Turkmenistan’s President Saparmourat Niazov has died, at the age of 66, after 21 years in power. The country’s state television reported he passed away after suffering a sudden cardiac arrest. A month ago, the President admitted taking medication for a heart condition. Niazov had ruled the central Asian nation, the second largest natural gas producer in the former Soviet Union, since 1985.
He was elected president when Turkmenistan gained independence from Moscow in 1991. Eight years later, he was made president-for-life. During his reign, Niazov allowed no political opposition or free media. He used an alleged assassination attempt in 2002 to crush opponents. n fact, analysts say Niazov’s death may give rise to a period of political instability, as he left no clear successors.
They say he does leave behind him an underdeveloped economy. He used public funds for showy schemes rather than education and health care.Even so, Russian officials have said they hope his successor will continue the policies of the self-named “Father of the Turkmen”.
Russia received two-thirds of the country’s natural gas exports. During his reign, Niazov encouraged a personality cult. He commissioned statues and paintings of himself. His name was given to farms, a port and even a meteorite. Whoever succeeds Niazov, one thing is certain. With its vast gas wealth, many countries will be lobbying for influence with Turkmenistan’s government.