Have Central Asian Succession Plans Clarified?

Have Central Asian Succession Plans Clarified?Have Central Asian Succession Plans Clarified?

Succession has been a hot topic in Central Asia for decades. Both Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Uzbek President Islam Karimov are getting old–75 and 77 years old, respectively. Each began first as their Soviet republic’s Communist Party head and then took the post of president of their newly independent state that formed out of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Both have exercised tight centralized control over the government and have managed to balance various clan interests to maintain stability. And both men’s families have played key roles in maintaining the government.

In addition to political loyalists, Nazarbayev has placed his three daughters, two of their husbands and a handful of other family members in charge of many of the country’s most important sectors and portfolios.

No one family member has held overwhelming power or seemed like a sure successor. Instead Nazarbayev created a constellation of leaders who balance one another through their competing power bases, Stratfor reports.

For years, high oil prices made it easy for the Kazakh president to divide power among his family and supporters. Over the past decade, the country’s gross domestic product rose by 62%, from $81 billion to $212 billion. In 2014, however, economic growth began to slow because of declining oil prices, problems expanding energy production at home and a recession in Russia.

Growth this year is expected to be only 1.5% compared with the average 8% to 13% growth over the past decade, with the exception of the 2009 recession.

Kazakhstan’s slowdown has spurred a struggle among the elite, including some of Nazarbayev’s family members, over how to address the country’s economic issues and a grab for assets.

The rivals have also disagreed over how to reform labor laws, particularly in the energy sector. These disagreements are likely the reason why Nazarbayev promoted his daughter, Dariga, to deputy prime minister. Dariga has long been a part of the Kazakh political system. She has run and led many of the pro-government political parties in parliament and state-run news agencies.

Her elevation to this post is a signal of her strengthening influence over Kazakhstan’s political structure. It could also put her in line to become the next prime minister, a role that may become more important if Kazakhstan follows through with its plans to shift to a parliamentary system.

  Uzbek Divisions

Though the rumors behind Kazakh succession have definite substance, the rumors behind Uzbek succession are murky and unreliable.

Karimov’s rule over Uzbekistan has been more challenging: Power in the country’s regions is divided among several clans that compete for assets and have been involved in security incidents. Karimov has attempted to arbitrate between the clans, particularly the three largest: Tashkent, Samarkand and Fergana.

These deep clan divisions have raised concerns that the eventual succession–or Karimov’s failure to control the clans–will lead to instability.

Unlike Nazarbayev, Karimov has not created a clear system of succession. Each clan’s elite tend to compete more intensely than Kazakhstan’s elite, who have been able to negotiate on most issues. There is a discussion in the government to shift to a parliamentary system so the succession does not rely on one person to replace Karimov. However, such reforms have yet to begin.

In early September, an article published on the website of the opposition People’s Movement of Uzbekistan alleged that Karimov had decided in April that his youngest daughter, Lola, would succeed him to the presidency. The article was written under the pseudonym “Usman Haknazarov,” a writer with a long track record of anonymously covering Uzbek leaders.

Haknazarov’s recent article suggested that security service chief and Tashkent clan leader Rustam Inoyatov was backing Lola. There have been mounting indications that Inoyatov has increased his power in recent years, orchestrating crackdowns on the other clans and their leaders.

But Inoyatov does not have rapport with the Uzbek leader and is too old to succeed Karimov, so it would make sense for Inoyatov to choose someone loyal to the Tashkent clan to succeed the president. The rumors of Lola as successor have become more plausible because of her presence on Uzbek television in recent months, showing off her philanthropic achievements.

  Transitioning Power

But while Lola is Karimov’s younger daughter, there are complications to her potential succession. She mostly lives outside the country in Switzerland, the United States and United Kingdom. She does not speak fluent Uzbek. And she has never really held a political position, except for being Uzbekistan’s permanent delegate to UNESCO. However, her husband, Timur Tillyaev, is a politician and adviser to Karimov.

The question then becomes why such an unrealistic proposal would be floated. It could be someone within the elite testing the waters for a Tashkent clan member to succeed Karimov, gauging the other clans’ reactions.

Also, Lola is a self-admitted rival to her elder sister, Gulnara, who has been associated with the Fergana clan. Gulnara has reportedly been under house arrest for years and many of her associates have been arrested for corruption. Promoting Lola could be an attempt to try to flush out any remaining Gulnara supporters.

Although both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan constantly spawn rumors of succession, family dynamics and clan politics, their recent uptick of activity points to real considerations for how to implement succession.

Kazakhstan seems to have designed a way to balance power, but the weakening economy looks to be adding stress and competition among the country’s elite.

Uzbekistan, meanwhile, does not seem to have a plan for succession, as clan competition and murky maneuvers continue to take place. Both countries will attempt to seamlessly transition power in the future, like Turkmenistan did in 2006, but their efforts could still spark instability.