Despite their shared communist past, similarities in political systems, and record of “authoritarian learning” from one another, there is significant diversity in how Central Asian regimes have prepared and undergone leadership successions.
Authoritarian states, particularly those led by personalist rulers, face instability during moments of leadership succession. Sometimes the turbulence develops into a full-blown succession crisis characterized by increased elite contestation and popular protests. In Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, personalist leaders died in office and the elites chose a successor after negotiations. Still, most regional leaders have sought to pass power gradually to a designated successor, either a familial or non-familial member of the elite, with varying degrees of success.
China and Russia have been directly and indirectly involved in the transitions. Moscow has been particularly involved in the short-term de-escalation of succession crises in Kyrgyzstan in 2020 and Kazakhstan in 2022. Russia’s war in Ukraine has changed the context of Central Asian successions, which means that future transitions will take place in uncharted territory.
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