Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has made a major stride toward being enshrined sultan-for-life after the country’s token lawmakers approved major changes to the constitution.
Parliament and the Council of Elders at a joint session on September 14 waved through an increase of presidential terms from five to seven years and agreed to scrap the 70-year age limit for pretenders to the highest office in the land.
These fixes ensure that Berdymukhamedov, 59, will be able to remain in situ for as long as he pleases.
Speaking at the Council of Elders assembly, a gathering of town seniors from all across the country, Berdymukhamedov claimed that the amendments had been adopted at the request of the people.
The new constitution was “drafted by all our people on the basis of multiple suggestions from the country’s citizens, political parties, representatives of civic associations, state bodies, scientific organizations, lawyers and international experts,” he said.
Signing off on the new constitution, Berdymukhamedov said the revised document would give the country a new thrust of energy.
Berdymukhamedov, a dentist by training, came to power in late 2006 following the sudden death of Saparmurat Niyazov, who granted himself lifelong leader status in 1999. He was reelected to a five-year term with 97 percent of the vote in 2012.
The next presidential elections will take place in 2017 and involve participation of three political parties — the Democratic Party, the Agrarian Party, and the Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Party. All those parties are transparently bogus entities clumsily designed to convey the notion of a plurality that barely anybody accepts at face value.
All the same, Berdymukhamedov opined that the spirit of competition between parties would create a fresh mood in the country.
Kyrgyzstan’s five-party ruling coalition appears to have seen better days as quarrels over constitutional changes dominate parliamentary sessions and supporters of President Almazbek Atambayev continue to harangue opponents of an upcoming referendum.
The nominally socialist Ata-Meken faction and the pro-agrarian Onuguu-Progress party have expressed doubts about the changes. The former was invited to leave the ruling alliance by Isa Omurkulov, who leads Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan in parliament.
Onuguu-Progres leader Bakyt Torobayev said at a September 14 session of parliament that the coalition was in “intensive care” and, warming to his theme, on “artificial respiration.”
He also cited a conversation with a citizen from a rural area who “hadn’t read the [proposed] constitutional changes but was concerned that they are being done to usurp power.”
Even if both Onuguu-Progress and Ata-Meken walked out of government, the three remaining parties (SDPK, Bir Bol and the Kyrgyzstan party) would still have enough seats to form a majority. For what it’s worth, Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebayev has stated he has no imminent plans to ditch the coalition.
But suspicions over the constitutional fiddle, which is being pushed by Atambayev as he nears the end of his single term six-year presidency, are growing.
The most significant changes involve a recasting of the state’s obligations toward upholding human rights and enhancing the office of the prime minister against that of the presidency.
The language on rights issues signals a marked lurch toward nationalist conservatism.
Investigators from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization are working on the case of the Chinese embassy bombing in Bishkek, which includes "Russian traces," a senior Russian security official said.
"Work on identifying the individuals who took part in the terror act in Bishkek continues with the coordination of SCO special services," said Sergey Smirnov, deputy director of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), at an SCO meeting in Almaty on Tuesday. "In this work, Tajik, Chinese, and Russian traces are being pursued."
A suicide bomber, whom Kyrgyzstan authorities described as a Uighur holding a Tajikistan passport, attacked the Chinese embassy in Bishkek in late August, killing himself and wounding three embassy employees. If the Uighur connection is confirmed, it would signify that the insurgency that the Uighurs -- a Turkic, Muslim people centered in China's northwest -- have been carrying out in China has expanded into Central Asia.
Smirnov's reference to "SCO special services" is unclear; he could be referring to special services of SCO member countries (which include China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) or organs of the SCO itself, like the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure. The former is not newsworthy but the latter would be, suggesting a deepening role of the SCO in regional security. But for now it seems more likely that Smirnov was referring to SCO member states, and phrased it that way because he was at an SCO meeting.
Three people in Uzbekistan’s Sirdarya region have been sentenced to 12 years in jail for committing fraud in the cotton business, according to a report by Russian state news agency Sputnik later relayed by local media.
Other people connected to the crime received less severe penalties, the agency reported.
Corruption in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry, whose profitability is known to be underpinned by a vast amount of rights abuses, is something that is widely suspected but little investigated or reported. Emergence of this relatively small case of malfeasance has shed some light on the irregularities that prevail in the industry.
“Sirdarya regional court ruled that the criminal group caused major financial damage to the government and embezzled more than 7 billion sum ($1.1 million) from the region’s cotton sector,” Sputnik reported, citing an unnamed courts official.
Sirdarya region neighbors the Tashkent region to the southwest and is around one hour’s drive from the capital.
Investigations into the fraudulent scheme concerned activities between July 2011 to May 2013 at a factory that collected and paid for deliveries of raw cotton from farmers.
“The criminals not only appropriated money provided by the government for the purchase of cotton, but they also in fact engaged in theft of this valuable commodity, selling it on the side,” Sputnik cited its source as saying.
While Sputnik did not dwell on the particulars of the embezzlement scheme, some insight was provided by an Uzbek journalist who has written extensively on the cotton industry for local outlets.
Police in Uzbekistan are reportedly on the hunt for people that they say spread unfounded rumors about the recent death of President Islam Karimov.
Russian news agency RIA Novosti cited Interior Ministry sources on September 9 as saying that they are looking for anybody that spread the gossip through social media, phone messaging apps and internet telephony services.
The witch-hunt is confounding even by Uzbekistan’s standards since most people, including the government in Tashkent, now agree that Karimov is indeed no longer alive. But the issue appears specifically to be all about the date on which the late president passed.
RIA Novosti’s source is cited as saying that the police are looking for “those social media users that spread the untrue information about Karimov’s date of death and that spread panic about a possible worsening of the country’s socio-political situation.”
RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, Ozodlik, said 12 people had been detained in the Namangan region for sharing news about Karimov’s presumed death through the Telegram and WhatsApp messaging services.
Ozodlik reported that middle school pupils and students at colleges in Tashkent and in the regions are now being forced to delete messaging apps from their phones for fear of more rumor-sharing.
What is particularly perverse about this frenzy of policing is that all evidence points to the fact that Karimov was indeed to all intents and purposes more dead than alive for days before his passing was announced, on September 2. As commentators have noted, the government did more to threaten stability by refusing to provide reassuring clarity about the situation than any social media user could have done.
Uzbekistan's new president has signaled that he will continue the country's isolationist foreign policy, promising to not join any military alliances and to not allow any foreign military bases in the country.
Shavkat Mirziyoyev was confirmed on Thursday as Uzbekistan's interim president, following the death of Islam Karimov, who had ruled the country since before the Soviet Union collapsed.
The same day, Mirziyoyev addressed parliament and laid out the broad strokes of the policies he intends to follow. In the military/foreign policy section of the speech there were no surprises, and he explicitly confirmed that he intended to to pursue the isolationism that Karimov developed over the period of his rule.
"The firm position of our country, as before, is to not join any military-political bloc, to not allow the deployment of military bases and objects of any other state on the territory of Uzbekistan, or the deployment of our soldiers outside the borders of the country," Mirziyoyev said.
The reference to the "military-political bloc" would preclude Uzbekistan rejoining the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which it left in 2012. Russia (which leads the group) has held on to hopes that Uzbekistan would rejoin; Uzbekistan's absence -- as the biggest country in Central Asia -- has hampered the CSTO's credibility in the region.
Mirziyoyev did, though, praise the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a group that served the interests of Uzbekistan. The SCO could be called a "military-political bloc," but its military component is secondary (or tertiary) and Uzbekistan has mostly not participated in SCO military activities, anyway.
Uzbekistan has released four citizens of Kyrgyzstan it detained last month during an ongoing border dispute standoff, ratcheting down the tension between the countries.
Kyrgyzstan’s border service said on September 9 that that men were released by the Uzbek police following negotiations.
The four were reportedly in good health.
“Our health is fine. We are experiencing no problems and they looked after us well. Everything is good,” one of the released men, Zhenish Tashmatov, told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service.
While that takes the sting out of the situation, the dispute that precipitated the men’s detention continues to rumble on.
Kyrgyz border guards have said around 20 Uzbek police officers are still occupying the telecommunications relay tower on Ungar-Too mountain where the four Kyrgyz men were detained. An Mi-8 helicopter carrying seven Uzbek policemen landed on Ungar-Too on August 22.
Ungar-Too is nominally one of the disputed chunks of territory, although the real prize for Tashkent is the Kasan-Sai reservoir, which is operated and de facto controlled by Uzbekistan, despite being several kilometers inside Kyrgyzstan.
Access to Kasan-Sai is currently blocked by Kyrgyz police checkpoints and another line of Uzbek defenses at the facility itself. At the site, there are numerous houses inhabited by Uzbek technicians and their families. Uzbekistan is aggrieved that it is not being given free and unfettered access to the reservoir, to which it holds territorial claims, by Kyrgyzstan.
Other than Uzbekistan, few are eager to see the formation of yet another enclave on the fringes of the Fergana Valley, which is what Tashkent’s desired outcome would entail.
A winner has been declared in Uzbekistan’s succession sweepstakes: a joint session of the Uzbek parliament on September 8 confirmed Shavkat Mirziyoyev as the country’s interim president.
Mirziyoyev, the incumbent prime minister, had been a front runner to take power after it was announced on September 2 that long-time leader Islam Karimov had died from an apparent stroke. Technically, a special presidential election must be held within three months according to Uzbekistan’s constitution, but Mirziyoyev’s victory seems all but assured now that he can wield all the levers of executive authority and tilt the playing field in his favor.
A government statement issued September 8 noted that lawmakers endorsed Mirziyoyev’s succession because he is seen as someone who can ensure “the provision of public security and law and order, and the effective resolution of highly important issues in the ... political and socioeconomic development of the country.”
That the announcement of Mirziyoyev’s appointment came six days after the news of Karimov’s death was released suggests that the political transition was far from smooth, and that there still may be substantial opposition to his rule from within Uzbekistan’s political elites.
The parliamentary endorsement of Mirziyoyev as interim president put an end to the brief tenure of Senate Chairman Nigmatilla Yuldashev as acting chief executive. Although never formally appointed, Yuldashev, in his legislative capacity, was, according to the constitution, the rightful interim president until a special election could determine Karimov’s successor. Yuldashev during the power vacuum fulfilled some formal executive functions.
In a surprising shakeup of Kazakhstan’s leadership, prime minister Karimov Masimov was on September 8 moved sideways and appointed head of the security services.
In a decree confirming that appointment, President Nursultan Nazarbayev named the up-and-coming Bakytzhan Sagintayev to head up the government, albeit only in an interim capacity for now.
It is not immediately obvious what motivated the personnel shuffle, but the position of Vladimir Zhumakanov, the outgoing head of the National Security Committee, or KNB, has been in question since a spate of fatal shootings in the western city of Aktobe in June.
This spells the end of Masimov’s second stint as prime minister. He served as head of government in 2007 and fill that post until 2012, after which he headed the presidential administration. He was again named prime minister in April 2014.
His removal as head of the Cabinet has been predicted for months, but that he would be appointed head of the security services is something few can have expected. It has long been rumored, although never officially confirmed, that Masimov had a background in the secret services in the Soviet era, so the transition may not be as surprising as it seems.
Political commentator Marat Shibutov told news and analysis website 365info.kz that he believed the move was only temporary.
“He will remain one of the most influential people in the country and close to the president. So you cannot write him off. This is just a temporary disappearance into the shadows,” Shibutov said.
Shibutov estimated that Masimov would occupy his KNB post for around one year.
The president of Tajikistan this week granted a rare reprieve to a jailed member of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party.
As Zarafo Rahmoni told RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, on September 7, the politician was not released as part of an amnesty but is being pardoned outright.
Rahmoni was one — the only female — among the IRPT leadership jailed in 2015 on charges of involvement in an alleged attempted coup last September.
“A few months ago, I wrote a letter to the president of Tajikistan and I was certain that he would listen to the requests of a woman. And so he has pardoned me, for which I am grateful,” the 44-year old Rahmoni said.
Rahmoni said she was in good health but would need some time to recover from her experience in detention. Her activities in the IRPT focused on legal affairs, and she stood for parliament on three occasions.
She was sentenced to two-and-half years in jail for failure to disclose information to the authorities. But in May, news website Tojnews claimed Rahmoni was the only arrested IRPT member to provide evidence against fellow party members. Rahmoni is reported to have stated that she was forced into becoming an IRPT member through threats of violence and that the party was plotting violent acts of insurgency.
In the absence of concrete evidence underpinning such claims, it is unwise to give them excessive credence. It is however important to note that Tajik police and investigators are widely accused by rights groups of using torture, intimidation tactics and threats against family members as ways of extorting confessions. Female suspects are said to face threats of rape while in custody.