered a national holiday for the Alabai to be celebrated on the last Sunday in April when the country marks the day of the Akhal-Teke horse.

In the past, President Berdymukhammedov led events surrounding the holiday at an elaborate horse track in Ashgabat, in some years participating in races, showing off his horseback skills, and handing out awards to breeders.

The Alabai sheepdog is revered in Turkmenistan.
The Alabai sheepdog is revered in Turkmenistan.

For the first time on April 25, state television showed Serdar replace his father’s role in celebrating the Turkmen horse, which the media used in previous years to glorify the president.

It comes just days after Serdar topped the evening news for the first time as media showed him opening a state building housing associations that he heads promoting the Akhal-Teke horse and Alabai sheepdog.

Usually Turkmenistan's evening news is entirely devoted to the latest activities of the president.

It’s unclear why the elder Berdymukhammedov has been taking a back seat in recent days, but it comes as he is mourning the death of his 89-year-old father, a former policeman and educator. That has added an additional layer of speculation that the autocratic leader may be thinking more about his legacy and succession.

In February, the younger Berdymukhammedov received three promotions, becoming deputy premier, a member of the powerful security council, and the auditor general.

Turkmenistan does not have a prime minister, with the elder Berdymukhammedov already president, speaker of the upper house of parliament, and head of government of a state built around his cult of personality.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service and AFP
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