February 15, 2016 / 4:17 PM / 2 years ago

Turkmenistan drafts new constitution extending presidential term

President of Turkmenistan Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov walks past an honour guard before a ceremony to welcome Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in the capital Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, October 29, 2015. REUTERS/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Mykola Lazarenko/Pool

ASHGABAT (Reuters) - A commission led by Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has drafted a new constitution which extends the presidential term to seven years from five and removes the upper age limit on candidates for presidency.

The move solidifies Berdymukhamedov’s already sweeping powers at a time when the gas-rich Central Asian nation is suffering from a sharp drop in export revenues.

Turkmenistan’s rubber stamp parliament may pass the new constitution, published by main state newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan on Monday for national discussion, later this year.

Berdymukhamedov, 58, is serving his second term as president after securing re-election in 2012. The current constitution imposes no limits on the number of terms he can run for, but sets a ceiling for presidential candidates’ age at 70 years.

His predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov had ruled as president for life until his death in 2006, becoming the center of a bizarre personality cult.

Niyazov’s official title was Turkmenbashi, leader of all Turkmens. A local city was named after him and Niyazov’s gilded statue was erected in the capital Ashgabat.

Berdymukhamedov has gradually dismantled Niyazov’s cult, but only to replace it with his own one. He now also has a gilded statue of himself and state media refer to him as Arkadag, meaning protector.

Other Central Asian leaders are also looking to strengthen their grip on power as economies across the region struggle with a drop in commodity prices and the spillover from Russia’s recession.

Allies of Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon have called a referendum on constitutional changes that would allow him to run for an unlimited number of terms.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev called a snap parliamentary election last month that will make it easier for his Nur Otan party to retain control over the legislature.

Reporting by Marat Gurt; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov, editing by Ed Osmond

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