Turkmenistan on Sunday held its first elections to a newly created senate but there were no opposition candidates.

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Mar 30:Turkmenistan’s autocratic president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov received a seat in the secretive country’s new upper house, state media reported Tuesday, in the latest move hinting at a succession strategy.

Turkmenistan on Sunday held its first elections to a newly created senate but there were no opposition candidates.

The president was elected to a seat along with 47 other candidates, said the Neutral Turkmenistan newspaper.

The candidates were elected by local councils and the newspaper did not say which council had elected 63-year-old Berdymukhamedov. An official cited in a separate publication said the head of state had received 100 percent of the vote.

Full control of the senate is important to the Berdymukhamedov family because the head of the upper house will be second-in-line to the presidency following constitutional changes passed last year.

Berdymukhamedov’s 39-year-old son Serdar has received a series of promotions viewed as grooming him for the top job.

The president’s candidacy for the upper house had not been previously announced, but the number of candidates cited as running by state media changed from 111 to 112 on the eve of the vote.

The president must now pick a further eight members for the upper house and select a member to chair the house in order to complete its formation.

Speculation over an early succession in the isolated country comes as it weathers an economic storm resulting from the long-term downturn in prices for its natural gas exports and the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Turkmenistan is one of the few countries not to record a single case of the coronavirus infection, although foreign media have reported deaths from the disease.

Serdar Berdymukhamedov in February gained three new positions, becoming a deputy premier, a member of the powerful security council and the auditor general.

The younger Berdymukhamedov has in the past filled a senior diplomatic post and worked as a lawmaker.

If he were to be elevated as leader in the near future, it would herald a first hereditary succession in Central Asia, a former Soviet region where politics are often dominated by powerful families.

Berdymukhamedov senior served as a personal dentist and then health minister to Turkmenistan’s first post-independence ruler, Saparmurat Niyazov, before taking on the top job after Niyazov died.