Uzbek President Islam Karimov has been hospitalised, the Uzbek government said in a statement on August 28. No other information was provided in the statement.
That marks the first time in Uzbekistan’s history that the Uzbek government has issued a statement about the health of Karimov, now 78, who has been at the helm of the country since 1989. The fact that the news has been broadcast might indicate that he is close to death, and that the race to succeed him has already started.
Sources close to the People Movement of Uzbekistan (PMU), an umbrella group bringing together a number of diaspora opposition movements headed by exiled political activist Muhammad Solih, claimed to have been present when Karimov lost consciousness on August 26, when the Uzbek leader received the country’s Olympic team at his residence near Tashkent. At the event, Karimov reportedly lost consciousness after consuming some alcohol, PMU said in a statement on its website. Doctors were said to have diagnosed a heart attack.
On August 29, Karimov’s daughter Lola Karimova-Tillyayeva wrote on her Instragram account that her father was hospitalised due to a “cerebral haemorrhage”, adding that his condition was “stable”. “Due to cerebral hemorrhage, which happened on Saturday morning, he was hospitalised and is in an intensive care unit. His condition is stable. At the moment it is too early to make any predictions about its future condition,” Karimova-Tillyayeva wrote.
Also present at the banquet were Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Finance Minister Rustam Azimov, both thought to be among Karimov’s potential successors.
Azimov, who is also the country’s deputy prime minister, is known for wielding enormous influence over the economy as well as being one of the key figures behind Uzbekistan’s ambitious privatisation drive. Azimov allegedly has indirect control of the Uzbek commercial bank Ipak Yuli Bank through Rustambek Rakhimbekov, whom Azimov made a chairman of the board at the bank in 1999. Azimov’s reputation supposedly began to rise after he started securing ADB financing for the country, including ADB’s first equity investment into Ipak Yuli in 2012.
On the other hand, Mirziyoyev, who has been prime minister for a decade, boasts popularity among the Uzbek elite and is in charge of the country's key agricultural sector - the cotton industry, which has been criticised for the use of forced labour and child labour.
Other widely discussed names that could replace Karimov have long included his daughters. Karimov was rumoured in September 2015 to be preparing his second daughter - Lola Karimova-Tillyayeva - to be his successor. She is now Uzbekistan’s permanent delegate to Unesco in Paris. “In contrast [to Gulnara, Karinov’s other daughter], she possesses diplomatic restraint and modesty, and in international circles she has a positive image,” Karimov reportedly said during an April 2015 meeting with his closest lieutenants, including the aforementioned Mirziyoyev and Azimov.
An anonymous Uzbek observer, however, suggested to bne IntelliNews in September that the story could have been made up to ruin Karimov’s daughter chances of becoming a president. “This sort of story that she has been chosen as a successor is invented in order to “ruin all her chances” of becoming a successor, they said.
Karimov’s once powerful elder daughter Gulnara Karimova had lost all chances of becoming a successor after falling from grace with her father in 2014 after she was accused of being part of an organised crime ring suspected of defrauding the state of millions of dollars.
The observer suggested that a behind-the-scenes game is now being played by the elite groups in Uzbekistan not to allow one of the daughters to succeed Karimov. The observer also questioned whether Karimov, while still remaining a nominal president, retains any power in the “mafia” system he has developed in Uzbekistan during his quarter-century-long rule. This creates uncertainty about the real amount of power wielded by the Uzbek president within the country and his ability to pick his own successor.