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In Karimov's Shadow -- A Look At Shavkat Mirziyaev

Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev is considered a likely candidate to succeed the late Islam Karimov as the country's president. (file photo)
Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev is considered a likely candidate to succeed the late Islam Karimov as the country's president. (file photo)

In a country whose government kept silent for four full days after revealing that its only post-Soviet leader was in the hospital with an undisclosed ailment, it's tough to read the tea leaves about who might come to power in the wake of President Islam Karimov, whose death was announced by Uzbek state TV on September 2.

There have been hints, however, that Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev could be the most likely candidate.

Experts outside Uzbekistan spoke of Mirziyaev as a main contender for the helm in the first days after the government's August 28 announcement. There were further indications later in the week when Mirziyaev led a procession to lay flowers at the Independence Monument in Tashkent on August 31, the eve of Uzbekistan's Independence Day. That task had previously been reserved for Karimov.

And on September 1 -- a day before the government announced that Karimov was in critical condition after a stroke -- Mirziyaev abruptly flew to Samarkand, the president's native town. Reports from RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, showed there was frantic activity under way cleaning streets and digging in the cemetery where Karimov's mother and one of his brothers are buried.

Mirziyaev, 58, has been in his post since 2003, making him the longest serving prime minister in Uzbekistan's 25-year history as an independent country. Prior to that he was the governor of the Samarkand Province (2001-03), and the Jizzakh Province (1996-2001).

He was reportedly born in the Jizzakh area. His parents were doctors. In his university years Mirziyaev trained in irrigation and mechanized farming. He became a local leader in the Komsomol, the Soviet-era youth group.

'Hot Temper'

Mirziyaev has spent his time as prime minister in the shadow of Karimov, drawing little attention despite what some who have known him say is a hot temper and a stubborn streak.

Sharaf Ubaidullaev, who served as Karimov's spokesman during the 1990s and is no longer in Uzbekistan, described Mirziyayev as an "unpredictable" man and one "who always believes he is right."

During his tenure as governor of Jizzakh, Mirziyayev was reported to have beaten up a farmer who dared complain about the situation in the province.

Ubaidullaev told RFE/RL that this happened to more than one farmer, and that it was known that people who failed to meet state production quotas were likely to be punished once Mirziyaev found out.

Asked whether he thought Mirziyaev would be a better or worse president than Karimov, Ubaidullaev was quick with his answer: "Worse."

He also expressed doubt that Mirziyaev could lead Uzbekistan effectively on his own, saying: "He is not independent like Karimov."

Ubaidullaev suggested that made it all the more probable that Mirziyaev would lead an "oligarchy," granting informal power to tycoons in what he said would be one of the worst scenarios for Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan’s constitution says that if the president dies or is unable to perform his duties, the head of the upper chamber of parliament assumes the president's authority for a period of three months, and a new election is held.

The current head of the upper chamber, Nigmatulla Yuldashev, is not widely seen as a likely contender for the presidency.

In addition to Mirziyaev, others viewed as potential successors of Karimov include Finance Minister Rustam Azimov, 56, and National Security Committee (SNB) chief Rustam Inoyatov, 72.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service and Reuters

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    Bruce Pannier

    Bruce Pannier writes the Qishloq Ovozi blog and appears regularly on the Majlis podcast for RFE/RL.