Son succeeds father as Turkmenistan's new president, promises to 'retain policy of neutrality' with foreign relations

Son succeeds father as Turkmenistan's new president, promises to 'retain policy of neutrality' with foreign relations
The son of Turkmenistan's former president, Serdar Berdymukham, was inaugurated on Saturday. The new leader said he would 'continue the path of development' and promised to 'retain the policy of neutrality' in the country's foreign relations.
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Serdar Berdymukhamedov took the oath of office a week after an election in which the central elections commission said he won 73% of the vote [source: Getty]

Turkmenistan's new president pledged on Saturday to continue the tightly-controlled country's political course, including international neutrality, at an inauguration ceremony confirming the Central Asian state's father-son leadership transition.

Official results showed Serdar Berdymukhamedov, 40, winning last Saturday's ballot with 73 percent of the vote, beating eight token candidates.

It marked the beginning of a new era after 64-year-old Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov announced plans to step down last month.

Donning a giant golden chain of office in a ceremony rich with pomp, the younger Berdymukhamedov said he would "continue the path of development created over 30 years of our sacred independence".

"In our external relations we will retain the policy of neutrality," he added.

Gas-rich Turkmenistan, a former Soviet republic, is one of the world's most repressive, secretive states and little is known about how the regime makes day-to-day decisions.

The elder Berdymukhamedov, has been its main face since 2006, when he ascended to power following the death of founding autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov.

His pastimes - including horse riding, mass cycling, composing songs and authoring books - have made him a curiosity across the world on social media, which is blocked in Turkmenistan.

Little is known about what makes the younger Berdymukhamedov tick.

Turkmen have only become used to seeing his face in the last few years, after a series of promotions made a hereditary succession seem inevitable.

He headed into last Saturday's vote as the deputy head of the cabinet with a broad purview over the economy and a member of the powerful security council.

His opponents, by contrast, were mostly little-known state employees in an all but invisible pre-election campaign.

Bursting into public view as a lawmaker several years ago, Serdar Berdymukhamedov is also head of associations promoting the alabai shepherd dog and the Akhal-Teke horse - two national breeds that are important symbols of state propaganda.

He promised that Turkmenistan "will preserve and increase" the two breeds in his inaugural speech.

Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is set to remain in politics as head of the upper house, a position which makes him the second-highest-ranking official in the state.

Berdymukhamedov senior said in February that he was stepping aside to allow "younger leaders" to govern, paving the way for snap elections.