Uzbeks pick second leader
Shavkat Mirziyaev. Source: Kremlin
Uzbekistan voted on December 4 in an election to appoint acting president Shavkat Mirziyaev as permanent successor to Islam Karimov, the dictator who ruled the Central Asian state for a generation.
Prime minister since 2003, Mirziyaev was made acting president six days after Karimov’s death was announced on September 2, bypassing the constitution which says the upper house Speaker is supposed to take the role. Under the Uzbek constitution, if no candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the votes cast, a second round between the two leaders will take place within one month.
Mirziyaev, 59, faced three “challengers” Khatamjon Ketmanov of the People’s Democratic Party, Sarvar Otamuratov of the Milliy Tiklanish (National Revival) Democratic Party, and Nariman Umarov of the Adolat (Justice) Social Democratic Party.
All three hopefuls supported the authoritarian government. Ketmanov and Umarov ran in last year’s presidential election which was disregarded as a sham by observers. Karimov, who was named Uzbekistan’s Communist Party chief in 1989 and ruled after the Soviet Union fell in 1991, eliminated almost all political opposition. Observers are waiting to see if the regime relaxes its grip under new leadership.
First a provincial governor and then prime minister, Mirziyaev has said that he intended to largely follow the course of his predecessor.
Some Uzbek dissidents hope that he will implement economic reforms, allow more freedom at home and open Central Asia’s most-populous country to the world. He said he would continue the policy of not joining any military alliances, not hosting any foreign armies’ bases and not deploying troops overseas.
Uzbekistan is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which includes Russia and China, but withdrew from the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organisation for a second time in 2012.
Within days of Karimov’s death, four nationals of Kyrgyzstan were freed and police officers were pulled from a border area disputed by the neighbours.
Tajikistan rapidly announced that it had agreed to resume flights between the capitals, Dushanbe and Tashkent, which were shelved in 1992. Kazakhstan says that it is close to reaching a deal on the long-standing issue of border demarcation.
The developments has been taken as an indicator that unlike Karimov, who reinforced obstacles to regional cooperation, the new president-in-waiting is eager to take a softer line in the region.