Turkmenistan Leader’s Son Wins Presidential Race

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan — Turkmenistan established a political dynasty Tuesday, as the authorities said the son of the Central Asian country’s leader won its presidential election after an unusual vote-counting delay.

Serdar Berdymukhammedov, 40, was the overwhelming favorite in the election on Saturday to lead Turkmenistan, an isolated, gas-rich country, and succeed his father, Gurbanguly.

The country has long been difficult for outsiders to enter — it has not reported a single case of infection in the coronavirus pandemic — and no election in Turkmenistan, which became independent after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, has been considered genuinely competitive.

The central election commission said Serdar Berdymukhammedov won 72.97 percent of the votes. His nearest rival in a field of nine candidates was a university official, Khyrdyr Nunnayev, who won 11 percent.

There was an unexpected wait for the result, after the authorities said Sunday they needed more time to count the votes. The election commission chairman, Gulmyrat Myradov, told reporters that votes were still being counted, including those from people living abroad, and that preliminary results would likely be reported Monday.

Turkmenistan typically announces preliminary results on the day after an election, such as when the elder Berdymukhammedov won re-election with more than 97 percent of the vote in 2017.

Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, 64, announced the vote last month, saying the country should be run by younger people. He had been the country’s leader since he was first appointed acting president after Saparmurat Niyazov died in December 2006.

The elder Berdymukhammedov established a cult of personality with the title Arkadag, or protector, and was eager to show his physical fitness with stunts including driving sports cars, target shooting and hoisting a gold weight-lifting bar to applause from his cabinet. Under his rule, China replaced Russia as the main buyer for Turkmenistan’s vast gas reserves.

Serdar Berdymukhammedov has risen through a series of increasingly prominent government posts and most recently served as the country’s deputy prime minister, answering directly to his father. He recently turned 40, the minimum age for president in Turkmenistan.

“My main goal is to continue on the glorious path of development built during 30 years of independence and to successfully implement programs aimed at ensuring a high level of social conditions for the people,” Serdar Berdymukhammedov said while presenting his platform in a televised speech.

The country has been struggling to diversify its economy, which is overwhelmingly dependent on its natural gas reserves.

Speaking to reporters after casting his ballot, Mr. Berdymukhammedov vowed to continue the country’s neutral foreign policy if elected.

During the campaign, all of the candidates praised Mr. Berdymukhammedov’s father, who said he would retain the post of the head of the country’s upper house of parliament.

On voting day, folk dancers and singers performed as loud music blared from loudspeakers at polling stations. Engulfing the stations were fumes from burning harmala, a plant widely used in Turkmenistan to fumigate homes and public spaces to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

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