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Mon. February 26, 2024
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Shavkat Mirziyoyev or Lee Kuan Yew of Uzbekistan?
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In comparing the Western and Eastern ways of development, we can hazard to assert that while in the West state institutions functioning within the system of checks and balances shape governmental policy civilizationally, the role of leaders in determining state policy predominates in the East. One of the brightest examples is Lee Kuan Yew, who ad verbum created modern and developed Singapore from nothing. It is almost two years from the time Lee passed away and his public policy philosophy of centralized power, clean government, economic liberalism and wise foreign policy endures nowhere else but in Uzbekistan, where new president Shavkat Mirziyoyev bears striking resemblance to the founding father of Singapore in conducting state policy.

After the death of the first president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, in September 2016, Shavkat Mirziyoyev was given responsibility to act as the caretaker president. In the presidential elections held on December 6, 2016, he was elected as the president of Uzbekistan. Mirziyoyev did not study at LSE and Cambridge universities as did Lee Kuan Yew, but owing to a thirteen-year-long premiership, he familiarized himself with the core problems of Uzbekistan. Relying on his experience and innate leadership, Mirziyoyev commenced comprehensive reforms that can be coined the “Mirziyoyev Model”, the cornerstone of which are: centrality of initiatives, fighting corruption, eliminating dysfunctionality within the government, economic liberalization, and pragmatism in foreign policy.

The new president is an engine of initiatives, generating ideas and reforms in Uzbekistan, but this is the reflection of needs of the times. The centrality of initiatives is the manifestation of the lack of manpower – not quantitatively, but qualitatively – that the new president faces. Mirziyoyev is in search for patriots who will work conscientiously, in the interests of the Motherland. “Deeds, not words” – Mirziyoyev says, denouncing inaction of senior government employees. “You should put up with this only two years and you will be replaced with younger generation. I need someone fresh and alive that will love the Motherland, not some tired retread. Even if they are 25 years-old, I will appoint them as ministers; I will mentor them on my own. It does not make any sense to teach you, since you will not change…” – said Mirziyoyev in online conference. Mirziyoyev does not like throwing words away: he is man of action. He has already appointed two young deputy ministers: one is 22-years old Deputy Minister of public education, Alisher Sadullayev and 25 years-old Deputy Director General of science and technology Agency, Tuychieyev Olimjon.

It is commonplace that legitimacy in the face of national support is the cornerstone of all reforms undertaken by the government or a leader. Lee Kuan Yew said the success of Singapore was, “the trust and confidence of the people”[1]. He enjoyed trust and confidence of Singaporeans by uniting them against common enemy: communism. When Lee assumed power, he focused on eliminating communism that “made any economic progress impossible”[2]. Thus, he earned the hearts of his nation. As for Mirziyoyev – the one who was hardly exposed on TV news channels before – he has become very popular and trustworthy in the eyes of people in the very short period of time. If Lee considered cutting the roots of communism as priority, then fighting corruption and dysfunctionality within the government has come to the forefront in Mirziyoyev`s public policy philosophy. He designated these problems as the ones that “make any progress impossible”. Launching anti-corruption and dysfunctionality campaigns, Mirziyoyev sided with the people, which has granted him popularity in the eyes of the latter. 

The anti-corruption campaign is not just on paper, but it has practical reflection. For instance, Mirziyoyev on February 2 approved the 2017-2018 State Anti-Corruption Programme. “The most important part of this program is creation of the Interagency Commission on Countering Corruption, chaired by the country's prosecutor general, which will include 43 representatives from various organizations, such as the Interior Ministry, National Security Service, Customs Committee, Supreme Court and also NGOs”. Moreover, He denounced the country's prosecutors for corruption and arrogance and promised to fire those who do not rectify their own behavior and called prosecutors the country's "biggest thieves".

As for eliminating dysfunctionality within government, Mirziyoyev sticks to the following position of Lee Kuan Yew: “Does it work? If it works, let’s try it. If it’s fine, let’s continue it. If it doesn’t work, toss it out, try another one”. The President of Uzbekistan imposes concrete conditions and specific time frame for government employees; if they cope with the task, they are reworded, if not, fired. After his visit to the Olmazor region, Mirziyoyev dismissed the governor (hokim) of the region and heads of Tax Inspection and Regional Department of Internal Affairs and Regional Prosecutor.  After denouncing bankers and financiers calling them “loafers and bribetakers”, Mirziyoyev fired the first deputy premier, Minister of Finance Rustam Azimov

Economic liberalization is one of the top priorities of Shavkat Mirziyoyev. For a long time, Uzbekistan succumbed to a black currency market (there were tree currency rates: official, approved by Central Bank and market rate). Notwithstanding, this problem has deep roots and lasted a long time. Mirziyoyev, after assuming power, embarked resolutely on liberalization of currency market, signing the decree on “Priority directions of currency policy”, and the black currency market was completely eradicated on September 2, 2017. Moreover, he signed several decrees, cutting the frequency of tax audits that interfered in business and eliminating the grey market

Henry Kissinger highlighted the extraordinary achievement of Lee Kuan Yew`s wise policy, saying: “He understood not only the requirements of his own society but the needs and motives of his neighbors”[3]. Indeed, he had to take into consideration interests of adjacent countries because of geographical and historical rationale, and Mirziyoyev follows suit. Commonly known, in spite of considering Central Asian countries as priority in foreign policy, Uzbekistan has had strain in relations with them, especially with Tajikistan (RT) and Kyrgyzstan (KR). However, Mirziyoyev, after assuming presidency, has pitched in easing tension between neighboring countries, appointing Nematov Ilhomjon as Ambassador at Large, who is in charge of delimitation and demarcation of the state border with RT and KR. Moreover, over the past ten months, Mirziyoyev held eleven meetings and fifteen telephone conversations with the leaders of other Central Asian states, along with two state visits and two working visits. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan, Chairman of Foreign Political Affairs Committee of Oliy Majlis Senate of Uzbekistan, Sodiq Safoyev responded to a journalist’s question about new approaches of Uzbekistan in foreign policy by stating: “We talked a lot about Central Asia as priority, but we did few in this direction. We will promote proactive regional approach. Relations with our neighbors are priority number one”. 

Sticking to abovementioned, four Kyrgyz workers detained by Uzbekistan on a stretch of contested border territory were released in September. The following month, a Kyrgyz government delegation visited Andijan and an Uzbek delegation then went to Osh.  These talks led to a provisional agreement on non-demarcated sections of the countries´ joint border, hence signing final document on agreed borders between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Then, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan signed an agreement to resume flights between Tashkent and Dushanbe for the first time in 24 years. Furthermore, not only has Uzbekistan changed its rhetoric regarding hydropower station that RT and KR, but showed its readiness to construct these stations with them. And he restored crumbled political confidence with neighboring states.

On top of this, the geography of cooperation is widening. Lee Kuan Yew in choosing economic partners followed the advices of Albert Winsemius, who said “we would need large-scale technical, managerial, entrepreneurial, and marketing know-how from America and Europe”[4]. Mirziyoyev activated cooperation with European countries taking into account that Western countries can bring high-technology products and high-quality investments. Tashkent has already complied with human rights conditions of EU, and the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development agreed to resume investments to Uzbekistan. Human Rights Watch expelled in 2011 will resume its work in Uzbekistan. Or take the speech of Shavkat Mirziyoyev in General Assembly of UN, main part of which was dedicated to democratization, stressing human rights and eliminating child labour. Abovementioned steps are directed to attract the attention of the West in order the latter to be as balancing power against Russia and China on the one hand, and to extend the geography of cooperation of Uzbekistan on the other.  Along with this, however, he does not forget about major players as Russia and China, balancing between them; the same was the success of Singapore that has conducted “neutral diplomatic policy which has ensured it is an ally of the US as well as China”. Generally, Mirziyoyev`s foreign policy conduct is ideology-free as of Lee.

Lee Kuan Yew was optimistic about the economic future of developing countries: “There is no reason why third world leaders cannot succeed…if they can maintain social order, educate their people, maintain peace with their neighbors, and gain the confidence of investors by upholding the rule of law”. So, Shavkat Mirziyoyev has already become a hero and hope in the eyes of Uzbekistanis. Fighting corruption, eliminating dysfunctionality within government, liberalizing economy, easing the strain between neighboring countries along with maintaining peace in the country and creating conditions for foreign investments, it is not unlikely that Mirziyoyev could degenerate Uzbekistan into one of the economic centers of Eurasia. And since the very key element – political confidence among the states of the region that lacked before – is achieved, there is a high probability of integration of disintegrated Central Asia because of Uzbekistan`s new approach.

Otabek Akromov is currently a senior student at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, majoring in International Relations. He is a research assistant in Center for Advanced International Studies. His research interests lie in the area of security, religion, anthropology and ideology. Otabek is also a close observer of new trends and developments in Middle East and Central Asia.


[1] Lee K.Y.  From Third World to First: The Singapore Story - 1965-2000. HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2000, p. 7.

[2] Ibid. p.50.

[3] Lee K.Y.  From Third World to First: The Singapore Story - 1965-2000. HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2000, p. XI.

[4] Lee K.Y.  From Third World to First: The Singapore Story - 1965-2000. HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2000, p. 50.

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