TASHKENT, Dec 2 (The Conway Bulletin) — Even last month, it was clear to Uzbeks who was going to win a presidential election on Dec. 4.
“It is already known who is going to be our new president,” laughed Farkhod, 55, a resident of Samarkand. “But still I am fine with him.”
The “him” is Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan’s PM and acting president since Islam Karimov died on Sept. 2.
And on a tour of Uzbekistan’s two main cities — Tashkent and Samarkand — Mr Mirziyoyev appeared to be a genuinely popular choice to replace Karimov. He’s also had the advantage of looking presidential by leading Karimov’s funeral and hosting various world leaders, such as Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Erdogan.
For Saidaziz, 21, a student in Tashkent, stability was the key issue. “I am going to vote for Mirziyoyev, as it seems that he is going to continue the line of Islam Karimov,” she said.
Not everybody is as enthusiastic, though. An Uzbek academic who preferred not to be named said that Mr Mirziyoyev had a reputation for being excessively strict.
“As far as I know, Karimov did not choose Mirziyoyev as his successor, as he was aware of the methods the latter prefers to use,” he said in hushed tones between sips of tea in a Tashkent cafe.
Still, for most Uzbeks, Mr Mirziyoyev’s moves to open up the country and to create jobs through major infrastructure projects are welcome. The economy has been in the doldrums for two years and needs stimulating.
Alexander, a 54-year-old plumber in Tashkent said that a change of president would have little impact on ordinary people.
“The elite will decide who becomes president, without our participation, but there won’t be any revolution from ordinary Uzbeks,” he said. “Creating a stable political system, like the one in America is more important task.”
>>This story was first published in issue 307 of The Conway Bulletin, a weekly independent newspaper covering Central Asia and the South Caucasus