Uzbekistan: Senate Speaker Assumes Caretaker Role, as Succession Struggle Unfolds

Uzbekistan: Senate Speaker Assumes Caretaker Role, as Succession Struggle Unfolds
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Islam Karimov – Uzbekistan: Senate Speaker Assumes Caretaker Role, as Succession Struggle Unfolds

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Uzbekistan appears to be adhering to the constitutional process for political succession following former president Islam Karimov’s death. But that does not mean there will be an orderly transition.

Although there has not been official announcement in Tashkent, it appears as though Uzbekistan’s Senate chairman, Nigmatilla Yuldashev, is serving as the interim chief executive. Russian media outlets are reporting that Yuldashev has assumed the duties of acting Uzbek president. Crucially, Russian leader Vladimir Putin passed along the Kremlin’s condolences to Yuldashev on September 2, after Karimov’s death was officially confirmed.

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Hailing Karimov as a “real leader,” Putin described Karimov’s “departure from life” as a “tough loss for the people of Uzbekistan and for the entire Commonwealth of Independent States.”

According to the Uzbek constitution, the senate chairman, in this case Yuldashev, should serve as governmental caretaker, in the event that the president dies in office or is incapacitated, until new elections are organized. And so it looks as though the Uzbek government, which during Karimov’s tenure in power trampled on basic rights and acted with impunity, is now following the letter of the law.

But given Uzbekistan’s history of authoritarianism, this does not mean that all is well in Tashkent.

While Yuldashev’s emergence as interim leader could be a sign that Uzbekistan intends to turn over a new leaf in the post-Karimov age, it could also be a signal that a power struggle is raging behind the scenes.

Political analysts do not consider Yuldashev to be a long-term successor to Karimov. He is widely seen as a figurehead who will keep the seat warm while the next leader consolidates his authority.

The leading contenders for power are widely believed to be Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyayev and Finance Minister Rustam Azimov. Meanwhile, the country’s chief power broker is secret police chief Rustam Inoyatov.

If one goes by the Kremlinology playbook, it would seem Mirziyayev has the edge in the succession race. He is serving as the head of Karimov’s funeral committee. During the Soviet era, the man who assumed that position following the death of a Soviet Communist Party boss was routinely appointed to be the next party general secretary. Meanwhile, Azimov has not been seen or heard from since the first official announcement on August 28 that Karimov had been incapacitated by a stroke.

But Soviet rules may no longer apply. So it cannot be assumed that Mirziyayev’s ascendancy is assured. It is noteworthy that in a post-Soviet precedent set in 2006, Turkmenistan ignored constitutional formalities when then-dictator Saparmurat Niyazov died suddenly. In that case, interim authority should have passed to then-speaker Ovezgeldy Ataev, but he ended up being placed under arrest and Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov immediately ensconced himself as the country’s paramount leader.

Going by the Turkmen example, it would seem that Uzbekistan’s move to follow the letter of the law indicates that political factions are still battling it out in Tashkent to determine who assumes power.

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