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Archive for Sunday, December 24, 2006

Turkmen leader’s death leaves instability

December 24, 2006

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— Even in a region characterized by autocratic rule, Turkmenistan's Saparmurat Niyazov stood out in the former Soviet states of Central Asia. He was the most flamboyant, the most heavy-handed - and the first to die.

His passing at age 66 may also prove a lesson for his counterparts in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which are key nations in an important energy-producing region.

By dying without leaving an apparent successor - or the democratic foundations for choosing one in open elections - Niyazov set up the likelihood of a power struggle in Turkmenistan that could undermine the stability so dear to him and other autocrats.

"Niyazov's death tells them that nobody is eternal," said Petr Svoik, a senior leader in For a Fair Kazakhstan, a movement that opposes Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Svoik said the swift removal of Turkmenistan's parliament speaker despite the constitution making him acting head of state after Niyazov's death, "showed that nobody is going to follow any rules after an authoritarian leader's death if there are no democratic mechanisms of rotation of power."

Kazakh political analyst Eduard Poletayev said the political uncertainty after Niyazov's death should make regional leaders ponder the advantages of democracy, "when one can be sure that even though your term is limited to two and you have to face accountability for your actions, it still allows you to leave with dignity and have rest."

But the question is whether the region's leaders obsessed with keeping control now will have the time to think about a legacy.

On Friday, the day after Niyazov's death, Nazarbayev's Otan (Fatherland) party renamed itself Nur-Otan, "to underline that the party represents the national leader Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev."

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