The Long-Awaited Succession in Turkmenistan
Author: Daniel Lehmann
Mar 21, 2022
Turkmenistan has a new president after its snap presidential elections. Serdar Berdimuhamedov, the son of (as of Saturday, March 19th, former) President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, won the election with approximately 73 percent of the vote. The elder Berdimuhamedov became president in 2007 after Saparmurat Niyazov, independent Turkmenistan’s first president, died. From 2007 until 2022 Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov ruled Turkmenistan. It is expected that he will have a role in influencing his son’s presidency after promising to direct his ‘political experience’ into his position as Chairman of the Halk Maslahaty (Turkmenistan’s upper chamber of parliament).
Serdar has been long expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. Serdar’s past posts in government, including governor of Ahal Province, deputy minister of foreign affairs, minister of industry, and most recently a stint as deputy prime minister for economics and finance, suggested that he would be the candidate to succeed the elder Berdimuhamedov. The snap election came after Serdar turned 40, the minimum age requirement for the presidency in Turkmenistan. While the election came without much official advance notice, the result surprised nobody.
When Serdar’s father became president in 2007, people wondered if a new president would mean a new Turkmenistan. Fifteen years later observers wonder whether Serdar will continue with his father’s style of rule or whether the younger Berdimuhamedov will try to forge his own path. At this point what Serdar will or will not do as president is unknown, but in published comments made while voting on March 12, Serdar indicated every intention to continue his father's policies.
Serdar Berdimuhamedov assumes the presidency during a period of turbulence for Central Asia and the larger Eurasian region. The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021, simultaneous protests and what the Kazakhstani government calls an attempted coup d’etat in Kazakhstan in January of this year, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with its resultant international sanctions have created policy challenges for Central Asian leaders. At the same time, demand for fossil fuels sourced from anywhere but Russia, and for east-west transportation routes that avoid Russia, offer opportunities. How Turkmenistan responds to these problems and opportunities is now Serdar’s responsibility.