Uzbekistan’s once-powerful but sidelined Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov has reportedly left his current position to be appointed to a different post, Uzbek news websites Uz24.uz and Kun.uz reported on June 6, citing anonymous sources.
No statement on his apparent new position has been put out. One site, Gazeta.uz, said former political heavyweight Azimov is to run the state export-import insurance company. That would amount to a major demotion from his longstanding role running the economy and finance.
While no official announcement has been made, the reports are supported by previous anonymously sourced indications of Azimov being sidelined from Uzbekistan's ruling triumvirate by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev who is moving to consolidate his power. Moreover, on June 1 the publication of the contents of a leaked tape featuring Mirziyoyev confirmed that Azimov was under pressure.
Azimov has been credited as the force behind proposed liberalising Uzbek financial and economic reforms seen since last September’s death of President Islam Karimov, who ruled for 16 years. These include the return of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to Uzbekistan.
While Mirziyoyev became the successor to autocrat Karimov, his role is not so unlimited in power given his dependence on the other members of the unofficial ruling team. It is thought political infighting has become a problem – analysts say the situation is akin to the power struggle that ensued following Stalin’s death in the USSR.
The third triumvirate member, head of state security service SNB Rustam Inoyatov, has reportedly been opposed to some policy changes which Mirziyoyev has been minded to green light, such as a plan to switch the embattled Uzbek currency over to a floating exchange rate regime. If it is the case that Mirziyoyev is now essentially left with only Inoyatov at his side, the security chief’s conservative influence could impact the rate of reform in the country.
Apart from his moves to modernise Uzbekistan's $70bn economy, Mirziyoyev has shown a commitment to freeing political dissidents imprisoned by Karimov. He has also issued laws to protect the interests of small businesses, completely phased out the practice of child labour in cotton harvesting, eased the process of renouncing Uzbek citizenship and promised to install a visa-free regime with 15 countries.
Mirziyoyev’s government has also promised Uzbek exporters that they will be mostly freed of the requirement to sell all their foreign currency revenues at the official central bank-set rates. A government source told bne IntelliNews last year that “any new company will be freed from currency conversion” and that freedom “could be prolonged if the company decides to reinvest”.