The recent death of Uzbekistan’s seemingly perpetual president has drawn fresh attention to the uncertainties of one-man rule elsewhere in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea region, writes Freedom House researcher Rebeka Foley:
In the weeks since September 2, when President Islam Karimov (left) was declared dead after 27 years as ruler of Uzbekistan, other Eurasian autocracies have experienced political shake-ups that seem to reflect renewed anxiety about succession plans. Kazakhstan’s leader reshuffled his cabinet, Turkmenistan lifted a presidential age limit and extended presidential terms, and Azerbaijan is preparing for a September 26 referendum that will also consolidate presidential power.
These changes may have been in the works long before Karimov died. An ongoing economic downturn in the region has motivated many governments to clamp down on dissent and tighten their grip on the political system. Nevertheless, the developments warrant close observation, and serve as a reminder that authoritarian regimes are inherently brittle, as they actively suppress the institutions that make democracies flexible and resilient. RTWT
While Uzbekistan’s elites navigate through the post-Karimov transition, the Kazakh government embarked upon an extensive reshuffle whose official motive is the need to steer the country’s economy through a protracted period of crisis, notes Luca Anceschi, a lecturer in Central Asian Studies at the University of Glasgow. In what is only apparently the latest edition of the game of musical chairs that has come to define Kazakh elite politics, Bakytzhan Sagintaev became prime minister, replacing Karim Masimov, reassigned in turn to head the KNB — the National Security Committee, she writes for RFE/RL:
The appointment of long-term top cadre Imangali Tasmagambetov to a deputy ministerial position and the elevation of Nazarbaev’s eldest daughter, Darigha, to a Senate seat complete the list of key movements, while a series of more marginal appointments and dismissals followed on the tradition of instability that has permeated intra-elite relations in recent years.
There are fears among ordinary Central Asians of violence that could spill beyond Uzbekistan’s borders, if social and political tensions bubbling below the surface erupt, says Human Rights Watch’s Hugh Williamson:
Woven into this history is Germany’s key role in the way Karimov and his terrible rights record were handled on the international stage – and lessons on Berlin’s challenges in dealing with authoritarian governments. Germany has been most influential in shaping the European Union’s foreign policy towards Uzbekistan, all while depending on Tashkent as a vital strategic hub for its military engagement in neighbouring Afghanistan. This toxic mix hugely reduced Germany’s (and Europe’s) ability to curb Karimov’s human rights abuses.
The founders of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) defined the bank’s mandate as promoting market economies in countries committed to multiparty democracy and pluralism spirit, notes analyst Fidanka Bacheva-McGrath. But the EBRD sent almost twice as much money to authoritarian and partly free countries than to free countries in the last 25 years, she writes:
Perhaps most striking is that no less than nine of the EBRD countries of operation are labelled by this index as authoritarian. And last year alone, the EBRD has granted them $2.5 billion – nearly a quarter of its total investment volume in 2015.