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Not To Be Left Out, Uzbek Lawmakers Pitch 'Head Of Nation' Title For Mirziyoev

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev -- soon to be "head of the nation"?

Two senior lawmakers have suggested that President Shavkat Mirziyoev, who enjoys virtually unrestrained political power in Uzbekistan, should be given the honorary title of "head of the nation."

It's a nod to one of the more awkwardly conspicuous of Central Asia's anti-democratic trends -- cults of personality fostered by the countries' first post-Soviet leaders -- since gaining independence in the early 1990s.

The Uzbek initiative first came from Senate member Qudratilla Rafiqov, who penned an August 19 article heaping praise on Mirziyoev's services to the nation.

In the paean, titled The Phenomenon Of Shavkat Mirziyoev, the senator said Uzbeks, especially the younger generation, have great confidence in the president and he is widely admired among children.

Mirziyoev has "something extraordinary about his nature and character" and makes people wonder if "this man ever sleeps or rests," the senator wrote. His enormous popularity at home is complemented by great respect among regional leaders, he added.

Mirziyoev should rightfully be called "millat sardori," or "head of the nation," he concluded.

Mirziyoev visits an orphanage in Tashkent in July.
Mirziyoev visits an orphanage in Tashkent in July.

Just days later, Akmal Saidov, a lawmaker from parliament's lower chamber, issued an article in which he came right out and used the title "head of the nation" for the president.

Paying tribute to Mirziyoev's purported role in Uzbekistan's development, Saidov also called the president "yurtboshi," or "head of the country."

That informal title has been used by some in the Uzbek media and public as a sign of respect and flattery to Mirziyoev, who came to power under a constitutionally dubious transition after the death of Uzbekistan's first post-Soviet president, Islam Karimov, in 2016.

There has been no public reaction so far from Mirziyoev, who has said in the past that he doesn't like such flattery.

The proposal also coincides with Mirziyoev's bid for a second term in a presidential election on October 24.

As in all of Uzbekistan's past elections, there will be no genuine competition and no Western observation teams in the country for the vote, which is widely regarded as a mere formality to extend Mirziyoev's rule for another five years.

'Great Leader [Your Name Here]'

If Mirziyoev is granted the "head of the nation" title, he will join a small circle of former and current Central Asian presidents who bear similar titles as part of their personality cults.

It started with Turkmenistan's first president, Saparmurat Niyazov, who assumed the title of "Turkmenbashi, head of all the Turkmen," in 1993.

Niyazov, who ruled the gas-rich country with an iron fist until his death in 2006, was known for his bizarre decrees and excessive personality cult. Niyazov made his book Ruhnama part of the national curriculum and compulsory reading for government officials. Turkmenistan's rubber-stamp parliament made Niyazov president for life in 1999.

Niyazov's successor, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, went on to accept the formal title of "arkadag," or "protector" in Turkmen. It was bestowed upon Berdymukhammedov by the Council of Elders in 2011.

Berdymukhammedov dismantled a gold-plated statue of Niyazov in Ashgabat in 2010, eliciting hopes that the cult era was over for Turkmen. But five years later, "Arkadag" unveiled a golden statue of his own, depicting him atop a horse perching on a marble, white cliff.

People gather for the unveiling ceremony in Ashgabat in May 2015 of Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's tribute to himself.
People gather for the unveiling ceremony in Ashgabat in May 2015 of Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's tribute to himself.

Berdymukhammedov is often shown on state television riding horses, singing groovily alongside his grandson, writing his books, working out, driving fast cars, or just enjoying a day out as the rest of the country faces a financial crisis and food shortages.

In neighboring Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbaev built a flourishing personality cult while he ruled Central Asia's largest economy for three decades until his resignation in 2019 to assume the chairmanship of an influential Security Council.

Kazakhstan's pliant parliament passed a law in 2010 giving Nazarbaev the title of "leader of the nation." In 2019, the capital of Astana was renamed Nur-Sultan after Nazarbaev, who still wields great political clout in Kazakhstan.

Nursultan Nazarbaev
Nursultan Nazarbaev

A prestigious university and numerous schools and streets have been renamed after Nazarbaev. The country's central bank also unveiled a new banknote featuring his portrait.

In Tajikistan, lawmakers bestowed veteran President Emomali Rahmon with the title "leader of the nation" in 2015.

Along with title, the authoritarian leader and his family got lifelong immunity from prosecution. At the same time, Rahmon was also formally designated "the founder of peace and national unity of Tajikistan."

The only exception in Central Asia so far has been Kyrgyzstan, where following in the footsteps of the first post-Soviet president chased out in 2005, presidents rarely stay long, are now constrained by a one-term limit, and almost routinely leave office amid public protests.