Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The Sub-National Roots of Authoritarianism: Neopatrimonialism and Territorial Administration in Uzbekistan

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The Sub-National Roots of Authoritarianism: Neopatrimonialism and Territorial Administration in Uzbekistan

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article examines how neopatrimonial relationships within the state's territorial administration support the rise and institutionalization of authoritarian rule. Using the case of Uzbekistan, it explores how neopatrimonialism within the state infrastructure halts political and economic reform, undermines the rule of law, and diminishes social welfare provision to the public. This case provides important lessons for other post-Communist countries: permitting neopatrimonial relationships to flourish within the territorial administration may provide useful sources of support by binding provincial elites to the regime, but over the long-term they further entrench authoritarianism and sow seeds of instability.


Uzbekistan is something of a contradiction. It is highly centralized in its decision-making, brutally repressive, and quintessentially autocratic. The regime exercises high levels of control over society, politics, the media, and key parts of the economy, all of which requires significant state power. In these areas, the central government enjoys discretion in making decisions as well as a capacity to see them implemented. Beneath the veneer of strength and stability, however, lies a weak state pervaded by corruption and powerful vested interests. In fact, a broad array of neopatrimonial practices--misuse of public office, bribery, corruption, patronage--permeate the state apparatus and have led to an "impasse" in effecting governance. (1) This is particularly true within the country's territorial administration, where politics often reside outside the purview of the central leadership.

Compared to other post-Communist countries, Uzbekistan is one of the most corrupt. Transparency International, for example, ranks Uzbekistan 177th out of 183 countries in public sector corruption. (2) Uzbekistan is also the lowest democratic performer in the region across standard indices of political reform, rule of law and public service provision. Freedom House regularly lists Uzbekistan among the "worst of the worst" worldwide, with far lower scores than other post-Communist states in various categories of democratic governance. (3) Uzbekistan's relatively low levels of democratization are, therefore, correlated with its relatively high levels of neopatrimonialism. This article explores some of the causal linkages between neopatrimonialism and authoritarianism within Uzbekistan's territorial administration.

Most studies of authoritarianism in Uzbekistan, though, overlook or discount the importance of the country's institutional weaknesses at the sub-national levels. Instead, academic and policy experts tend to focus on the strengths of the state as a source of authoritarian rule: the concentrated powers of the presidency, the rise of "power ministries" within the coercive apparatus, and the regime's monopolistic economic controls. But the roots of authoritarianism lie at the base of its weak state apparatus, embedded in neopatrimonial relationships within its territorial infrastructure. As the "means of administration," the state infrastructure is the backbone of the state not only in the center, but extends deep into a country's sub-national politics down to the provincial and local levels. (4) It has already been demonstrated that in many states critical matters of state power and policy are decided by the nature of state-society relations at these levels. (5) In this article, I am extending this focus on sub-national state capabilities to examine the effects of territorial politics on authoritarianism.

How, then, does neopatrimonialism within a country's territorial administration affect the development of authoritarian rule? Using the case of Uzbekistan, this article explores three ways: by halting political and economic reform, by undermining the development of a rule of law, and by diminishing social welfare provision to the public. In examining the effects of sub-national state development on the political regime in Uzbekistan, it elucidates the intractable and surprisingly durable local-level underpinnings of authoritarianism that are often overlooked in broad-based--and overly optimistic--analyses of the region's prospects for democratic transition. …

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