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Turkmen Elections Seen As Potential Lift To President’s Son

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov hands the baton to his son at a sporting event. (file photo)

Voters in Turkmenistan have cast their ballots in parliamentary elections in the gas-rich Central Asian country that has long been ruled by authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

Turkmen could choose from three political parties and some independents, although all the candidates are ultimately loyal to Berdymukhammedov.

One of the candidates was the president's only son, Serdar Berdymukhammedov, 36, who is considered a likely presidential successor by many observers.

Official data showed that some 91.7 percent of registered voters had cast their ballots by the time polls closed.

Polling stations greeted voters with national music, dance shows, and snacks.

The results of the vote are set to be announced on March 25, the country's election commission said.

In January, the Washington-based Freedom House nongovernmental group listed Turkmenistan among the 12 “worst of the worst countries” for political freedom and civil liberties.

None of the previous elections has been deemed free or fair by Western monitors. Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov won his third presidential term in February with 97 percent of the vote.

Some 284 candidates were competing for 125 seats in parliament, which is largely a rubber-stamp body for Berdymukhamedov.

But the vote could be seen as further bolstering the profile of Serdar Berdymukhammedov, who defended a seat in the Akhal region near the capital, Ashgabat, and was likely to capture an easy victory.

Little is known about him, although some information was released in an official biography this month. The statement said he worked in the state oil and gas industry and the Foreign Ministry before taking his parliamentary seat.

Earlier this month, Serdar Berdymukhammedov was part of a Turkmen delegation to neighboring Kazakhstan, where he was photographed meeting President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

The current speaker of the parliament, Akja Nurberdieva, is 61 years old, and many experts say that if she should decide to give up her post, Serdar Berdymukhammedov would be in a position to assume the post, which would technically put him first in line to the presidency.

Most of the candidates were from the three registered political parties -- the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT, formerly the Communist Party); the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, founded in 2012; and, making its first appearance in parliamentary elections, the Agrarian Party, founded in 2014 -- although public initiative groups are fielding a small number of candidates.

Turkmenistan, with a population of about 6 million, heavily relies on natural-gas exports to keep its economy afloat. Its longtime customer, Russia, stopped purchases of Turkmen gas in 2016, but China built a new pipeline and has become the new top buyer.

With on reporting by AFP and Reuters
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