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Uzbekistan: President Chews Out Former Would-be Rival

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev pictured while meeting with the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates in Tashkent on May 24, 2017. (Photo: President.uz)

Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has in a remarkable outburst dressed down a man once believed to be a viable rival contender for national leadership.

Speaking at a government meeting on May 30, Mirziyoyev slammed Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov in a wider broadside against bankers, “do-nothing financiers” and bribe-takers. Azimov and his like, he said, were to blame for it all.

The Ahborot evening news bulletin showed a report on the government meeting on the day, but dwelled in general terms on the problems with the country’s banking and financial system. The outburst, which was directed at Azimov and regional financial officials, was not shown.

Audio of the meeting surfaced, however, on the Facebook page of RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, Radio Ozodlik.

Mirziyoyev’s raging tantrum is remarkable for the detail with which he upbraids the targets of his anger. At one stage he lashes out at the head of a bank for the Samarkand region.

“[He] will never go to the Bulungur district [in the Samarkand region], because he does not have time,” Mirziyoyev thundered sarcastically. “He has to have lunch in Samarkand, he has to sleep well. After lunch he has a good nap, and then he has a nice dinner. What kind of a banker do you call that?! He is his own master.”

Worst for the official in question, Mirziyoyev hints heavily that bribery might be at play.

“Of course, in the Bulungur district nobody will ever say a word to him. He has a [business] partner there who brings him money every month,” the president said.

It is not immediately clear what has happened in the Bulungur district to so exercise Mirziyoyev, but the president appeared particularly enraged that banks are failing to properly provide entrepreneurs with the credit they need for business development. And Azimov was ultimately to blame, he said.

“If Azimov, working in Tashkent, would descend from up on high and keep strict tabs on this, this would not happen,” he said.

In the expurgated TV report, Azimov was shown with his head bowed, nodding and generally appearing to agree with Mirziyoyev’s remarks.

It is indeed Azimov who has since September been in charge of macroeconomic development in Uzbekistan. He is also the Cabinet point-man for attracting foreign investment into the country. Under the late President Islam Karimov, Azimov had combined his duties as deputy prime minister with those of finance minister, from 2005 through to 2016.

After Karimov’s death — even before it — Azimov was considered a leading contender for succession. Whether out of his inertia or other unknown developments, when the moment came to violate the constitution by handing interim powers to somebody other than the speaker of the Senate, as legally required, it was the then-prime minister Mirziyoyev that got the nod.

While it appeared for some time that Mirziyoyev and Azimov might be able to co-exist in a condominium arrangement, this notion was largely disabused in January, when the president humiliated his erstwhile rival by charging him with overseeing a national chicken-rearing program.

Economist Rafael Sattarov said Mirziyoyev’s remarks about the weakness of the banking system were on the money, however, and that it is Azimov who will probably be forced to carry the can.

“After Azimov’s public humiliation with the chicken-rearing, it has become clear that his days in power are counted. As far as my information allows me to say, they have given him the chance to continue working until 2018,” he told EurasiaNet.org.

Azimov also came in for criticism during a speech in January by Mirziyoyev to sum up the previous year’s achievements.

“If Azimov had the inclination to see serious shortcomings and problems … we would have much better results in the economic and financial sectors,” Mirziyoyev said at the time.

Speaking to EurasiaNet.org, economist Yuliy Yusupov said that there are two urgent priorities that need tackling in Uzbekistan’s finance sector: reforms to the tax and banking system and availability of hard cash.

At the end of this week’s government meeting, Mirziyoyev promised he would fire half of the finance sector officials working in the regions. The axman should be sharpening his tools for Azimov.

In a winner-takes-all system like Uzbekistan’s, the ascendancy of one politician necessarily spells the decline of another. As the Uzbek proverb goes: “You cannot boil two rams’ heads in one pot.”

Uzbekistan: President Chews Out Former Would-be Rival

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