Uzbekistan - Politics, government, and taxation

Uzbekistan declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and a new constitution was adopted in 1992, declaring a multiparty democracy and a presidential republic. Since reelection in 2000, President Karimov has consolidated the government's power to run more like a dictatorship than a democracy. The 250-seat unicameral Ali Majlis (supreme council/parliament) has very little political clout. Although there has been universal suffrage since early Soviet times, members of parliament are nominated by local governors or selected from the People's Democratic Party (the former communist party) and other pro-government groups. The cabinet is headed by a prime minister who is nominated by the president, exerting total control on all other high-ranking national-and local-level officials. Other pro-government parties include the Home-land Progress, the National Revival, and the People's Unity Movement. Opposition groups, such as Birlik (Unity) and Erk (Will), were either silenced or banned in the early 1990s, and their leaders were banished. Only 2 human rights groups have survived under the strict government control. None of them has any large political role or represents any particular social group, and no opposition party at all existed legally in 2000. Adolat (Justice), an Islamic movement, was disbanded in 1992 and most of its members were incarcerated.

President Karimov considers Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism a major threat to the country, repeatedly citing it to justify his authoritarian rule to the public and the international community. Tajikistan is seen as a potential source of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism against Uzbekistan, as was Afghanistan prior to the toppling of that country's ruling fundamentalist Taliban regime in 2001. In many cases, the government's overreaction to real or imagined terrorist threats had the unintended effect of arousing sympathy from Uzbekistani citizens and pushing devout Muslims towards fundamentalism. Economic hardship also became a fertile ground for religious dissent during the 1990s. During the pre-1990 Soviet atheist regime, knowledge of Islam was minimal in central Asia. Even in early 2001, an attempt to overthrow the secular government and to establish Islamic rule was hardly thinkable. But in the late 1990s, tens of thousands of people were arrested by the government for their fundamentalism and put on trial to discourage the possibility of an Islamic fundamentalist revolution.

The key to understanding Uzbekistan politics lies in the domestic society's traditional clan structure, based on both kinship and territorial proximity. This society has survived the cultural impositions of both the czarist and the communist Russian regimes. Uzbekistan is ruled by representatives of the renowned Samarkand-Bukhoro clan. The clan's leader, President Karimov, took office in 1989 as a result of a compromise between the country's major clans, but he was resented by the powerful Fergana and Tashkent clans. In 1992 Vice President Shukrullo Mirsaidov, the chieftain of the Tashkent clan, along with the Birlik and Erk opposition groups tried to uproot Karimov but failed. The weakness of the opposition groups was mostly due to their inability to agree on one leader. In the early 1990s several independent organizations were created by young technocrats and businessmen, forming an important talent pool that the president was able to draw on for technical and political support for his policies. The importance of traditional clans is expected to shrink with the modernization of the country.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Turkey was regarded as the bridge between Europe and the central Asian states, including the ethnically Turkic Uzbekistan. By 2000 Turkey's importance as a mediator declined considerably because Uzbekistan turned eastward to its former trading partners for political and economic support. Post-Soviet integration was more active than western European integration, and Uzbekistan was still dependent on Russia for its security and for more than half of its trade. Since the mid-1990s, the United States has also boosted its presence in Uzbekistan and considers it as an important ally against the spreading of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism in central Asia.

Taxation in Uzbekistan is considered rather restrictive, although the actual collection rate is quite low. In 2001, the government proposed a reduction of the income tax rate from 31 percent to 26 percent to boost investment. Foreign debt service problems are very serious given the country's lack of foreign exchange revenues and shrinking exports. The government plans to pay off its official debt, which is owed to other governments, before paying back its debt to private creditors. In this manner, Uzbekistan hopes to stay in the good graces of multilateral lenders such as the IMF, from which it receives debt assistance.

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