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Islam Karimov’s epoch coming to an end, experts say

From left to right: Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Rustam Azimov, Nigmatulla Yuldashev. Photo: fergananews.com

President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov suffered a stroke. For the first time in Karimov’s 27-year-long presidency, the state agencies reported about his health problems. His younger daughter Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva confirmed the reports. She left a post on Instagram and Facebook in three languages: “In order to avoid misunderstandings here, on your page, I want to tell you about the sad events that occurred in our family with my father last weekend. Because of the brain hemorrhage, which happened Saturday morning, he was hospitalized and is in intensive care unit.” Experts say the transit of power is inevitable in Uzbekistan.

After the reports on President Karimov’s health problems, Daniel Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central Asia at the U.S. Department of State, said they in Washington are closely following the situation and avoid making hasty conclusions or assessments. Tashkent, Moscow, Beijing, and Brussels are waiting for the arrival of news. The political situation in Uzbekistan depends on the one who will take the president’s post.

The constitution of Uzbekistan says that if the president is unable to perform his duties, the head of the upper chamber of parliament - now the little-known Nigmatulla Yuldashev - assumes the president's authority for a period of three months. However, he will hardly occupy that post for a long period. Tashkent is considering the potential successors now, as the health condition of the 78-year-old Islam Karimov arouses certain concerns.

There is no reliable information, so it is hard to make any forecasts. It is evident that a man who suffers a stroke will hardly be able to govern the country at full. In addition, Islam Karimov is rumored to have died. Referring to a person familiar with the situation, the Fergana news (based in Moscow – EADaily’s note) says Karimov died on August 29. Nadejda Atayeva, President of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, has confirmed that information. In her words, she learned about the Uzbek president’s death from sources in the law enforcement and healthcare circles in Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, RIA Novosti says a source at the Uzbek President’s Administration did not confirm the news about Islam Karimov’s death. A person close to country’s leadership told Interfax medics assess the president’s health condition as stable. The Russian embassy has neither confirmed nor refuted the reports.

The situation in Uzbekistan certainly resembles the situation in the Soviet Union under Stalin when the Soviet people were informed about the death of their leaders in several days after the death. The same happened in 2006 in neighboring Turkmenistan. After the first president Saparmurat Niyazov died, the information about his death was made public in a few days that were used to nominate then little-known deputy prime minister Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.

Elites in Uzbekistan are “pulling themselves up.” Leaders of the largest clan will likely be fighting for the president’s post. There are several clans: Samarkand (Samarkand-Bukhara) clan, the Tashkent clan, the Fergana clan, the Karakalpak clan, the Khorezm clan, and the Surkash clan (includes the Surkhandarya and Kashkadarya regions). The Tashkent and Samarkand clans are the strongest. Each of them nominates its henchman. Experts anticipate no serious domestic political tensions, though the situation inside the governing elites is very complicated. Reports on the arrest of First Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov, a representative of the Tashkent clan, who is said to be one of the candidates for the president, just proves it. Later, the reports were disclaimed.

Provocative statements pursue a goal to weaken possible rivals and strengthen own positions. Political analyst Arkady Dubnov is sure that next president will be Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev who has been occupying that post since 2003. “However, Mirziyoyev has no legitimate grounds to succeed Karimov. By the constitution, the speaker of the upper house of the parliament has the right to take that post on a temporary basis, for three months. Afterwards, an election must be held and a new legitimate president will emerge then. However, I think the future president will be named much earlier than these elections will take place,” Dubnov says.

As for the oppositionist candidates for the post of the president, all they have been living abroad for a long time already and have no right to run for presidency, according to the constitution of Uzbekistan.

Zurab Todua, a historian, political analyst, expert in the post-Soviet issues, told EADaily the political situation in Uzbekistan will undergo no changes in case of a transit of power.

“After the collapse of the USSR, political debates about the optimal model of the social-economic and political development for the region had been held for a long time,” Todua says. “In the second half of ‘90s, some experts used to bring the example of Kyrgyzstan where western model of reforms were carried out and blamed Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan for what they called surplus authoritarianism. Debates and disputes continued up to March 2005 when the so-called Tulip Revolution sparked chaos and instability in Kyrgyzstan. Those events along with the penetration of religious extremists into Fergana Valley and The Andijan Uprising (May 2005) proved that the form of power that was established in Uzbekistan under Islam Karimov and in Kazakhstan under Nursultan Nazarbayev – I would call it an ‘enlightened authoritarianism’ - is the optimal for Central Asia. I wrote about this in my books ‘Uzbekistan between the Past and the Future’ (2000) and ‘Expansion of Islamists into the Caucasus and Central Asia’ (2006).”

The events of the following years – expansion of the Western coalition into Libya, the Arab Spring, the civil war in Syria, a military coup attempt in Turkey – finally dispelled the myth about irreplaceable and universal “democracy” of the Western model for all the countries in the world, I think. At present, when the attention of the leading politicians in the world is focused on Uzbekistan, it becomes as clear as never and evident that without a strong state power it is impossible to maintain the political and economic stability in such complicated region full of contradictions as Central Asia is.

President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov has been ensuring that stability for 27 years. He rose the requirements to a politician to a lever unachievable for many. If Karimov proves unable to return to power because of his poor health, his successor must rely on his experience and heritage, unless he will break neck.

Uzbekistan, particularly, and Central Asia, generally, is not the right place for risky political undertakings. Laments of the human rights defenders and oppositionists (who are in fact religious extremists) along with the advisers urging ‘revolutionary changes’ must be ignored. Once, Islam Karimov did it quite wisely. Otherwise, we may get a second Syria in the region – something neither Uzbekistan nor its neighbors want to.”

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