President Shavkat Mirziyoyev reshuffled the Cabinet of Ministers at the end of 2022. A restructuring that saw a reduction of ministries and the emergence of new faces to lead them, while other long-serving ministers remained at the posts. Who are the newcomers? Who is responsible for what now? What do these changes tell us about the Mirziyoyev Administration? The article will try to answer these and other questions.
On December 30, 13 new ministers and four Deputy Prime Ministers paraded through the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis, Uzbekistan’s parliament, to receive the rubberstamp approval for their appointments. Earlier, President Mirziyoyev had signed a decree giving way to the changes in personnel. This meant that overnight around half of the ministries had new heads.
The week before, Mirziyoyev had signed another decree that significantly curtailed the size of the government. Ministries and other governmental departments were reduced from 61 to 28. This left 21 ministries while 12 state administration bodies ceased to exist. From a ministerial perspective, this was mainly achieved through the merger of smaller ministries into larger ones. For instance, the ministries of Economy and Finance became one and also incorporated the Customs and Tax Committees. As a result of these changes, staff will eventually decrease by 30%. The aim, at least publicly, is to introduce savings to the tune of $250 million.
Eleven ministers were appointed the day before New Year’s Eve. The list of these ministries is the following [for the full list see table at the end of the article]:
- Ministry of Economy and Finance
- Ministry of Natural Resources
- Ministry of Employment and Poverty Reduction
- Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation
- Ministry of Preschool and School Education
- Ministry of Health
- Ministry of Construction and Housing and Communal Services
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Ministry of Investments, Industry and Trade
- Ministry of Digital Technologies
- Ministry of Mining and Geology
Most of the new appointments can be considered to impact second-tiered ministries except for two: Economy and Finance, and Foreign Affairs. The former was allocated to Sherzod Kudbiyev, a 41 year-old that until then headed the State Tax Committee (see above). The latter was entitled to Bakhtiyor Saidov, who had been the country’s ambassador to China from 2017 to 2021. Following Abdulaziz Kamilov’s departure as Foreign Minister in April 2022, the also veteran Vladimir Norov had stepped in, but he was always considered as a transitory figure. Now the position is being filled by an up and coming 41-year old Saidov.
Other important ministries such as Internal Affairs or Defense remain unchanged. Pulat Bobozhonov and Bakhodir Kurbanov continue to head both entities respectively. Bobozhonov’s case is telling. He is the longest-serving member in the Cabinet, having been named by Mirziyoyev in 2017, just as the president was consolidating his power following the death of Islam Karimov. Only Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov has been longer in his post (since 2016). All other ministers were appointed in the subsequent years. In fact, around 81% of the ministers, 17 out of 21, were named throughout 2022, a figure that comes to show the rotation rate in Mirziyoyev’s Administration, but that can be misleading as we will explain below. By moving officials, the president ensures none of them is able to secure a sufficient powerbase and also keeps them on their toes. A phenomenon common in Central Asia and not limited to Uzbekistan.
Despite 13 being the official number of new ministers, the figure can be misleading. Four of the ministers were already in their posts and have simply taken new titles as their ministries have taken on more responsibilities and have changed names. This includes Batir Zakirov, who had been heading the Ministry of Housing since 2019, Sherzod Shermatov, who barely changed from Minister of Information Technologies and Communications Development to Ministry of Digital Technologies, Ozodbek Nazarbekov, who has added Tourism to the Ministry of Culture, and Adham Ikramov, who has added Youth Policy to the Ministry of Sports.
The changes that have taken place in late 2022 are not too dissimilar to the smaller reshuffle undertaken around the same time the previous year. Back then, names of the circle termed as “the president’s team” took centre stage: Sherzod Shermatov (see above) and Bekzhod Musayev (new Minister of Employment) were involved in it, as they are now. These are younger and, in some cases, foreign educated individuals without, in theory, the baggage of their predecessors. However, Musayev already had a controversial background linked to corruption before his ministerial promotion in 2021 and the new Minister of Economy and Finance, Sherzod Kudbiyev, had in the past showed a patronising behaviour towards the press and has had conflicts with an outspoken MP. Similar, yet more refined, behaviours that we still see from Karimov-era officials. Are they at least part of a new generation?
The average age of the Cabinet of Ministers now stands at 48 years. If we only take into account those named in late December 2022, the figure decreases to 45. Only two of the current seven ministers above 50 were part of the latest reshuffle, but they were Zakirov and Ikramov (see above), so in reality no new minister above that age was named ahead of 2023. This falls to some extent under the regime’s narrative of regeneration.
However, despite this data, it does not mean that most of the ministers are newcomers. Quite on the contrary. From the 13 new ministers only 4 have not headed ministries in the past. Furthermore, this group of 4 individuals were all working for different governmental institutions, whether heading state committees, agencies or as deputy ministers. Therefore the majority are seasoned, yet mostly young, officials that have just been changing posts. There are no clear outsiders. Despite the image of 21st ministers open to world, only five of the 21 that make up the cabinet are foreign educated (three in the US, one in Japan and one in Russia).
What is clear is how male-dominated the Cabinet is. There is only one woman among the 21 ministers. This is Hilola Umarova the new Minister of Preschool and School Education, who at 34 years of age is also the youngest minister. After the 2021 presidential election, in which a woman concurred as candidate for the second time in Uzbekistan’s history and finished second, the regime could have opened itself to further ministerial appointments including women. But that has not happened.
Without going into detail in regards to the individual new appointments and what they mean for each of the ministries, it can be concluded that the new reshuffle does not bring significant changes in the government. It is undeniable that rejuvenation is taking place among the officials in the Cabinet, with the Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov remaining as the most significant member of the ‘old guard’ following Abdulaziz Kamilov’s departure. That is the most significant change.
The majority of the new ministers have headed ministers before, and all of them have been involved in state and governmental jobs in the past. And the behaviours of some of them are reminiscent of the Karimov-era, not too disimilar in this case to Mirziyoyev’s so-called ‘New Uzbekistan.’ There are no outsiders that could introduce significant changes. In addition, most of their experience and education has taken place within Uzbekistan, so the Cabinet’s international outlook is limited.
The personnel alterations done by Mirziyoyev in late 2022 are therefore part of a reshuffle to move cadres around, characteristic of authoritarian regimes. However, the scale this time has been significant and it is yet to be seen for how long these new ministers remain in their posts before they are moved again.
Current Cabinet of Ministers (correct as of the 9th of January 2023)
Note: the analysis excludes the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Ministers and other roles like the Head of the Presidential Administration