But now he's dead, and the party is over. In his place, the nation's former health minister, the painfully named Gubanguly Berdymukhammedov (seen at right) has awkwardly assumed the presidency. The constitution had to be changed twice to allow it, but that's the way Turkmenistan works.
Mr. Berdymukhammedov was deputy prime minister under Turkmenbashi (who was both president and prime minister, naturally) yet few people seem to have heard of him until now. Articles from western journalists that attempt to profile the man make liberal use of words like "unknown" and "mysterious," such as this one in Forbes, "Turkmenistan's new leader little-known."
Other than the fact that he was health minister for one of the world's most unhealthy nations, one thing we do know about the new president is that he managed to have a rather lengthy career in Turkmenbashi's cabinet without ever being fired or murdered. This suggests the former dictator must have had an unusually high level of affinity for him, and according to this blogger, people in eastern Europe are now gossiping that Berdymukhammedov may be Turkmenbashi's illegitimate bastard-child.
Lest we get too excited, Radio Free Europe gives us a history of elections in Turkmenistan:
"Since gaining independence in 1991, Turkmenistan held one presidential election, in June 1992, when President Niyazov ran unopposed and officially received 99.5 percent of the vote."