ASHGABAT (Reuters) – Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has named his son Serdar a provincial governor, state television said, bolstering an already stellar career that has prompted speculation Serdar is being groomed to succeed his father.
Berdymukhamedov, 61, has run the natural gas-rich nation of six million people since 2006, tolerating no dissent and becoming the centre of an elaborate personality cult. Turkmens often refer to him as Arkadag, or protector.
Serdar Berdymukhamedov, 37, the president’s only son, previously worked at the ex-Soviet republic’s foreign ministry and served as a member of parliament before becoming deputy governor of the central Ahal province and finally being promoted to governor.
The province is home of the Teke tribe which dominates Turkmenistan’s elite; Berdymukhamedov himself belongs to that tribe and so did his late predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov.
President Berdymukhamedov, the most flamboyant among the generally dour Central Asian leaders, regularly appears on state television performing various athletic feats such as firing a gun or throwing basketballs while riding a bicycle.
He also performs music ranging from covers of Soviet-era pop hits to self-produced rap about his favourite foal.
Turkmenistan, which sits on the world’s fourth-largest gas reserves, exports energy mostly to China, but has also resumed small-scale supplies to Russia this year and is building a pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India.
(Reporting by Marat Gurt; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Mark Heinrich)