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.


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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