ASHGABAT (TCA) — Constitutional amendments, signed by Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov after approval by the rubber-stamp parliament and the Council of Elders on September 14, scrap a rule that barred anyone over the age of 70 from presidential ballots, thus paving the way for his potential lifelong rule, RFE/RL reports.
The amendments also extend future presidential terms to seven years from the current five.
Gas-rich Turkmenistan is one of the most isolated countries in the world and has never held an election that was deemed fair and democratic by monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The 70-year age ceiling was the only legal obstacle preventing Berdymukhammedov, 59, from running for office as long as he lives. The Turkmen Constitution places no limit on the number of terms he can serve.
A dentist by training and a former deputy prime minister, Berdymukhammedov was appointed president by Turkmenistan’s security council in an opaque process following the death of eccentric autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov in December 2006. He is now serving his second term and is all but certain to win by a landslide if he runs, as expected, in the next presidential vote in 2017.
Berdymukhammedov, who led a commission that drafted the amendments, said after signing them that there will be “alternatives” in the election next year.
“Three political parties will participate in them — the Democratic party, Agrarian party, and the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs,” he said in a televised speech.
Turkmenistan is the second country in former Soviet Central Asia to amend its constitution this year to strengthen the president’s grip on power and potentially extend his rule.
Tajikistan changed its constitution to allow President Emomali Rahmon — who has been in power since 1992 — to run for an unlimited number of terms.
Tajikistan also lowered the minimum age for presidential candidates from 35 to 30, a move that would enable Rahmon’s 28-year-old son Rustam to run for president in a 2020 election.