Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has put his son Serdar in charge of the country’s oil-and-gas sector, in the latest sign that the authoritarian leader could be grooming the 40-year-old to succeed him some day.
Serdar Berdymukhammedov is already a lawmaker and deputy prime minister for economic affairs under his father’s administration.
Critics say his rise is part of a plan to entrench a dynasty atop Turkmenistan, whose fuel exports help fuel massive vanity projects and luxurious lifestyles for a tiny number of politically connected elites.
The elder Berdymukhammedov has kept a tight lid on dissent in the post-Soviet Central Asian state since taking over under shady circumstances following the death in 2006 of longtime dictator Saparmurat Niyazov.
Many of Turkmenistan’s 6 million people live in poverty, with food rationing and a state-controlled network of shops dominating essentials despite a massive industry based on its location atop one of the world’s largest reserves of natural gas.
A state-controlled newspaper, Neutral Turkmenistan, reported that the president instructed Serdar Berdymukhammedov at a meeting of officials on November 25 to oversee the oil-and-gas complex.
Hydrocarbon sales are among Turkmenistan’s most lucrative sources of revenue, and it ranks fourth globally by gas supplies.
But human rights group Crude Accountability and other observers say up to around 80 percent of the funds from gas sales go into a private economy dominated by elite connections, allegedly including personal accounts linked to the Berdymukhammedov family.
The younger Berdymukhammedov has effectively been in charge of the country’s woeful economy since February.
Last week, local reports suggested the authorities were reducing rations and further curbing subsidies to a heavily dependent population by laying preparations for cutting of the sale of subsidized foods to the families of convicted criminals or stateless people residing in the former Soviet republic.
He has served in a staggering number of posts, including deputy foreign minister, deputy governor and then later governor of the province surrounding the capital, Ashgabat, minister of industry, and a member of the State Security Council.
Serdar Berdymukhammedov is officially described as “the son of the people,” and his public appearances with his father a “symbol of the continuity of generations.”