Turkmenistan OKs constitutional changes empowering president

Central Asian Turkmenistan passed constitutional changes extending the presidential term on Wednesday that will empower the gas-rich authoritarian country’s leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.

The document approved by the country’s Council of Elders and unanimously endorsed by the country’s legislature will extend presidential terms from five to seven years and scrap the 70-year age limit for candidates.

After signing the document, Berdymukhamedov promised “alternatives” in presidential elections scheduled for next year that he is expected to win by a landslide.

“Three political parties will participate in them, the Democratic party, Agrarian party and the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs,” said Berdymukhamedov at the special session attended by all three branches of the government.

Berdymukhamedov also said the election would “demonstrate the political activity, and the maturity of our people, their will to determine the country’s future.”

Turkmenistan, one of the world’s most tightly controlled countries, has never held elections endorsed by credible international vote monitors.

Berdymukhamedov, 59, a former dentist, took over from eccentric predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006 after Niyazov died of reported heart failure.

Both men are honoured with golden statues in Ashgabat, a city famed for its vast array of white marble clad buildings.