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TURKMENISTAN 02-09

7. Turkmenistan

Democracy unlikely

Turkmenistan’s president-for-life, Saparmurat Niyazov, spent much of his time and his nation’s wealth trying to convince his countrymen he was also larger than life, perhaps even a prophet.

His 400-page tome of spiritual teachings, Rukhnama, became mandatory reading for schoolchildren, civil servants — and anyone who wanted a driver’s license. He renamed a port, city streets and the month of January after himself. In 2003, a government proclamation dubbed him "God’s messenger."

On Dec. 21, mortality caught up with Niyazov, striking the portly, 66-year-old dictator with a fatal heart attack that left hanging in the balance the future of a Stalinist nation with one of the world’s largest storehouses of natural gas and shared borders with both Iran and Afghanistan.

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Voters go to the polls Sunday ostensibly to elect Niyazov’s successor, but few believe the country’s future will be decided by the voice of the electorate.

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