Is a Trump-style Upset on the Cards in Uzbekistan?

2 Dec

2016 has been a year of surprises in the political sphere, and could we be about to see another shock as Uzbekistan goes to the polls on Sunday to elect a successor to its late president Islam Karimov?

As the year comes to a close, kazaxia’s politics guru, Gary Kefali, has been in Tashkent to gauge the mood and he’s found some astounding evidence that another upset could be on the cards.

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Repairing the presidency in Uzbekistan via a four horse race

While all the experts are predicting a walkover for former prime minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who is acting president, Kefali’s  straw poll of people he’s bumped into indicates a victory for dark horse candidate, Khatamjon Ketmonov, despite all other signs pointing to red-hot favourite Mirziyoyev.

It would be no surprise if this happened – the year of the monkey has already delivered many shocks – its first surprise was in March when Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, was returned to power with 98% of the popular vote – he’d been widely tipped to get 97%. Then in June, the UK voted to leave the EU, a move that the pollsters and pundits missed.

Fast forward to the USA in November and the cheeky monkey had another trick up its sleeve as Donald Trump lost out to Hilary Clinton in terms of votes cast but still won the presidency, an upset hastened by America’s arcane electoral college system. Again, the pollsters and pundits called it wrong giving Trump little chance of victory.

Lord Venal, who is in Tashkent as an unofficial election observer, has been gauging the mood in the nightclubs of Tashkent – Lord Venal’s impeccable source for keeping his finger on the pulse (literally at times) – is showing an increasing likelihood of a Trump-style upset in Uzbekistan’s 4 December presidential poll.

Lord Venal has heard repeated whingeing about an out-of-touch, self-serving political elite, intent on amassing ever-greater wealth at the expense of the hard-working masses. They have seen their standard of living fall relentlessly as the rich get richer. The elite simply don’t understand the ordinary guy – and even show contempt for him, is the constant refrain. The elite is backed by the Mainstream Media (known here too as the MSM), which relentlessly backs its own.

Calls are growing to “drain the swamp” in Tashkent’s government district. Proposals are increasing heard to build a wall on the border with Kyrgyzstan to keep illegal migrants out. Some have even gone as far as to call to lock up some of the leading candidates.

Lord Venal points out that few correctly predicted that Brexit would triumph in Britain, let alone that Donald Trump could prevail in the US over a tried and tested candidate with years of political and government experience. But if the word in the Tashkent nightclubs can be believed, a similar upset in Uzbekistan is not out of the question.

(Lord Venal adopts a policy of strict neutrality in all elections he monitors. Any hospitality offered by governments plays no role in any assessment he issues. A careful reading of his conclusions on earlier elections will show no influence from visits to restaurants, casinos and nightclubs, or gifts of carpets, caviar or jewellery designed by presidential daughters.)

 

Panto Season Opens Early in Central Asia

23 Nov

Along with extreme snowy weather, the pantomime season has arrived early this year in Central Asia.

That veteran performer from Uzbekistan, GooGoosha, will recreate one of her most famous roles on the Tashkent stage – Sleeping Beauty. The audience will no doubt revel in shouting “Oh yes she is!” and “Oh no she isn’t!” as it ponders whether she is dead or merely sleeping.

There will be plenty of opportunities for shouts of “Behind you!” with a host of suspects lining up to surprise the slumbering princess – such as the ugly sisters (played by Security Service head Rustam Innoyatov and his sidekick, presidential hopeful Shavkat Mirziyoyev) and the real life figures of her estranged mother and  her younger sister, Lola.

Across the border in Kazakhstan, there are plans for a revival of ‘Carry on Cleo‘, with the infamous line “Infamy, infamy. They’ve all got it in for me!” The past year has seen trouble on all sides for Astana with land protests metamorphosing into a coup plot led by a beer baron, and religious militants on the rampage in Aktobe, so it seems apt that this comedy classic will get a fresh lease of life.

 

Free Skating in Almaty, Rok

18 Nov

OK, so we take it all back – there is some good value to be had In Kazakhstan after all. Halyk Arena opened its doors this week, offering free ice skating to Almatinians until the end of the year.

Back in 2011 this very blog berated Kazakhstan for being a rip-off, but now we’ve been forced to reassess that opinion as free skating arrives in its commercial capital, Almaty.

Skating fans should head for the 3,000 capacity Halyk Arena, one of the main venues for next January’s Winter Student Games, or Universiade (The Olympics for university students) in Almaty, to take advantage of a freebie spin on the ice.

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Sunkar, the games’ mascot, gets ready to take to the ice at the Halyk Arena 

 

The newly-built facility was launched this week and is Kazakhstan’s first sports facility to have struck a naming rights deal. The nation’s biggest bank, Halyk Bank, has paid an undisclosed fee for the right to have its name attached to the stadium for three years.

One of the aims of holding the games is to promote winter sports among the population, so it was good to see loads of kids joining Sunkar, the mascot of the Almaty games, on the ice at the arena opened its doors earlier this week.

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Sunkar and his young friends on the ice

The free skating offer is on Friday evenings (20.00-22.00), and all day on Saturday and Sunday and runs until 31 December. Skates can be hired, for a fee, at the rink.

The Universiade starts on 28 January and runs until 8 February. Halyk Arena will host the Men’s Ice Hockey tournament.

For Lord Venal’s Turkmenistan election sweepstake, you’ll have to wait!

21 Oct

For Lord Venal’s Turkmenistan election sweepstake, you’ll have to wait!

 

The starting pistol has now been fired for Turkmenistan’s presidential election, which has been set for 12 February 2017. Lord Venal hopes soon to launch his election sweepstake, where lucky punters will be able to bet on who might be the winning candidate. However, with the race wide open at this early stage, Lord Venal implores all readers itching to place their bets to be patient for a little longer.

 

Let’s sum up the field so far. Three parties have already declared that they will put up candidates, the Democratic Party, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and the Agrarian Party. The current incumbent, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, is also likely to throw his hat into the ring, possibly as an independent, possibly he will aim to be the candidate of the Democratic Party.

 

Yet a myriad of other parties are likely to step forward, including the Greens, the Nationalists, the Communists, the Reform Communists, the Conservatives and the Social Democrats. All are likely to hold nationwide primaries to select their candidates over the coming months, with town hall meetings eagerly awaited across Turkmenistan. Candidates and would-be candidates of all parties are likely to flood the country with tacky posters, TV ads and other gimmicks to win over potential supporters.

 

Lord Venal is also expecting a host of polling companies to produce timely and accurate polling data as the campaign progresses. It will be interesting to see how the TV debates between the leading candidates shape public opinion as polling day approaches.

 

So with the election so unpredictable, with no clear winner in sight so far – let alone candidates chosen for any of the parties likely to compete – Lord Venal is holding off on opening the betting. Do keep watching this page – you will be the first to know when you can place your bet in what promises to be the most exciting, most nail-biting election of 2017!

 

(Note: Lord Venal Gambling (BVI) Ltd. operates independently of Lord Venal Election Monitoring Enterprises (Cayman Islands) Ltd. Both are separate from the Kleptis group.)

 

 

Où est Googoosha?

7 Oct

Mystery continues to surround the whereabouts of Gulnara Karimova, estranged eldest daughter of the late president of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov.

Following last month’s Karexit in Uzbekistan, the rumour mill has been working overtime as to where the artist formerly known as Googoosha could be. Under house arrest in Tashkent since 2014, ‘reliable sources’ have spotted her in a variety of locations recently.

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Googoosha in happier days with Russian actor Herard Depardieu

Some hold that she is in Israel, others Switzerland. Another report placed her in a shopping mall in Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan with Elvis Presley and Prince.

The UK’s Daily Mail, quoting the journalists’ best friend ‘reliable sources’, has her committed to a psychiatric facility in Uzbekistan.

There are also rumours that she has resurrected her twitter persona in the form of Aфина, using the handle @zabitaya1972.

Wherever she may be, Lord Venal would love to meet up with the fallen diva. In a Proustian moment this week, his long-suffering assistant found among his effects a battered beermat from a well-known Tashkent nightclub with a loving dedication from a Gulnara. “To my mysterious and georgeous [sic] English lord,” she wrote. She added her mobile number and two kisses.

 

Lord Venal was instantly taken back to the heady days of 2012-3 when, on frequent business visits to Uzbekistan to advise clients on offshore banking, he kept running into the captivating blonde at various nightspots who, to be honest, turned his head. Gulnara would never say who she was, but hinted that her father had an important job and that she was a singer. Indeed, Lord Venal modestly notes that he sang love duets with her several times as the crowds watched adoringly. Sadly, he lost the selfies he took with her when he changed his mobile phone.

As Lord Venal is planning some further trips to Tashkent, he was thinking of renewing contact with the enchanting Gulnara. His assistant tried repeatedly to call the mobile number, but the recorded message says the number has not been assigned. If anyone knows how to make contact with the mysterious blonde, Lord Venal would be eternally grateful.

 

 

Venal: Brexit is a ‘Golden Opportunity’ for Uzbekistan

30 Sep

Lord Venal, in his unofficial capacity as the UK’s roving trade envoy in Central Asia, has identified Uzbekistan as a ‘golden opportunity’ for securing new markets for British manufacturing following the pro-Brexit vote in June.

‘We are now in an exciting new phase of UK-Uzbekistan relations,’ Lord Venal told kazaxia. ‘As in the UK, Uzbekistan has recently seen a change of leadership from within the ruling clique, without bothering to ask the voters.’ (Editor’s note: Uzbekistan will hold presidential elections on 4 December, no date has been set for an election in the UK yet)

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Canned plov – coming to the UK soon?

‘We are now in the post-Karexit era (Editor’s note: Karexit refers to former President Islam Karimov’s recent demise) and Britain is in a unique position to fix up some exciting trade deals with new president Shavkat  Mirziyoyev.’

One area where the UK excels is in selling arms to dodgy regimes. Uzbekistan, according to Lord Venal, is always in the market for new weaponry to keep its oppressed masses under the cosh.

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Classic shortbread finger biscuits on white surface

He also noted that Uzbekistan is similar to the UK as it a nation of tea drinkers. He envisages great opportunities for the UK’s shortbread manufacturers as the biscuit sector in Uzbekistan remains under-developed.

This will please leader of the opposition in the UK, Jeremy ‘Jez we can’ Corbyn, who described the buttery biscuit as his fave in an interview with Mumsnet recently.

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Move over, black cabs

It’s not all a one-way street – Lord Venal is a big fan of Uzbekistan’s national dish plov, now available for export in cans. Could it replace Chicken Tikka Masala in the nation’s  hearts? And could we one day see Uz-Daewoo Tico Tuk Tuk’s replacing black cabs on London’s streets?

Uzbekistan: The Polyanka Pact

16 Sep

Lord Venal has received a missive from one of his sources in Tashkent revealing the outcome of a secret meeting in Uzbekistan’s capital between heir-apparent Shavkat Mirziyoyev and his long-time sidekick Rustam Azimov.

Shortly after the news broke on 28 August of President Islam Karimov’s hospitalisation, Shavkat apparently invited Rustam to Tashkent’s Polyanka restaurant for a discreet tête-à-tête.

Lord Venal’s source saw a happy looking Rustam leave the restaurant clutching a beermat, while a self-satisfied looking Shavkat dropped his to the floor as he left.

The source retrieved the beermat and found the following formula scribbled on it:

(SM x 2) = (RA=PM x 2) = SM

Our source was puzzled, but Lord Venal sniffed a pact along the lines of the infamous Granita Pact between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in the UK in the 90S.

He has interpreted the coded message to mean that Mirziyoyev will be president for two terms with Azimov as his prime minister. The reins of power will then be handed over to  the PM.

As with all these deals, there’s a catch – Mirziyoyev is widely expected to introduce a 14-year presidential term, thus allowing him to be forever known as Uzbekistan’s longest serving president after serving his two terms allowed in the constitution, beating the late Karimov by a year, who will forever be known as Uzbekistan’s first president.

By that time Azimov will be in his mid-8os – a classic case of better late then never.