Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has sidelined a member of his ruling triumvirate, Rustam Azimov, Reuters reported on April 26, citing two anonymous sources with ties to the Uzbek government.
The development is potentially troubling for Uzbekistan’s future. Azimov was seen as the force behind proposed liberalising reforms, including the return of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to Uzbekistan, following the death of President Islam Karimov last September.
The third triumvirate member, security chief Rustam Inoyatov, has reportedly been opposed to some of Mirziyoyev’s proposed changes, such as the plan to move the country’s embattled national currency over to a floating exchange rate regime. Such opposition to change is one reason why many of Mirziyoyev’s immediate promises are yet to see the light of day.
Despite the reported sidelining of the reformist wing of the ruling circle, Mirziyoyev has taken on a cautious modernisation of the Central Asian country himself, according to the report. However, while he is the successor to the autocrat Karimov, Miziyoyev’s role is not so unlimited in power due to his dependence on other members of the unofficial ruling team.
The situation is seen leading to political infighting, which might potentially end with some of the elites losing power – analysts say it is akin to the power struggle that ensued following Stalin’s death in the USSR. Now that Mirziyoyev is left with only Inoyatov, the security chief’s conservative influence could have an impact on the rate of reform in the country.
Apart from aiming to modernise the country’s $70bn economy, Mirziyoyev has shown a commitment to freeing political dissidents imprisoned by Karimov, issued laws to protect the interests of small businesses, eased the process of renouncing Uzbek citizenship and promised to install a visa-free regime with 15 countries, among other goals.
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”.
On the other hand, in a similar situation in neighbouring Turkmenistan, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow was originally seen as a reformer when he succeeded the late dictator Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006. But his reformist promises have not come to fruition. Though at the beginning of his first term Mirziyoyev is showing more commitment to reforms than Berdimuhamedow did, it is not far-fetched to believe that the Uzbek president will step back from some of his initial goals.