Change of leadership in Ashgabat (to avoid the worst)
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is ready to cede power to his son Serdar. Mock elections announced for 12th March. The transfer of power is most likely due to the current leader's health problems. The move is also aimed at preventing protest scenarios like those in Kazakhstan.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - The announcement of the resignation of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, with immediate elections for his successor on March 12, is not just one of the many extravagances of a regime more akin to movie parodies than to governing a country hard hit by the economic crisis. In some ways, it is also the declaration of the failure of a model, the post-Soviet one, which in Central Asia (and elsewhere) had staked everything on the sacredness of the figures in power.
The elections themselves have all teh appearances of a farce organised by the arkadag, the current president's title of "protector of the homeland", to transfer power to his only son Serdar, already deputy premier and holder of high offices and chairs, whose succession had already been promised and announced in many ways. Serdar has just turned 40, the 'age of majority', and his father has reached 65, the 'age of the prophet', so the transition is ripe. Teachers at all levels of schools have already been instructed to explain Serdar's merits to the students.
In order to give the elections a democratic appearance, it was decided - again from above - to present an "alternative" candidacy, that of Agadzhan Bekmyradov, another 40-year-old member of the Agrarian Party and deputy "khokim" (governor) of the Mari region. The choice was solemnly approved during the fourth extraordinary Congress of the political formation, by acclamation. The participants "underlined the importance of the idea proposed by the president to the Khalk Maslakhat (the senate) to give space to a new generation of leaders in the country.
A former political prisoner, Gelda Kjarizov, also decided to take part in the elections, releasing a video through the humanitarian organisation 'Right and Freedom of Citizens of Turkmenistan'. According to his own words, he decided to take the field when Serdar Berdymukhamedov's candidacy was announced, to give a voice to those in the country who do not accept the 'family dictatorship'.
However, the plebiscite victory of the president's son is not in doubt. The ruling Democratic Party also held an extraordinary congress on 14 February to open the popular debate on the title that will be given to the arkadag's successor. The first post-Soviet president, Samarmurat Niyazov, was called the turmenbash, 'leader of all Turkmen'. He died in 2006 after 15 years of rule, as does his successor today.
As always in the most delicate moments of the country's life, citizens are practically prevented from accessing any source of information other than official ones, with the internet almost completely blocked. The transition is therefore taking place in an atmosphere of mystery, which also conceals news about the president's health, which could be one of the reasons for his resignation.
Gurbanguly has always built up a very dynamic image of his personality: he loves motor racing, horse riding, he composes songs and poems, even in rap style, he loves hunting and fishing, and shooting. He writes books on tea, dog breeds and cooking, which the whole country is obliged to read. He also dabbles a lot in astrology, and has made it known that he is "a bit tired" and has had confirmation from the stars that he needs to fulfil his destiny.
The fatigue is also conditioned by the events in Kazakhstan at the beginning of the year, as Berdymukhamedov confessed on 11 February at the celebrations for his 15 years as president. The inglorious end of the 'eternal president' Nursultan Nazarbaev, the progenitor and model of all former Soviet satraps, has created no small amount of apprehension.
In Kazakhstan, the entire family that has been in power for 30 years has been purged, and it is therefore vital to hurry up and hand over Turkmenistan to his son, before the people realise that something could change: the news of the change at the top has already pushed up the prices of basic necessities, which are almost inaccessible to most families.