World, Asia - Pacific

Karimov's successor will carry a heavy legacy

Amid health challenges, Uzbekistan's late leader Islam Karimov assessed the situation and prepared for a peaceful transition

04.09.2016
Karimov's successor will carry a heavy legacy Soldiers stand at attention in front of a giant portrait of Uzbekistan's late President Islam Karimov, who died last week after suffering a brain hemorrhage, during a commemorative ceremony at the Senate House in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on Sept, 4, 2016. (Bahtiyar Abdukerimov - Anadolu Agency)

London, City of

By Zaki Shaikh

LONDON 

As Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov was being buried in his hometown Samarqand Saturday, the transition of power is expected to take place quite smoothly as all the necessary measures have been taken over time, provided there are no external attempts to destabilize the situation, said Arseniy Sivitsky, the director of Belarus’ Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies Center, the RIA agency reported Saturday.

He added that as problems with Karimov's health arose, he "closely assessed the situation and was preparing for a transition, taking the necessary preparations to ensure [the] process [of] the transfer of power goes ahead peacefully, without conflict or crisis, without any bloodshed, so that a vacuum does not lead to a civil war".

Sivitsky pointed out that as constitutionally mandated, for three months Nigmatilla Yuldashev, the chairman of Uzbeksitan’s senate, will be acting president, more as a technocrat, "to organize the presidential elections so [as to] ensure that they are fair from the point of view of the internal political situation as well as to the international community, and thus perceived as legitimate".

Uzbek analyst Erlan Karin stressed the closed nature of the political system under which decision-making takes place behind the scenes among the top hierarchies of the provincial clans’ elite, Kazakhstan’s Tengri news agency reported Saturday.


Heirs apparent

The most likely candidate for the top post is Shavkat Mirziyaev, whom Karimov appointed prime minister in 2003, 13 years ago.

The two other top functionaries Karimov kept close to him are: Finance Minister Rustam Azimov, who served Karimov for 18 years, but most importantly Rustam Inoyatov, who has served as the country’s security chief for 21 years. According to Karin, “The National Security Service serves as the centerpiece in the Uzbek power structure, and through it are carried out the crucial contacts with those external centers of power considered most important.”

Mirziyaev, a former mechanical engineer, served as the governor of both Jizzakh and Samarkand before being appointed premier in December 2003, the Asia-Plus Agency reported.

There is no doubt that Uzbekistan’s next leader will carry a heavy legacy as he has to demonstrate how deftly he can deal with domestic power dynamics.

He will inherit a set of socioeconomic challenges caused by factors both internal and external, Parviz Mullojanov, an observer from neighboring Tajikistan, commented. He told the Ferghana News Agency that there are no great expectations for significant reforms in the short term.


Regional issues

On Uzbekistan’s policy towards its immediate neighbors, including Tajikistan, Mullojanov said that while these states do not expect any sudden breakthrough, measures such as a softening of the present tight visa regime, the opening of border crossing points, and the resumption of direct commercial flights would serve as welcome goodwill gestures.

In the medium term, there is hope that the issue of border demarcation will see some progress, said Mullojanov.

On long-term issues, he said a complete revision of water and irrigation policies is needed as the existing infrastructure is aging and needs an overhaul to keep pace with the region’s growing population and falling water resources. Without addressing these issues, the hydro-electric power stations scheduled for construction in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will continue to be clouded in controversy and conflict.

In Central Asia, Beijing is gradually capturing the market from Russia and is pursuing a bigger share of trade with Uzbekistan too, noted the Daily Russian Business Courier Wednesday, pointing out, “In 2015, bilateral trade between China and Uzbekistan reached $3.5 billion (compared to $2.84 billion trade between Uzbekistan and Russia). In June 2016, China became the largest source of foreign direct investment in the Uzbek economy. Beijing and Tashkent elevated the status of their bilateral relations to a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’.”

Uzbek analyst Kamoliddin Rabimov said that the volume of trade between China and Uzbekistan is becoming huge and that we most likely will see it grow further.

In recent years, Russian exports to Uzbekistan have fallen, RBC noted Wednesday, pointing out that in 2014, Russia was the largest exporter in Uzbekistan (23 percent), but in 2015 dropped to second place (22 percent), behind China, leading Sergey Abashin, a Central Asian expert, to call this “an inescapable shift of priorities and interests in the region”.

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