Uzbek succession speculation begins with Islam Karimov in intensive care

Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov is in intensive care after suffering a brain haemorrhage, according to his daughter Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva. “His condition is considered stable, ” she wrote on her Instagram account yesterday, apparently seeking to counter claims that her father had in fact died. “It is too early to make any predictions about his future health,”  she added,  and asked everybody to “refrain from speculation.”
Alive or not, the fact that his family and the authorities in Tashkent have admitted that he is in hospital suggests that while his condition may be stable, it must also be verging on the critical and will do nothing to quell speculation about who is to succeed him. Some observers are suggesting that his successor may already have been chosen.  “The fact that [Karimov’s illness] is public means that the succession is already likely to have been decided, Luca Anceschi, a Central Asia expert at the University of Glasgow, told the Foreign Policy website. They [the authorities] are planning for continuity. It will be a leadership change, but not really a regime change.”
The question of who should succeed Uzbekistan’ s strong man first hit the headlines four years ago when his high-profile eldest daughter Gulnara Karimova began a spectacular fall from grace when prosecutors in Sweden and Switzerland started investigating potentially corrupt business dealings involving  the Swedish-Finnish telecoms giant Teliasonera as it looked to secure a foothold in the Uzbek market.Since then,  Uzbekistan’s so-called ‘first daughter’ has  seen her business empire dismantled and she now lives under house arrest.
News of Karimov’s illness comes at difficult time, with the Central Asian state feeling the effects of Russia’s recession and a slowdown in the Chines economy. Like neighbouring Tajikistan and  Kyrgyzstan, remittances sent home  from some two million migrant workers have long been a vital source of income for Uzbekistan and these have shrunk dramatically in recent years; and like the rest of Central Asia, Tashkent is also haunted by the spectre of radical Islam.
The 78-year-old Karimov has dominated the  Uzbek leadership since 1989, when he rose to be Communist Party leader in then Soviet Uzbekistan. The following year he became president and continued in the post after independence. A referendum held in 1995 extended his term until 2000, when he won presidential elections unopposed. A further referendum in 2002 extended the presidential term from five to seven years, but the expiry of his term in January 2007 went largely unnoticed. He gained another two terms following elections in December 2007 and March 2015, both of which opponents dismissed as a sham.