Mathieur Boulègue, leading analyst for CAPE's Program Sogdiane
Originally published on Registan, 8/09/2016
For the first time since its independence, Uzbekistan is experiencing the tremors of managed political transition. On September 2 at 9 pm local time, President Islam Karimov officially died in the intensive care unit in Tashkent, where he had been treated since August 27 after suffering a brain hemorrhage and subsequent stroke. Conflicting reports stated that he might have died as early as August 28: preparations for the burial ceremony had been laid out in his native city of Samarkand already on September 1, one day before his presumed death. The official announcement, both in the press and through daughter Lola Karimova’s Instagram account, that the President had been admitted to a hospital helped raise awareness on the fact that the leader would not take part to the Independence Day ceremony on September 1 – and ultimately prepared the people for the worst.
President Karimov was buried in Samarkand on September 3, amidst genuine popular grief and plentiful foreign delegations.
Whatever the exact date of Karimov’s death, what matters is how the succession process unfolded.
Uzbekistan initially respected the legal and constitutional process of the presidential succession. As such, Senate Chairman Nigmatilla Yuldashev began serving as interim President on September 2, as per the Constitution. However, he was quickly replaced by Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev after both Houses of the Parliament voted him the new interim President on September 8 during a joint session. Presidential elections will be organized on December 4.
Much speculation and wishful thinking arose about the political future of the country, and especially the emphasis on a “succession war” taking place in Uzbekistan. Clearly, there will be no such “war”, as the succession process had already been decided a few years ago, as early as 2014, in the anticipation of Karimov’s death.
Seeing the intellectual and physical capabilities of the President declining since 2013, a handful of powerful political players took to themselves to lock up the political sphere in order to ensure a peaceful transition when the unavoidable took place. For the past few years, Uzbekistan’s political power was slowly taken over by the National Security Committee (SNB) in a bid to maintain stability in a post-Karimov era and thus ensure a peaceful transition.
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