Profiles in Power: 2023 in Review
Author: Nicholas Castillo
Dec 22, 2023
Mirziyoyev Begins New Term in Uzbekistan
July of 2023 saw a snap election in Uzbekistan allowing for the re-election of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. The early elections were brought on the adoption of a new Uzbek constitution, which laid the legal foundation for Mirziyoyev to restart the clock on his own term limits. Mirziyoyev now has a 7-year term due to the most recent elections and, under the new constitution, is eligible to serve as President until 2037.
In contrast to his predecessor, Mirziyoyev has sought to reform and open up Uzbekistan. He has allowed for increased foreign trade and investment and has upgraded regional engagement within Central Asia. He has promised Uzbeks a “New Uzbekistan,” more economically prosperous and politically open. His time in power has resulted in a number of steps forward and reforms, including tackling forced labor, receiving a large loan from the IMF, and international commendations for improvements on human rights. In the most recent years however, international observers have raised increased concerns about backsliding on those reforms and 2022 witnessed unrest within the poorer Karakalpakstan region of the country, home to a large ethnic minority.
After Defeat in Karabakh, Pashinyan Presses Forward
While there was no change in leadership in Armenia this year, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan sought a shift in Armenian foreign policy amid turmoil. Armenia’s 2023 national budget, passed by the National Assembly in December 2022, increased the overall public expenditure by 18 percent, to nearly 2.6 trillion drams ($6.5 billion), while spending toward defense increased by around 46 percent from the previous year, or by 506 billion drams ($1.28 billion). When Pashinyan presented the 2023 budget to his Civil Contract party, he emphasized that his administration would be better equipped moving forward to further “defense reforms” as well as the foundation of a “professional army.”
However, the regional situation drastically shifted in September, when a day-long military operation by Azerbaijan forced the dissolution of the separatist administration of the Karabakh region. What might be described as one of the central Armenian foreign policy objectives of the last 30 years, the protection of some kind of Armenian polity in Nagorno-Karabakh collapsed over the course of a single day in September. The repercussions for Pashinyan have been significant, with some Armenians taking to the streets to voice disapproval at Pashinyan’s inability or unwillingness to defend Karabakh separatists and with 100,000 Armenians fleeing the region to Armenia.
Pashinyan has responded with a two-pronged foreign policy approach, regional and international. Regionally, Pashinyan has attempted to move forward with peace-talks with Azerbaijan, hoping to normalize relations and move into a post-conflict regional structure. He has pitched his “Crossroads of Peace” initiative, which envisions Armenia at the center of regional trade with its neighbors, at a number of international gatherings, although the success of this project appears increasingly unlikely. Pashinyan has claimed progress and basic agreement on the outlines of a normalization deal, despite set-backs in negotiations. Internationally, Pashinyan has attempted to pivot foreign policy away from Russia and the inter-state bodies it sponsors. Instead, he has looked towards Europe, increasing security cooperation with France and generally pushing for closer Armenia-European relations.
Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov Reasserts Himself in Turkmenistan
Former President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov is still holding a tight grip on the reigns of his government after he reinforced the power of his own position and undercut his son, Serdar Berdimuhamedov, the current President. After retiring from his Presidential post and handing himself the chair of the Halk Maslakhaty (the People’s Council) in April 2022, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov eventually recreated the responsibilities of his job, flipping the power of the government in favor of the legislature. Turkmenistan altered this power dynamic for the first time in its history, emphasizing the role of the legislature as a counterweight to the executive. This power flip has allowed the former President to reconsolidate his monopoly on power.
First proposed by Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, the former President’s revival of power was fully confirmed on January 21, 2023, when the bicameral National Council (Milli Gengesh), the decision-making body of Turkmenistan, split reverting to a unicameral parliament with only the Mejlis, the previous lower house, remaining. The Halk Maslakhaty became the “Supreme Body of the People's Power" and the former President became the head of the entire legislature. State-run broadcasters plastered Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s standing ovation at the People’s Council across the nation’s television screens as he was officially named the “national leader of the Turkmen people.”
2023 overall saw little change region-wide in leadership. Leaders who held dominant roles maintained or reasserted control of their countries. Those who found their countries in new positions sought to manage those positions as best as possible.