Ailing health of Uzbekistan president sets off succession contest
Ailing president’s health sets off succession contest01/09/2016
There has been a major upsurge in rumours about the status of the leadership of the opaque regime in Uzbekistan ever since the government stated on 28 August that President Islam Karimov has been hospitalised for an undisclosed ailment, later described by his family as a brain haemorrhage. In the absence of verifiable information, there is heavy speculation about what is taking place behind closed doors. As Karimov is the only leader the country has had since the fall of the Soviet Union, it is clear Uzbekistan has entered a new phase of uncertainty. Karimov has systematically repressed dissent and any opposition to his rule has been arrested, exiled or executed.
Unconfirmed media reports claimed that Karimov died on 29 August. On 31 August, a state TV news anchor read out an Independence Day address typically read out by the president, fuelling the speculation and conjecture. Little is known about the succession plans Karimov may have set down, if such plans exist at all. Gossip frequently focuses on his two daughters, Gulnara Karimova and Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, who loathe one another. Whereas Gulnara once forged a public persona as a pop star, socialite, diplomat, fashion designer, businesswoman and philanthropist, she fell from grace after prosecutors in Sweden and Switzerland launched investigations into her business partners for corruption, bribery and money-laundering. At home, she and her husband are associated with asset seizures and general thuggery.
In contrast to Gulnara’s flamboyant image, Lola has led a relatively quiet life as Uzbekistan’s representative to UNESCO, living with her husband, Timur Tillyaev, a transport and import magnate. Nevertheless, she lives in even more opulent circumstances than her disgraced sister, having bought a USD 47 million mansion in Beverly Hills in 2013. Whether the couple choose to return to Uzbekistan to contest the succession may prove critical in the determination of Karimov’s likely succession and some see Timur as a potential contender.
It appears more likely, however, that the next president will be selected via back-room deals from the senior ranks of the regime. In the event of the president’s death, the Senate chairman, currently Nigmatilla Yuldashev, would hold power for a three-month period before new presidential elections. Elections only take place in Uzbekistan when the identity of the winner is known. Yuldashev is a former justice minister and is one of a multitude of anonymous figures within Uzbekistan’s nebulous elites, composed primarily of clans that seek power and wealth by virtue of their proximity to the presidency and the state security services.