The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Turkmenistan president ‘wins’ contest to pen anthem for major Asian sporting event

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Synthesizer? Check.

Drum machine? You got it.

An authoritarian president on the mic? Only in Turkmenistan, where this month the Central Asian country’s self-proclaimed “protector,” President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, won a supposed contest to pen the anthem for the upcoming Asian Indoor and Martial Art Games. The games are slated to be held in the country in September.

Called “Go Forward, Only Forward, Homeland Turkmenistan!” the tune, which first surfaced in 2015, beat out the competition due to what Turkmenistan’s state-controlled media called its “patriotic song-appeal,” according to Radio Free Europe. The song was an unexpected entrant, according to the report, which said Berdymukhammedov, 59, made a “surprise” appearance at an event this weekend to sing the song for the contest judges.

“The country’s cultural elite unanimously stressed that the words and music of this work most accurately express the heightened sense of pride and happiness experienced by million of Turkmenistan’s citizens,” the country’s Turkmenistan Today newspaper reported after the event.

Berdymukhammedov, who bopped around behind a keyboard dressed in a red tracksuit, didn’t offer any comment about his big win.

While state media claims the entire country knows the words to the song already, it’s unclear how much of an earworm “Go Forward, Only Forward, Homeland Turkmenistan!” will become during the event for which it will be the official anthem.

Far from a remote regional competition, the Asian Indoor and Martial Art Games attract participants from all corners of Asia and Oceania. Sanctioned by the Olympic Council of Asia, the last iteration of the event was held in Incheon, South Korea, in 2013, when 45 countries participated. This year, 64 are slated to enter athletes.

China has historically been the most dominant participant in the event’s 12-year history, having won a total of 322 medals, including 162 golds.

Turkmenistan, meanwhile, has won 11 medals overall, including three gold.

Turkmenistan’s leader, infamous for falling off a horse, unveils a giant statue of himself riding a horse

While Berdymukhammedov, a former dentist, fancies himself an athlete — as well as a pop star now — there is no indication he will enter the games himself when they commence on Sept. 17.

If he does, it would be silly to bet against him. In 2013, Berdymukhammedov apparently decided to become a jockey for the day and entered a horse race. Despite falling off his horse, which state media reportedly omitted from the broadcast, Berdymukhammedov was announced the winner. He received a generous $11 million prize for his efforts, which the country’s media reported he donated to a horse charity.