The president of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyaev, issued a decree, on August 27, changing the official name of the 27-year-old “Presidential Executive Office” (Devon in Uzbek and Apparat Russian) to the “Presidential Administration.” Along with the new name, the Administration saw some personnel changes and possibly limitation of powers of certain advisors. Overall, these reforms are largely superficial as the Presidential Administration inherited not only the same departments and functions from the Executive Office, but maintains all the major the stalwarts of the previous government structure.
President Mirziyaev’s office was not the only government body to be renamed. The heads of nine departments within the administration will now be called “Presidential Advisors,” dropping the word “State,” which had heretofore preceded their titles. Presidential advisors will reportedly now monitor and control the activities of the eight deputy prime ministers and work in concert with them (Gazeta.uz, August 27). A government official commented that, under the new arrangement, “the personal responsibility of presidential advisors will increase” (Gazeta.uz, August 27).
Yet, in actuality, the organization might mean advisors will have to share their authority with relevant ministries and, more importantly, their power will be limited to the deputy prime minister level. Under Mirziyaev’s predecessor, Islam Karimov, presidential state advisors had long arms of power, while ministries and state enterprises were merely bodies subservient to the advisors (BBC News—Uzbek service, August 28). The reorganization may narrow the distance between ministers and the president, thus allowing the government greater access to the head of state. This is all logical in the context of Mirziyaev’s attempts to decentralize governmental powers while increasing the accountability of various government bodies.
The presidential decree also precipitated some reshuffles of his team. Notably, Khayriddin Sultonov stepped down from the administration’s Mass Media, Cultural and Educational Affairs Department—a post he had held since 2000 (Facebook.com, August 27). Sultonov, however, remains in the administration as President Mirziyaev’s speech writer. One of two longest serving officials remaining from the late Karimov’s Executive Office, Sultonov had joined the presidential administration in 1993, at the age of 37, where he led the analytical center. As of 2000, his tight supervision of Uzbekistan’s media outlets earned him the title of the country’s “chief censor” (Ozodlik, August 22, 2017).
On the other hand, Mirziyaev’s Administration will continue to be headed by the little-known Zaynilobiddin Nizomiddinov. The exact date he had joined Mirziyaev’s team is not clear. But he and his three deputies are all young men in their 30s. The head of the Administration is a powerful position: the law gives Nizomiddinov and his deputies control over information flows to the president by way of compiling and analyzing anything addressed to the head of state (Lex.uz, March 1, 2017). A peculiar function of the head of the Administration is monitoring and informing the president on the ongoing reforms in the country (thus indicative of the high priority Mirziyaev places on internal reforms) as well as Uzbekistan’s standing in foreign relations and foreign economic affairs.
Zelimkhan Khaydarov, the second-longest serving official along with Khayriddin Sultonov, used to hold Nizomiddinov’s position in Karimov’s Office, beginning in 1993. Khaydarov unlike Sultonov will now hold an advisory role by heading the Administration’s Financial and Economic Department. Another official, Umar Ismailov, who oversaw the Staffing Department in Karimov’s Executive Office, will maintain the same position in Mirziyaev’s Administration (Facebook.com, August 27).
The former head of the extremely powerful National Security Service (NSS), Rustam Inoyatov, also remains in the Administration under the same position he received in January 2018, after he stepped down from leading the NSS for 23 years (see EDM, February 8). At the time of Inoyatov’s new appointment, the division he was charged with was named the Political and Legal Affairs Department. However, as of April, this body has been renamed the Department for Legal Support for Reforms and Coordination of Law Enforcement Activities; and it has received a number of new functions (Lex.uz, March 1, 2017). The department’s tasks, among others, include identifying obstacles to the efficient functioning of the government or to its modernization, providing legal support to undergoing reforms in the country, as well as adapting foreign experience on better governance. These responsibilities in many ways represent the antithesis to Inoyatov’s previous professional functions as head of the NSS—raising concerns about the rationale of his appointment to this advisory role.
Any change in the presidential administration in Uzbekistan is significant given that the administration advisors are the closest officials to the president. In the previous regime, advisors were the most powerful state officials in the area they were responsible for; in effect, they ran the country by heavily influencing the president. With the recent administrative changes, Mirziyaev is attempting to limit the reach of his advisors by transferring some of their power to the ministries and enhancing cooperation between his Administration and the Cabinet. Yet, at the same time, long-serving officials such as Khaydavor, Sultonov and Inoyatov—who matured under Karimov and were his heavy influencers—continue to linger in the new governing structures under President Mirziyaev. And this raises the question as to whether they are being lined up for a phased honorary departure from the ruling administration.