ALMATY, TURKMENISTAN - People in Turkmenistan are to vote in a parliamentary election Sunday, with a choice between three parties and some independents, but all the candidates are ultimately loyal to the gas-rich desert nation's leader, President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.
One of the candidates is the president's son, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, regarded by observers as a potential successor to the 60-year-old leader, who is referred to by local people as Arkadag, or Protector.
Although the vote takes place against the backdrop of foreign currency shortages brought on by a drop in gas exports, there are no opposition parties in the former Soviet republic of 6 million.
There are 284 candidates contesting 125 seats in the single-chamber legislature, the main job of which is to rubber-stamp bills drafted by the Cabinet.
Another body in the predominantly Muslim nation is the Halk Maslahaty, or People's Council, which is chaired by the president, has more powers than parliament and consists of deputies elected by local councils.
However, the position of parliament speaker is important because they become acting president if the head of state is unable to carry out his work.
Some observers have tipped Serdar Berdymukhamedov, 36, to eventually become speaker and the designated successor to his father, who has run the country since 2007 and is the center of an extravagant personality cult.
A golden statue of the president riding a horse stands in the center of Ashgabat.
In a symbolical move, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, who had worked as a diplomat before becoming an MP in 2016, attended a summit of Central Asian leaders in Kazakhstan this month which his father skipped.
Turkmenistan's economy depends heavily on exports of natural gas, and Russia was its main customer for decades thanks to Soviet-era pipelines. But Moscow halted purchases of Turkmen gas in 2016, leaving China, which has built its own pipeline from scratch, as the main buyer.
The Ashgabat government is building a new pipeline through neighboring Afghanistan to Pakistan and China in an attempt to open up additional export markets.