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  • Tuesday, May 9 2017
  • Daniel Jiménez
  • Analysis
  • Geopolitics
  • 0

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Abstract

Change is coming to the regimes of Central Asia, with Uzbekistan only the first state to experience a succession crisis. The departure of a long-standing leader can result in regime consolidation, but a struggle for power can also lead to a period of glasnost and democratization.

The average age of a citizen of Uzbekistan is 27.1 years old. That is exactly the number of years Islam Karimov has ruled his country.

Now, Central Asia’s most populous state faces a classic scenario: its seemingly perpetual ruler is seriously ill, rumored to have died already. Karimov, who has led Uzbekistan since even before it gained independence in 1991, looks set to leave the stage without having picked a successor—perhaps fearing that that successor would have hastened his own demise.

What happens to a country whose people for the most part have never known another leader when that leader leaves? The ruling bureaucracy often sets aside its internal quarrels and unites in an instinct of self-preservation. Sometimes they need to draw support from the people, and an internal power struggle becomes public, which makes democratization possible. Uzbekistan is only the first of the Central Asian states to face these scenarios. The stability of its neighbors also pretty much fluctuates relative to the blood pressure of their presidents. Kazakhstan seems to be constructed on more rational and predictable lines, but its future strongly depends on its leader’s health. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are in the same boat. The autocratic leaders of these two republics are not that old, but they are also mortal. If threats of regime breakdown materialize, Russia will have to deal with refugees, ethnic strife, and religious wars almost unaided. The Chinese certainly won’t come to the rescue.

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