A winner has been declared in Uzbekistan’s succession sweepstakes: a joint session of the Uzbek parliament on September 8 confirmed Shavkat Mirziyoyev as the country’s interim president.
Mirziyoyev, the incumbent prime minister, had been a front runner to take power after it was announced on September 2 that long-time leader Islam Karimov had died from an apparent stroke. Technically, a special presidential election must be held within three months according to Uzbekistan’s constitution, but Mirziyoyev’s victory seems all but assured now that he can wield all the levers of executive authority and tilt the playing field in his favor.
A government statement issued September 8 noted that lawmakers endorsed Mirziyoyev’s succession because he is seen as someone who can ensure “the provision of public security and law and order, and the effective resolution of highly important issues in the ... political and socioeconomic development of the country.”
That the announcement of Mirziyoyev’s appointment came six days after the news of Karimov’s death was released suggests that the political transition was far from smooth, and that there still may be substantial opposition to his rule from within Uzbekistan’s political elites.
The parliamentary endorsement of Mirziyoyev as interim president put an end to the brief tenure of Senate Chairman Nigmatilla Yuldashev as acting chief executive. Although never formally appointed, Yuldashev, in his legislative capacity, was, according to the constitution, the rightful interim president until a special election could determine Karimov’s successor. Yuldashev during the power vacuum fulfilled some formal executive functions.
At the same time, he seemed to have no problem with being assigned a legacy as Uzbekistan’s Malenkov, the man who kept the seat warm as a power struggle played out following Stalin’s death in 1953. Yuldashev vociferously endorsed the idea of Mirziyoyev’s formal appointment as interim president.
While Mirziyoyev’s appointment may have been announced on September 8, his investiture really dates back to September 6, when Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Uzbekistan and, in a joint ceremony with the new interim Uzbek president, laid flowers at Karimov’s grave in Samarkand. The joint appearance created the impression of the Kremlin’s endorsement of Mirziyoyev’s succession.
Although Mirziyoyev now appears to be ensconced in power, the lack of clarity that characterized the political transition suggests that his authority is not yet secure. In the coming weeks and months, it is worth paying attention to the fate of Rustam Azimov, the Uzbek finance minister who was widely considered to be Mirziyoyev’s chief rival.
Azimov did not receive a lot of attention from state-controlled media during the period when Karimov was incapacitated, an indication that his political fortunes were waning. Nevertheless, his stature remained such that he was a pallbearer during Karimov’s burial, a clear sign that he retained, as of September 2, the support of an influential segment of the Uzbek political elite.
No news in the official press about Azimov in the coming weeks is not necessarily good news for Mirziyoyev. For the power struggle to be settled definitively, foreign observers should expect to hear about Azimov’s arrest, or his departure from the government. No such announcements have yet been made.
While Mirziyoyev’s path to power may now be clear of obstacles, if he slips in the near future, he may find that he has no room for forgiveness.