Staunton, April 10 – Personalist dictatorships always face problems in transferring power from one individual to another because such transitions are the occasions which various factions in the elite see as perhaps their best opportunity to increase their position as well as the time of greatest risk that they will lose what they already have.
That this is the case in Russia has been much discussed, but even in a far more totalitarian dictatorship than Vladimir Putin’s, it is a problem. In Turkmenistan, there is no question that the current dictator, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedow, wants to hand over power to his son, Serdar; but there are two very open questions, Serdar Aytakov says.
First of all, how soon does the father want to do this and how much lead time does even his system require so that all the arrangements guaranteeing that the transition will occur? And second, will the father be able to ensure that his desire will be carried out after he passes from the scene? (ng.ru/dipkurer/2021-04-11/11_8125_prince.html
Aytakov, perhaps Moscow’s leading academic specialist on Turkmenistan, says that it appears Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedow is starting early because he is still in good health and has no plans to leave office anytime soon but adds that despite everything he is doing, key figures in the Turkmenistan elite are likely to oppose Serdar’s elevation at any point.
Everyone in Turkmenistan is aware that the last transition did not go smoothly but resulted in bloodletting as Berdymukhamedow senior moved to take and then consolidate power, the Moscow analyst says. The current dictator clearly hopes to prevent something similar, with all the unpredictability that such an outcome might entail.
To that end, he has changed a series of laws in the country so that he and his son will have even greater bureaucratic freedom and control and he has installed his son in a variety of increasingly important positions not only in the executive but in the legislative branch and in the regions to give him experience.
Because the dictator controls all the organs of government, the changes in the legal code have gone smoothly. But problems have arisen in some of the positions he has put Serdar in. Most critically, the current ruler installed his son as head of the Akhal velayat, the central region which has particular importance because it is the base of the tribe of which he is a member.
The father directed the son to build a new urban center, Akhal City, and the son proceeded to try. But in the course of beginning that “grandiose project,” Aytakov says, Serdar ran roughshod over local people, demolishing houses and other places owned or at least controlled by those in the Akhal Tekintsy tribe.
Tribal elders not only resisted what he was doing but protested to Serdar’s father, and the current dictator transferred him to a position in the central government specially created for the son. But precisely because the elders felt they had the right and power to protest then means that they may feel they have the same when it comes to Serdar as successor.
On paper, Serdar now has control of enough institutions to be able to ensure that he will be the successor, but, Aytakov continues, “there remains one unresolved question: the loyalty of the elites, the higher bureaucracy and the siloviki bloc.” Those things are now open, especially given the Akhal City fiasco.
Consequently, the Moscow specialist says, that even in this most tightly controlled dictatorship, “there are no guarantees that this transit will occur in Serdar Berdymukhamedow’s favor.” Others both within the political establishment and among the tribal leaders may decide that they should try to prevent that lest they lose out in the future.