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Central Asia in Focus: No Change in Uzbekistan Until At Least 2037

Plus the falling Russian ruble’s effect on remittances, the new China-Afghanistan route, and more.

Campaign posters of Uzbekistan's president and presidential candidate, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, and other candidates decorate the Uzbek capital of Tashkent on July 7, 2023. Vyachselav Oseledko (AFP).
Campaign posters of Uzbekistan’s president and presidential candidate, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, and other candidates decorate the Uzbek capital of Tashkent on July 7, 2023. Vyachselav Oseledko (AFP).

In the Region

No Change in Uzbekistan Until At Least 2037
When Shavkat Mirziyoev became Uzbekistan’s leader in late 2016 he made a lot of promises about changing the way the country was governed.

There were hopes inside and outside Uzbekistan that badly needed social, political, and economic reforms were coming.

On July 9, Uzbekistan conducted a snap presidential election.

Mirziyoev predictably won the election, receiving 87.05 percent of the votes.

None of Mirziyoev’s three opponents in the poll managed to get more than 4.5 percent of the votes.

The real losers were anyone who still held out hope that there really could be a “new” Uzbekistan, as Mirziyoev promised many times.

The titles of reports and headlines of articles about the Uzbek presidential election in the days before polling stations opened showed how low expectations were.

RFE/RL’s headline aptly summed up the sentiment: “Little Mystery Over Final Result As Uzbeks Prepare To Vote For President.”

Human Rights Watch released a report on July 7 entitled “Uzbekistan’s Election Highlights Lost Hopes for Reform.”

A Voice of America article on July 8 had the headline “Disillusioned Uzbeks Prepare to Reelect Mirziyoyev.”

Al Jazeera wrote “Uzbekistan presidential election: No choice amid apathy and heat.”

Only registered political parties can nominate candidates.

There are five registered political parties in Uzbekistan.

Two of them – the Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan and Milli Tiklanish (National Revival) party – supported Mirziyoev.

The snap election was announced just days after the April 30 referendum on amendments to the constitution.

Among those amendments was one extending the presidential term from five to seven years.

Constitutional experts in Uzbekistan ruled that change annulled the two five-year terms Mirziyoev already won, freeing him to run two more times and potentially remain in power until 2037.

Why It’s Important: Any hope for political reforms, especially allowing genuine opposition parties or independent candidates to participate, seems dead, for now.

It is not just a pity for Uzbekistan, but for all of Central Asia.

Uzbekistan is the most populous country in Central Asia with more than 36 million people and it borders all the other Central Asian states.

If Mirziyoev had kept all his promises on greater participation in politics for the people, and respect for independent media (See this week’s Majlis podcast), it might have encouraged neighbors to follow Uzbekistan’s example.

As it is, this snap election shows Uzbekistan’s system of government appears to have changed little.

Falling Russian Ruble Is Bad News for Remittances

On July 7, Kyrgyzstan’s National Bank set the daily exchange rate of one Russian ruble as worth slightly less than one Kyrgyz som.

The exchange rate of the U.S. dollar is about 87 Kyrgyz som to $1.

On July 8, the Russian ruble’s value dropped further to around 93 to one U.S. dollar.

Russian Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina attributed the ruble’s decline to falling exports.

The ruble has lost 23 percent of its value in 2023.

That will have a big effect on the estimated six million Central Asian migrant laborers in Russia, and on remittances sent to their families back in Central Asia.

Why It’s Important: In 2022, remittances accounted for 31 percent of GDP in Kyrgyzstan and some 51 percent of GDP in Tajikistan.

In Uzbekistan remittances averaged around 12-13 percent of GDP, but in 2022 remittances nearly tripled and made up some 21 percent of GDP.

Remittances sent to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan have become invaluable to hundreds of thousands of people in those countries who are unemployed and underemployment remains high.

Remittances to Central Asia increased in the first four months of 2023 with transfers to Uzbekistan up by 21 percent.

Most of these remittances are coming from Russia.

The resilience of remittances from Russia is partially due to more people from Central Asia going to Russia in 2022 and 2023 to find work.

If the ruble continues to drop in value or remains at current levels, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are likely to see a significant drop in remittances in the last half of 2023.

It will be a problem for Central Asian migrant laborers also.

There is no work back home in their countries and, due to language and visa problems, limited options for going to other countries.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast looks at Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev’s failure to keep his promises to journalists.

Mirziyoev has said several times he supports the media, and he has encouraged journalists to uncover shortcomings and corruption in state and society.

recent report from the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights details how journalists and bloggers have ended up in prison for reporting on topics Mirziyoev urged them to bring to light.

This week’s guests are:

What I’m Following

New China-Afghanistan Route Starts Operation

train left Lanzhou, China on July 4 bound for Afghanistan via Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

The multimodal route uses trains from Lanzhou to Kashgar in Xinjiang, where cargo is loaded on trucks that carry the cargo to Kyrgyzstan’s train station at Osh.

From Osh, the goods will go by train to Tashkent. That section of the trip will take 12 days.

From Tashkent the train goes to Afghanistan.

Number Two Guy in Kyrgyzstan Against the Matronymic

Last week, we looked at the controversy over one woman in Kyrgyzstan wanting to give her children a matronymic, a middle name that shows they are her children instead of the patronymic that refers to the children’s fathers.

Kyrgyzstan’s Constitutional Court agreed and ruled legislation should allow use of the matronymic.

Kamchybek Tashiev is the head of Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security and President Sadyr Japarov’s righthand man.

Tashiev wrote on Facebook that “whoever (made the decision) should cancel it!”

Tashiev said that was his personal opinion, but he is a powerful figure in Kyrgyzstan.

The battle for equal gender rights is far from over in Kyrgyzstan.

Fact of the Week

Kyrgyz officials estimate water shortages will leave the reservoir of the country’s main supplier of electricity – the Toktogul hydropower plant – with two billion cubic meters less water than anticipated.

That will translate into a shortage of some three-billion kilowatt hours of electricity during the coming autumn-winter period.

Thanks for Reading

Thanks for reading Central Asia in Focus! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who may be interested.

Feel free to contact me on Twitter or by responding to this email, especially if you have any questions, comments, or just want to connect about topics concerning Central Asia. See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.

Until next time,