Uzbekistan – The struggle for succession

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On Saturday November 15, the Uzbek president’s grandson Islam Karimov, named after his grandfather, released an interview to the BBC to bring attention to the case of his mother Gulnara, who has been held unofficially under house arrest since last March. This is only the latest episode of a family saga (Presidential Power Blog reported on this case here and here) whereby the members of the presidential family are fighting for power ahead of the presidential election scheduled for early 2015 – however in a situation where the incumbent president does not seem willing to leave power.

The young Islam Karimov had already lobbied for his mother’s release at the end of June 2014, when he gave an interview to the Russian channel Ren TV. During the interview he made clear that his mother was the victim of ‘powerful individuals’ who want to get rid of her fearing that she will standing for president. In his latest BBC interview, the young Karimov also made an appeal to his grandfather to ‘understand the extent of the manipulation’ around him and to understand that ‘we would never go against you and do what they say we would do, and I hope you fix the situation, as I know you have the power to do so’. The young Karimov indeed proposes a reading of the current situation consistent with his mother’s, who has claimed for over a year now that she is the victim of a conspiracy plotted by her mother, her younger sister and Rustam Inoyatov (the head of the powerful National Security Agency) behind the president’s back. According to Islam Karimov, the president is prevented from having any information about the current events. In late 2013, Gulnara accused her mother and sister of keeping the president in a state of ignorance and claimed to be the victim of judicial and physical persecution orchestrated by Inoyatov.

Aside from the gossipy interest that a Gulnara-like character raises among observers (a glamourous pop singer, businesswoman, politician, diplomat, philanthropist and fashion designer), experts are carefully watching for Karimov’s moves in search of information about his succession. According to an analyst, and contrary to what the young Karimov claims, the hypothesis that the president is unaware of what is going on is rather unlikely and, according to the Russian political scientist Alexey Malashenko, Gulnara’s arrest is relevant to the issue of succession because it clearly underlines that President Karimov is neither ready nor willing to leave power. Not only is it the case that Gulnara Karimova now has no chance of succeeding her father, but, according to Malashenko, her fall from grace indicates that Islam Karimov is tired of all the speculation about his successor. In addition, the president also seems to be demonstrating to the public that all are equal in the eyes of the law, even his own daughter, who was accused of corruption and fraud in Switzerland and Sweden. Moreover, Gulnara went as far as to criticise some of the human-rights abuses committed in Uzbekistan under the reign of her father, a move that Karimov deeply disliked and that brought about a strong reaction on the part of the president. Furthermore, analysts contend that even Karimov’s decision to back constitutional amendments that would transfer some power from the presidency to the legislative and executive branches is a tactical move and is not a sign that he is stepping back from politics.

With the president still in power, the choice about succession seems to remain uncertain. Indeed, Uzbekistan may be moving towards a presidency-for-life model. In that case, Malashenko argues, ‘neither Prime Minister Mirzieev nor Minister of Finance Rustam Azimov stand a chance of succeeding while Islam Karimov is still alive’.

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