Turkmenistan's Authoritarian Leader Expands Grip On Power.

ASHGABAT -- Turkmenistan's authoritarian president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who is also the head of the government in the tightly controlled state, has added another title to his name: the speaker of the newly established upper chamber of parliament, the Halk Maslahaty (People's Council).

State media in the extremely isolated former Soviet republic reported on April 14 that Berdymukhammedov was "elected to the post by secret ballot" by the chamber's members.

During the session, Berdymukhammedov appointed eight additional members to the Halk Maslahaty, bringing the total number of members to 56.

The other 48 members of the upper chamber were "elected" in late March.

With a cult of personality around the 63-year-old authoritarian ruler, dissent is not tolerated in the Central Asian state and all media is under strict state control.

With the exception of turning the parliament into a two-chamber institution, other details of the constitutional changes that Berdymukhammedov signed into the law in September 2020 remain largely unknown.

Berdymukhammedov initiated the constitutional changes in 2019 and led a commission he established that prepared a bill of amendments.

The Halk Maslahaty was created in 2017 as a separate entity on the basis of the Council of Elders. Berdymukhammedov was the body's chairman.

Critics have said that Berdymukhammedov plans to use the constitutional amendments to secure his lifetime presidency and to pass it on to his son and grandchildren.

Before the bill was signed into law last year, dozens of Turkmen citizens held rallies in Washington, as well as in the cities of Houston and Pittsburgh, protesting the plan.

Government critics and human rights groups say Berdymukhammedov has suppressed dissent and made few changes in the restrictive country since he came to power after the death of autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006.

Radio Free Europe

RFE/RL journalists report the news in 22 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established, including Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Russia.

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