The mercury is rising in Uzbekistan now that spring has arrived, yet the political temperature remains cool in advance of a presidential election March 29. Uzbekistan may suffer from a variety of political, social and economic ills, but election fever has never gripped this Central Asian state.
Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s strongman leader Islam Karimov, has been making international headlines for years amid charges of massive bribery and corruption. But fresh evidence unearthed by an anti-corruption watchdog suggests her avarice reached mind-boggling scales as she vacuumed up cash from telecoms companies wanting a slice of Uzbekistan’s lucrative cellphone pie.
Karimova received over $1 billion in payments and shares from Scandinavian and Russian telecoms companies such as TeliaSonera, Telenor, MTS, and Alfa Telecom, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) alleged in a report published March 21.
“Her audacious schemes may have cost the people of Uzbekistan money that could have paid for pensions or healthcare but instead went into banks, an offshore hedge fund and luxurious real estate around the world, including a castle in France and a penthouse in Hong Kong,” the OCCRP stated.
The watchdog was skeptical of the defense put forward by telecoms firms that they did not knowingly commit any wrongdoing: “While the international companies involved claim to have been innocent or unwilling dupes of her maneuvers, the blatant means by which Karimova allegedly operated made it virtually impossible for those involved not to realize they were giving in to extortion and bribery.”
Cracks in the fledging Eurasian Economic Union were on clear display in Astana on March 20 as the leaders of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus met to discuss the regional economic slump.
Nursultan Nazarbayev, the host president, made a point of affirming Kazakhstan’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity – a statement guaranteed to raise the Kremlin’s hackles. Vladimir Putin responded with a call for an EEU currency union, something that is anathema to both Nazarbayev and Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus.
“It is necessary to emerge from the situation that has arisen in Ukraine via diplomatic means; no military solution to this problem exists,” Nazarbayev said of Ukraine. “In so doing, it is important that any decisions taken are based on fundamental principles of international law. We are interested in Ukraine remaining a stable, independent, and territorially intact state.”
With Russia denying it has fomented separatist strife in southeastern Ukraine, such a pointed public statement from a close partner was guaranteed to rouse Putin’s ire. In his remarks, Putin said a ceasefire deal reached in Minsk in February – which has been routinely flouted – created a “real opportunity for a gradual de-escalation of the armed conflict.”
The long-serving strongman leader of Kazakhstan has confirmed his intention to stand for reelection in a snap vote next month. He is guaranteed to win a landslide.
Nursultan Nazarbayev accepted the nomination of his ruling Nur Otan party to stand in the April 26 election at a party congress on March 11, his Twitter feed reported.
“I declare my agreement to stand as a candidate for president from the Nur Otan party in the upcoming elections,” @AkordaPress, the Twitter account run by the presidential administration, quoted him as saying.
“We must move forward,” he told the congress in remarks quoted by Tengri News, after delegate after delegate had proposed in fawning speeches that the incumbent accept the nomination. Nazarbayev remarked that he was “not so young” but was ready to “do great deeds in the future.”
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As Kazakhstan heads for a snap presidential election, strongman leader Nursultan Nazarbayev is making no secret of his reasoning for an early vote: he wants to both reinforce support for the government to help it weather an economic downturn and to disarm “nationwide alarm” about the potential threat of “internal discord and external conflicts.”
Kazakhstan’s long-serving president has confirmed widespread expectations that the country will go to the polls in a snap election, setting the date for April 26.
Incumbent Nursultan Nazarbayev, 74, did not confirm he will stand in the poll. But in an address to the nation late on February 25 he dropped strong hints that he will, stressing the need for “stability” and “continuation.”
“First, all the appeals to me [to hold a snap election] reflect nationwide alarm that no internal discord or external conflicts should affect our country,” Nazarbayev said. “People understand that for this it is necessary to boost stability and the unity of our society.”
Secondly, he added, amid a “global economic crisis, the people need confidence in tomorrow. This means above all assuring jobs, and stability in social payments, salaries, and grants.”
Nazarbayev invoked “global geopolitical contradictions,” in an indirect reference to tensions in the post-Soviet region over the conflict in Ukraine. This means that “our citizens are concerned about the question of assuring national security,” he said. “Kazakhstanis are, therefore, coming out in favor of the further continuation of a balanced domestic and foreign policy.”
Nazarbayev’s words strongly suggest that he has every intention of staying in power for another term, since a change of leader in Kazakhstan, which has had the same president for a quarter of a century, would undoubtedly bring political upheaval in its wake.
Uzbekistan’s guardians of moral values have imposed a curfew on Internet cafes in Tashkent, which they believe are perverting the nation’s teens, encouraging them to view material “contradicting our national mentality.”
According to new rules issued by the Tashkent mayor’s office, Internet cafes and computer clubs must close by 9 p.m., with immediate effect. City hall says the curfew is needed because of the existence of “clips, pictures, sites, and films advocating aggression, brutality, and immorality, which exert a negative influence on minors and are one of the main causes of the increase in the number of crimes among young people.” As a further reason, the decree cites “the increase in the number of Internet cafes and computer clubs” in the capital.
The decree (which was passed on February 18 and came into force as it was published on February 25—just ahead of a presidential election next month) also banned minors from being in Internet cafes in school time or “at a late hour” without the presence of a parent or adult guardian. It did not specify what was meant by a “late hour,” but that is evidently before 9 p.m.
The decree also imposes a sweeping – and hard to define and enforce – ban on the existence “in the establishment’s computer memory” of any material “advocating immorality, religious extremism, [and] nationalism in the form of computer games, or their use through the Internet.”
Rakhat Aliyev, the flamboyant and controversial former son-in-law of Kazakhstan’s president, has been found dead in an Austrian prison, where he was awaiting trial on charges of murdering two bankers in Kazakhstan eight years ago.
Once a major powerbroker in Kazakhstan, widely feared for his ruthless pursuit of business interests and personal vendettas, Aliyev was found hanged in the Vienna jail on February 24, Reuters reported. Austrian corrections department director Peter Prechtl reportedly described the death as suicide, though Aliyev’s lawyer expressed doubts.
Aliyev’s death puts an end to a tumultuous life which saw him climb the dizzy heights of power alongside his ex-wife Dariga Nazarbayeva (the eldest daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbayev) and amass a vast fortune in Kazakhstan, before suffering a spectacular fall from grace and ending up behind bars on a murder rap in Europe.
The former senior official in the Nazarbayev administration fell out with his father-in-law in 2007 and holed up in exile to escape criminal charges, first in Austria and then in Malta (where he lived under his second wife’s surname, Shoraz).
He vociferously protested his innocence of all charges, waging a media war with Nazarbayev and making claims of political persecution that were widely ridiculed in Kazakhstan (including by the political opposition, to which he had never demonstrated any previous allegiance).