ALMATY - Uzbekistan's prime minister and interim president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, looks likely to win a presidential election on Sunday by a landslide and become the second leader of Central Asia's most populous nation since independence.
Yet the biggest challenge may still lie ahead for the 59-year-old former communist apparatchik - establishing the same level of authority as his all-powerful predecessor, Islam Karimov, in whose shadow Mirziyoyev spent more than a decade.
Karimov, who ran the resource-rich former Soviet republic of 32 million people with an iron fist since 1989, died from a stroke in September, aged 78.
Mirziyoyev, cabinet head since 2003, swiftly emerged as Karimov's most likely successor after the speaker of the upper chamber Senate stepped aside for him. Under the constitution the speaker would normally assume the role of interim head of state.
Despite pledging continuity, Mirziyoyev has announced plans for economic reforms, including a liberalization of the tightly controlled foreign exchange market, and has acted to ease strains in relations with neighboring Central Asian countries.