Thursday, February 15, 2007

Welcome to the club, Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov.

The December death of Turkmen Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niazov obviously left big shoes to fill. And now they've been filled by the man who "temporarily" took Niazov's place as "interim president" since his death. He's also probably killed his country's narrow window for political, economic and social reform, too.

After a thoroughly crooked, if fitting, election, Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov is the new dictator (er, president) of Turkmenistan has been sworn in and officially welcomed to the Central Asian Dictator's Club by fellow member Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan.

While early reports from the ridiculously secretive nation indicated that Berdimuhammedov won the election with 99% of the vote, it appears that the margin of victory was an only slightly less ludicrous 89% of the vote. Even though the outcome was predetermined, the ruling Democratic Party of Turkmenistan clearly didn't feel like taking any chances: all six Presidential candidates were members of the party. Juicy, but obviously unconfirmed, rumors abound that Berdimuhammedov is Turkmenbashi's illegitimate son. Interestingly, while serving as interim president, Berdimuhammedov changed Turkmenistan's constitution to prevent the political participation of Niazov's legitimate son, Myrat. Sibling rivalry? Or just a struggle to keep Junior away from the prize?

Having emerged on top after a brief power struggle and ludicrous election, the consensus opinion is that Berdimuhammedov is in no mood for reversing the economic damage wrought by his predecessor, nor opening Turkmenistan to the world, nor loosening his party's iron grip on power, but rather, that he intends to stay on top for as long as humanly possible.

I know, what a surprise.