The snap elections are being held after the country’s authoritarian leader, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, announced last month he is ready to relinquish power to a new generation.

No election in post-Soviet Turkmenistan has been considered genuinely competitive.
No election in post-Soviet Turkmenistan has been considered genuinely competitive. (Reuters)

Voting is underway in Turkmenistan for a tightly-controlled leadership election that is all but certain to yield ex-Soviet Central Asia's first father-son succession.

A state television announcer confirming the beginning of voting at 7:00 am (0200 GMT) on Saturday said the elections showed "the irreversibility of the process of democratisation of modern Turkmen society".

Nine candidates are in the fray in the republic of six million people, but President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who tolerates no opposition and has dominated public life since the country's founding president died in 2006, is not among them.

Berdymukhamedov senior signalled his decision to step aside last month and allow "young leaders" to govern.

The announcement has seen the role of victor-in-waiting fall to his son, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, 40, who has rapidly risen to the top of government.

READ MORE: Will Turkmenistan’s gamble to hand leadership from father to son pay off?

Polling stations that will close at 7:00 pm (14:00 GMT) were busy on a cloudy day in the capital Ashgabat, with young Turkmen wearing either suits with black ties or embroidered ankle-length red dresses chatting and giggling in the queues.

Officials contacted by AFP were unable to confirm when preliminary results would be announced.

An inauguration ceremony has been scheduled for March 19, state media said on Friday.

'The most experienced' candidate

Berdymukhamedov senior, 64, benefits from a glitzy leadership cult that includes a golden statue of him on horseback and elicits comparisons to North Korea – a country that has already witnessed two hereditary successions.

Turkmen state television pays fawning tribute to his hobbies – horse riding, songwriting and rally car driving to name a few – and the so-called "protector" is a phenomenon on foreign social media, all of which are blocked.

READ MORE: Turkmenistan to hold snap presidential election in March

The leader, who claims Turkmenistan has not suffered a single case of coronavirus, said last month that he wishes to remain in politics in his parallel role as chairman of the parliament's upper chamber.

Much less is known about Serdar Berdymukhamedov, whose government promotions received little public attention until he entered parliament in 2016.

Since then he has been a deputy foreign minister, the head of a province and industry and construction minister.

Last year he won a triple promotion, taking up roles as deputy cabinet chair, auditor general and member of the security council.

Civil servant Selbi Nepesova, 39, told AFP that Serdar Berdymukhamedov's official biography proves he is "the most experienced" of the candidates, despite being younger than his rivals, most of whom are low-ranking government employees.

Source: AFP