Dictators and Pop-stars: Uzbekistan’s Executive Power

Another student guest post on Uzbekistan…and the Karimov family.  I promise, we’re not completely about Central Asia this semester!

Karimov, image from the article “The World’s Enduring Dictators”

The current president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, was the first secretary of Communist Uzbekistan in 1989, before the fall of the Soviet Union, and was then elected as the first president of the newly independent state in 1991. Karimov shows no sign of relinquishing control (he’s on CBS News list of “Enduring Dictators”) and has become one of the regions “president’s for life”. Uzbekistan’s constitution lays the groundwork for a democratic state.  It is a semi-presidential system much like France and Russia, consisting of a Prime Minister and a President. Presidents are elected for a maximum of two seven year terms.  And yet, since winning the 1991 election, Karimov has been re-elected twice and his term has been extended twice, and is preparing to run for a third term in 2014, a clear violation of the constitution. How has Karimov maintained control for twenty-four years? Karimov has manipulated the electoral system to control the formation of parties, oppressed opposition, media, and religious groups in order to control civil society, and controls state bureaucracy and industry via nepotism.

Karimov has followed Vladimir Putin’s example about electoral regulation: the state manipulates the rules to control party formation and candidates are banned from running unless they are affiliated with an official party. This ensures that any candidate running for office will be supportive of the current regime, because the state prevents any opposition party from forming. The OSCE describes Uzbekistani elections as being held in a “strictly controlled political environment” because there are no opposition parties in Uzbekistan. Each of the four parties in Parliament endorses Karimov. Even the candidates in the 2007 presidential election, who were running against Karimov, publicly endorsed the incumbent president. Karimov also rigs elections: he reportedly won in 2000 with 92% of the vote and 2007 with 88%, although most election monitors consider these fraudulent counts.

Karimov relies heavily on coercion to continue his total control of Uzbekistan: anyone challenging the regime is subject to arrest and torture. Islam has been targeted by the state—many Islamic leaders have been arrested and tortured in unfair trials—as Karimov controls civil society by controlling religion. He justifies his religious oppression by claiming it is counter-terrorism policies. The OSCE cites the lack of religious freedom as one of the worst human rights abuses in Uzbekistan. Human rights activists in Uzbekistan and journalists critical of the regime are similarly arrested, tried, and imprisoned for “misleading the people”.

Uzbekistan is in the top six most corrupt nations, and this high ranking is due to Karimov’s co-optation and nepotism: anyone in a high position in the Uzbek government or industry is likely a close friend or relative of Karimov. By co-opting the state, Karimov ensures that people in positions of power have something to gain by maintaining the status quo: the elites lose if Karimov is not in control, and this guarantees continued support for his regime.

The executive in Uzbekistan has free reign. There are no checks on his power, and this manifests itself in his eldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova. She has been linked to several shady business deals, including accepting a $300 million dollar bribe from a phone company wanting to expand into Uzbek markets.   She used her father’s position to punish her ex-husband: his factories were shut down and his relatives were imprisoned or deported to Afghanistan after the split. Her father has backed her recent PR campaign to improve her image as the “most hated person” in Uzbekistan by becoming a pop-star. There is some speculation that this newest stunt by the dictator’s daughter is suggestive of Karimov’s decision to begin grooming his daughter as his successor.  Either way, Gulnara’s lavish lifestyle and corrupt behavior are evidence of the utter lack of checks or balances on Karimov’s power.

Want to see Karimova’s music video with Gérard Depardieu?

Read more about her bid for stardom here.



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