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ASHGABAT: The son of Turkmenistan’s leader Gurbanguly Berdymukha-medov has been nominated to run for president next month, state media said Monday, after the autocrat said he would step down and authorities called a snap vote.

“At the extraordinary congress of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan held in Ashgabat, the deputy chairman of the cabinet of ministers of the country, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, was nominated as a presidential candidate,” the state television announcer said.

The Central Asian country on the Caspian Sea is one of the world’s most repressive, secretive states and little is known about how the regime makes day-to-day decisions. The country has never held a competitive vote, and the younger Berdymukhamedov will almost certainly face no real opponents in the snap March 12 vote.

The gas-rich former Soviet republic has no free media, honours its authoritarian leaders with ostentatious gold statues and has not admitted any coronavirus cases since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Berdymukhamedov senior, who is the country’s president, chair of the cabinet and senate chief, has been the regime’s decision-maker for the last 15 years. His pastimes — including horse riding, mass cycling, composing songs and authoring books — have made him a curiosity across the world on social media, which are blocked in Turkmenistan.

In a historic speech in parliament on Friday, 64-year-old Berdymukhamedov said he had reached “a difficult decision” about his leadership because of his age, adding that the country needed “young leaders”.

Berdymukhamedov junior is currently the second most powerful government official with a broad influence over the economy as deputy chair of the cabinet. Having turned 40 last year, he is now eligible to run for president.

The state television announcer said that he “delivered a speech to the congress delegates, which ended with a vote. The congress participants unanimously supported the candidacy of Serdar Berdymukhamedov for the post of President of Turkmenistan”.

Last year Serdar Berdymukhamedov boosted his international profile with a four-day visit to Russia and by holding talks in the capital Ashgabat with Wang Yi, the foreign minister of Turkmenistan’s top trade partner China.

Gurbanguly Berdymu-khamedov has said he wishes to remain in politics in his role as chairman of parliament’s upper chamber. His son’s exposure on state media only began to grow after he became a lawmaker in 2016.

He retained his position as a lawmaker in 2018 winning 91 percent of the vote, recalling the crushing national poll victories of his father, who tolerates no dissent. In 2021, Serdar Berdymukhamedov rose to the rank of vice premier in the cabinet headed by his father and gained a seat on the powerful security council.

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