UZBEKISTAN UNDER KARIMOV

UZBEKISTAN UNDER KARIMOV

Fred Hiatt wrote in in the Washington Post: the Karimov regime “has brought some unique touches to the conduct of a dictatorship. When political prisoners have served their full terms, they often have their sentences extended for violations such as improperly peeling carrots in the prison kitchen or failing to sweep their cells correctly. At harvest time, millions of students, teachers and other workers are temporarily enslaved to pick cotton to the profit of the regime. It has been known to boil its prisoners alive.[Source: Fred Hiatt Editorial page editor, Washington Post, November 30, 2014 ^^]

“But in most ways, it is a classic, hard-core police state, among the worst in the world. Like Zimbabwe, it has a president who will not go away: Islam Karimov, who assumed power as Communist Party boss in 1989. After a quarter-century, Karimov, 76, appears as ensconced as ever, though Uzbekistan’s GDP per capita of $3,800 puts it 171st in the world. Like China, it had its Tiananmen Square massacre: the shooting of hundreds of unarmed protesters in the city of Andijan in 2005, after which the government ramped up its repression nationwide. And like North Korea, it confines in brutal conditions thousands of political prisoners. How many thousands? Probably not the 80,000 to 120,000 who populate North Korea’s gulag. Human rights groups have offered estimates of 10,000 or 12,000. ^^

“But, as Human Rights Watch noted in a recent report, no one really knows, because, like North Korea, “Uzbekistan has become virtually closed to independent scrutiny.” Foreign correspondents and human rights monitors generally are not granted visas. No U.N. human rights expert has been allowed in since 2002. Even the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is permitted almost everywhere because it never publicly embarrasses a country, had to pull out of Uzbekistan last year because of interference in its attempted prison visits. ^^

“Drawing the curtains has helped Uzbekistan avoid scrutiny. But the nation has stayed below the radar for another reason, too: The United States and other Western nations have been reluctant to confront Karimov and his regime. They have needed to ship military supplies through Uzbekistan to reach Afghanistan. And as Russian President Vladimir Putin has become increasingly hostile, the West has competed with him for the favor of neighboring nations. ^^

“Karimov has virtually eradicated Uzbekistan’s “civil sector. ”Muhammad Bekjanov, 60, is “possibly the world’s longest-imprisoned journalist. Uzbek security agents kidnapped Bekjanov in 1999 in Ukraine, where he was living in exile. He has been beaten, shocked, subjected to temporary suffocation (the “bag of death”) and tortured in other ways. He has contracted tuberculosis, and beatings have cost him most of his teeth and much of his hearing. When his term was set to expire in 2012, he was sentenced to another five years for unspecified “violations of prison rules.” Bekjanov’s crime was to have served as editor of an opposition party newspaper. ^^

Economic Policy Under Karimov

Independence was supposed to unleash economic reforms, privatization and prosperity. Since the country is rich in resources and has a relatively small population everyone was supposed to prosper. This has not happened. Instead economic reforms have not taken place and only the well connected have gotten rich while the general population has gotten poorer or stayed about the same.

Karimov believes in paternalistic government with economic reforms taking place gradually, under the tight reigns of the government. Worried that rapid economic reforms could destabalize the county, he didn't launch many economic reforms and those that were introduced came agonizingly slowly. A limited privatization program was launched in 1993. Small business and light industries and services were mostly in private hands by 1995.

Privatizing large industry began in 1994 and proceeded slowly, with the government retaining stakes in profitable enterprise. Among the industries that were auctioned off and privatized were Tashkent Aviation Plant and Tashkent Tractor plant. Mines, energy and agriculture, the largest and most profitable sectors of the economy, remained largely under state control. Land reform has been slow. Collective farms are still plentiful. In many cases workers there earned the equivalent of $2 a month in the early 2000s. Karimov cronies and family members have monopolized key industries and enriched themselves.

In the early 2000s, Karimov’s economic policies took a turn for the worse. The Karimov regime imposed price controls on cotton sales, imposed taxes on small businesses and restricted small traders. Borders were sealed, tariffs of 70 percent were imposed and bazaars selling imported goods were shut down to protect unprofitable local businesses. Rather than take measures to improve the economy Karimov blamed Uzbekistan’s troubles on Islamic extremist.

After September 11th , Uzbekistan saw an influx of money in the form of loans from the U.S. and other countries. Relatively little money comes from taxes because people earn so little money. Most of the money that keeps that Uzbekistan economy and the Karimov regime afloat comes from the export of natural gas, gold and cotton.

Lack of Economic Reforms Under Karimov

Uzbekistan has failed make significant economic reforms. The prices of basic commodities such as flour and gasoline have been kept artificially low through complex trade and currency controls in part to keep people placated enough to keep Karimov in power.

Some businesses went bankrupt because government regulations prevented them from converting relatively worthless local currency into dollars. Some businesses such as Daewoo were allowed to change some som into dollars at an official rate about half of the black market rate. Uzbekistan regulations were also unpopular with Uzbekistan’s neighbors, which were swamped with cheap Uzbek good but were unable to get a good prices for their goods. Uzbekistan has also been hampered by poor transportation and shortages of electricity and water

Businessmen and entrepreneurs that thrived in the Soviet era have been hindered by the break up of the Soviet Union. Traders that moved freely between the Central Asian republics in Soviet Union times had to cross borders, show visas, pass through customs and often pay bribes. Traders entering Uzbekistan by car in the early 2000s were required to pay $45 for insurance, a lot of money for many in Central Asia , and pass through customs station with X-ray equipment, interrogation rooms and bomb-sniffing dogs. Businesses that get received materials from another Central Asian nation had to pay stiff tariffs on those materials..

Reforms businesses wanted to see included a reduction of the profit tax to 10 percent and an elimination of currency controls so that the official rate was more in line with the black market rate. The IMF broke its ties with Uzbekistan due to a lack of reforms in April 2001, especially over Karimov's broken promises to liberalize foreign-exchange laws.

Stagnation Under Karimov

By the mid 2000s, political and economic repression, delays in market reforms and strict state control of the economy was producing a state of stagnation and widespread discontent. The per capita income in 2005 was around $450, about five times lower than in neighboring Kazakhstan. Monthly salaries were at about $30 a month. Analysts were predicted these conditions could lead to destabilizing violence.

The Karimov regime seemed to be living in a dreamworld, ignoring depressingly low wages and high rates of unemployment, and low productivity, while working on ways to hold on to power and enrich the regime at the cost of large dissatisfaction among the masses and potential explosive unrest.

In November 2004, thousands of people took the streets in a rare demonstration to protest the low supply of gas and regulations requiring licences for importers, who provided many of the goods used in Uzbekistan. The Andijan massacre in 2005, which left hundreds dead, was triggered as much by these economic policies as religious discontent.

Karimov’s One-Man Rule and Lack of Democracy

Like other Central Asian leaders, Karimov positioning himself to be a leader for life. Parliamentary election have largely been rigged. There is widespread speculation that a family dynasty is trying to be established, The marriage of Karimov’s daughter to government’s foreign minister was said to have been arranged to keep the presidency in the family. The Karimov government maintains control of the entire country by controlling the mahalla system through the use of informant and loyalists.

In 1995, Karimov's extended his president's term until 2000 rather than face an election in 1997. The referendum was reportedly passed with a 99.6 percent yes vote and 99.3 voter participation. In the election only those voting "no" entered a cubicle; those who voted “yes” simply placed their unmarked ballot in the ballot box. In 2002, Karimov's presidential term was extended from five years to eight years (to December 2007) in a referendum condemned the West as a ploy to hang on to power. The referendum was. passed with a 91 percent “yes” vote. In August 2002, Karimov urged radical democratic changes. Members of the opposition were largely skeptical. And said the announcement was intended mostly for Western ears.

In the Karimov era, no true opposition party has been permitted legal status. The two major opposition parties that developed in the late Soviet period, Erk (Liberty) and Birlik (Unity), have been intensely restricted. Their leaders, Muhammad Solih and Abdurahim Polat, respectively, operate from exile. Two other parties, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), which advocates an Islamic state in Uzbekistan, and Adolat (Justice), have been refused registration since the 1990s. The opposition Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Peasants) Party, formed in 2003, has been similarly barred. [Source: Library of Congress February 2007 **]

The dominant party has been the People’s Democratic Party, successor to the Communist Party of Uzbekistan. The other major parties, all of which support the government, are the Liberal Democratic Party (formed with government approval in 2004), the Adolat Social Democratic Party, the Democratic National Rebirth Party, and the Self Sacrificers Party. Each of these parties gained at least nine seats in the Oly Majlis in the parliamentary elections of 2004–5. The leading vote getters were the Liberal Democratic Party, which won 41 seats, and the People’s Democratic Party, with 33 seats.

Politics and Power in the Karimov Era

Paula Newberg, a scholar at the Brookings Institute, wrote in the International Herald Tribune: “Tashkent has limited television broadcasts, harassed international NGOs (like Human Rights Watch) or closed them (like the Soros-funded Internews), frozen the accounts of dozens of local NGOs, and cancelled their grants. Opposition candidates and their families are persecuted; the 6 am knock on the door has returned to central Asia. Government enfranchises obedient individuals rather than its own pliant political parties, replacing the uncertainty of elections with a heavy dose of predictability. [Source: Paula R. Newberg, YaleGlobal, December 20, 2004 /*/]

“Every Uzbek watcher diagnoses this political closure differently. Pessimists surmise that the western coalition's security umbrella assures the authorities that they needn't change their ways. But those who challenge Uzbekistan – western governments, multilateral financial institutions like the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, human rights groups, and occasionally even its own citizens – expect a response, not a turned cheek. So others assume that uncomfortable criticism leads the Uzbek government simply to circle its wagons. Some western diplomats suggest that Karimov only knows how to run a Soviet-style state, and therefore does so; others think that the ties of traditional, clan-based societies override economic and political reform and account for fiscal missteps and corruption. To reformists and activists, these conclusions seem to justify inaction by the same foreign governments that preach democracy elsewhere. /*/

“A truth of sorts lies among these conjectures. Like an old command economy, the Uzbek state writes rules in order to follow them. Inevitably, bad laws follow reasonable ones, and the rule of law – and any hope of economic resiliency – is lost. Democracy manuals say that parties are needed, so they're created, regulated, registered, and populated – by the state. In place of a free press, approved organs report the government's agenda. If parliament is required, then surely, parliaments can be created through a network of bureaucrats whose loyalties lie with the state, not with fractious, changeable voters. Like Alice's experiences with her looking glass, "the books are something like our books, only the words go the wrong way." /*/

“The authorized version of Uzbek politics shrouds alternative politics in silence. On the peripheries of official Uzbekistan, independent journalists and feisty politicians risk the state's opprobrium. But their actions go unheard and unseen by Uzbek citizens. Reporters cover government-sanctioned parties but can't write about those that government refuses to register. Even uncontroversial NGO statements are absent from public view, and public actions – like protests against the recall of an outspoken British ambassador, who complained frequently about rights abuses – yield punishment but little attention. Willing ignorance on its educated citizenry has created what Uzbek journalist Karim Bakhriev calls a "tragic paradox of Uzbek reality": it's hard to believe what the President says, but no one quite knows what anyone else believes, either. Officially, dissent doesn't exist; unofficially, obedience probably doesn't, either.” /*/

Islam Under Karimov

Karimov eased Soviet restrictions on Islam but cracked down on Muslim militants. Religious activity is overseen by the State Committee on Religion. All religious leader and their sermons must be approved by this organization. You don’t see that many mosques nor hear the muezzin in Uzbekistan. Only a handful of Muslims are allowed to make the haj. The only sermons allowed are state-sanctioned Friday prayers. Religious leaders are required genuflect in front of an image of Karimov.

One of the main religious leaders is Sheik Mohammed Sadyk Yusuf. He served as a grand mufti during a period of religious tolerance in the early 1990s but was forced to flee in 1993 when the government began cracking down on religion. Yusuf has returned to Uzbekistan and now serves as a major spokesman against Muslim extremism and terrorism and encourages “good” Islamic values and discourage “bad ones. His book Religion: There is a Proper Way is a bestseller in Uzbekistan. He has appeared on television condemning terrorists and groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir.

There was a short-lived flowering of Islam in the early 1990s. Thousands of mosques opened and hundreds went on the hajj after the break up of the Soviet Union. Madrasahs were built and Korans and other Islamic literature were distributed for free, often backed by Iranian, Pakistani, Turkish and Saudi money. The conservative Wahhabi sect from Saudi Arabia made inroads in the Fergana Valley.

In January 2001, the main mosque hosted a nationwide Koran recital contests, the first of its kind in more an a decade. The entrants were judged on the basis of both quality and quantity. The winner got an all-expenses-paid trip to Mecca for the Haj. The event seemed to be more of a show than a true willingness on the part of the government to tolerate religious expression. In Uzbekistan, madrasahs and mosques aren’t exactly humming with activity. The Soviet era left generations without much exposure to Islam. There is little tradition and people doesn’t seem to know where to start. Many people drink vodka.

Karimov and Terrorism

In February 1999, six car bombs exploded at around the same time Tashkent, killing 16 people and leaving 130 wounded, in an apparent assassination attempt of Karimov, who was scheduled to attend a cabinet meeting at one buildings where a bomb went off. The fact he showed up late saved his skin The bombing was blamed on Islamic groups even though there was no evidence to support this. After the bombing the use of muezzin was banned, Islamic leaders were forced to praise the government and that security was very tight. Before the matches at the first international tennis tournament held in Tashkent soldiers with mine sweepers checked the stadium and clay courts for bombs before the arrival of the president.

For along time the biggest terrorism threat was regarded as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Karimov vowed to stop the group by "shooting its leaders in the head." He even expressed his willingness to shoot them himself. The Karimov government's greatest concern appears to be Hizb ut-Tahrir, or Party of Liberation, an international organization that mixes fundamentalist ideals with the call for an Islamic state throughout Central Asia and eventually the entire Islamic world.

The Karimov regime often used terrorism as an excuse to crack down on people who were deemed a threat to his government but were no necessarily terrorists or even Islamists. On Karimov, one refugee said, “That is his hobby. He calls everybody terrorists.”

According to globalsecurity.org: After the February 1999 Tashkent attack the “Karimov government responded with wide-scale arrests of political dissidents in a telling display of lingering Soviet-style tactics. In April 1999, Karimov accused Mohammed Solikh, a former presidential candidate and head of the banned Erk Pary, of masterminding the plot along with Tohir Yuldashev (former leader of the Adolat social movement) and the Taliban. The first trial of 22 suspects resulted in six death sentences. In 2000 Yuldashev and Jama Namanganiy (leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) recieved death sentences in absentia, and Solikh received a 15 year prison sentence. [Source: globalsecurity.org]

Erich Follath wrote in Der Spiegel: “When Islamist terrorists conducted a series of bomb attacks in 2004, Karimov didn't just go after the extremists who perpetrated the attacks. He also had his police force use live ammunition to fire at protesters taking part in anti-government demonstrations at the time and had thousands of Muslims arrested. The outcry from the West remained muted. The US, like Europe, saw Karimov first and foremost as an ally in the war on terror against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. More recently, when Karimov openly positioned himself against Russian President Vladimir Putin in June 2012 and withdrew Uzbekistan from a Russia-dominated military alliance, he could be confident the move would secure Western favor.” [Source: Erich Follath, Der Spiegel, April 3, 2015]

Karimov and Human Rights

Karimov has relied on Stalinist methods to stay in power: the arrest of thousands on trumped up charges, torture, forced confessions, group trials, show trials. He controls the media and the courts. In 1992, shortly after a new constitution was established that called for multiparty democracy, an opposition leader was abducted in Kyrgyzstan and charged with sedition and the main opposition party, Birkkik, was crushed.

Human rights violations have included allegation of cracking down Muslims who worshipped outside state-run mosques, the mysterious deaths of people in custody, possibly from torture, and banning of religious political parties and human rights groups. Human rights groups have said that at least 7,000 people have been jailed on political and religious charges. As of 2005, there were thought to at least 6,000 people still in jail.

Uzbekistan under Karimov is stable but has an eery calm. On the surface there is a lot of fear. Under the surface hostility seethes. Soviet-style repression is pervasive. Karimov’s human rights record has been condemned by numerous countries as well organizations like the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Among the things the Karimov regime has been charged with doing are boiling enemies, slaughtering unarmed civilians and conscripting armies of children for slave labor.

Despite extensive constitutional protections, the Karimov government has actively suppressed the rights of political movements, continues to ban unsanctioned public meetings and demonstrations, and continues to arrest opposition figures on fabricated charges. The atmosphere of repression reduces constructive opposition and freedom of expression, and continues to distort the political process, even when institutional changes have been made. In the mid-1990s, legislation established significant rights for independent trade unions, separate from the government, and enhanced individual rights; but enforcement is uneven, and the role of the state security services remains central. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch, and the United States Department of State consistently have identified the human rights record of Uzbekistan as among the worst in the former Soviet Union. With the exception of sporadic liberalization, all opposition movements and independent media are essentially banned in Uzbekistan.The early 1990s were characterized by arrests and beatings of opposition figures on fabricated charges. For example, one prominent Uzbek, Ibrahim Bureyev, was arrested in 1994 after announcing plans to form a new opposition party. After reportedly being freed just before the March referendum, Bureyev shortly thereafter was arrested again on a charge of possessing illegal firearms and drugs. In April 1995, fewer than two weeks after the referendum extending President Karimov's term, six dissidents were sentenced to prison for distributing the party newspaper of Erk and inciting the overthrow of Karimov. Members of opposition groups have been harassed by Uzbekistan's secret police as far away as Moscow. *

Karimov and the American War in Afghanistan

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Uzbekistan provided logistical support to the U.S. antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan. This move continued a rapprochement that began in the late 1990s. However, in 2004 the United States cut non-humanitarian aid to Uzbekistan, citing recurrent human rights violations. In mid-2005 brutal suppression of riots in Andijon brought severe criticism from the United States and the European Union (EU). [Source: Library of Congress February 2007 **]

The United States government had initially distanced itself from the Karimov regime because of its authoritarian policies and human rights violations. This position changed after September 11th. Karimov was welcomed warmly by President George Bush at the White House in March 2002. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Tashkent on several occasions, the amount of America aid to Uzbekistan tripled and Uzbekistan agreed to help the United States respond to “any external threat.” The United States chose to ignore Uzbekistan's human rights record.

After September 11th, the Uzbekistan government extended use of its Karshi-Khanabad (B.C.) air base, about 25 miles from the Afghan border, for humanitarian missions such as food drops and CIA intelligence-gathering operations during the Afghanistan war. It did not allow U.S.. forces to launch air strikes of attacks from Uzbekistan. The plan was for the Americans to stay three to five years. The air base was used mainly to airlift cargo and troops into Afghanistan.

The United States presence was widely viewed as a welcome cash infusion into the economy. Karimov boasted about the “strategic relationship between” between Uzbekistan and the United States. Many ordinarily Uzbeks said they supported the American campaign against terrorism The state controlled media was flooded with reports of how the Americans presence was a good thing for Uzbekistan and how it helped Karimov reached his goal do getting rid of Muslim extremists.

The United States vacated its base and severed military relations in 2005 following the Andijon riots and curtailment of the base agreement by the Karimov government. As the U.S. stepped up it pressure on Uzbekistan to improve human rights, the Karimov regime stepped up it pressure on the Americans to leave the base.

Uzbekistan Elections

Uzbekistan has never held a vote judged free and fair by Western observers. In December 26, 2004, parliamentary elections were held in Uzbekistan. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) sent a team of observers to monitor the election and were highly critical of what they saw. It said that Uzbekistan provided insufficient conditions for a democratic vote and the election should not be considered legitimate.The opposition was not allowed to field candidates. The turnout was low. The government restricted the media and prevented assemblies of people. Voters were cynical. Some said their vote wouldn’t decide anything. Others chose not to vote for any candidates on the ballot. It was described as a “no choice” election.

According to the OSCE mission's final report: "The 26 December 2004 election of Deputies to the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan fell significantly short of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections, despite minor improvements identified in the election law. The implementation of the election legislation by the authorities failed to ensure a pluralistic, competitive and transparent election. An analysis of the election platforms of the five registered political parties revealed no significant differences, and in general neither they, nor independent candidates nominated by initiative groups, provided the electorate with a genuine choice. Fundamental freedoms in Uzbekistan remain severely restricted, and the relevant principles necessary for a meaningful democratic election process, such as freedom of expression, association and assembly, were not respected." [Source: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe <<<]

Karimov won the presidential election on December 23, 2007 with 88.1 percent of the vote. On that poll, the OSCE reported: "The 23 December 2007 presidential election took place within a tightly controlled political environment and failed to meet many OSCE commitments for democratic elections as laid down in the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document. While there were four candidates, including one woman and one candidate nominated by an initiative group of voters, the voters were nonetheless left without a real choice as all contestants publicly endorsed the policies of the incumbent president, Mr. Islam Karimov. Legal and administrative obstacles prevented political movements representing alternative views from registering as political parties or initiative groups, thereby precluding them from fielding presidential candidates." <<<

Apathy and Fear at the Parliamentary Elections in 2009

The December 2009 parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan gave parties affiliated with Karimov all seats in the lower house of parliament. At that time, the country had no opposition parties and most pro-democracy figures were in jail or in exile abroad. Maria Golovnina of Reuters reported: “Uzbekistan held a stage-managed parliamentary election, drawing little Western criticism due to its important role in U.S.-led efforts to contain the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. Karimov, said a high voter turnout showed his policies were popular. "We have been resilient to the crisis thanks to the timely implementation of our anti-crisis program," Russia's Interfax news agency quoted Karimov as saying after casting his ballot at a polling station from which Reuters reporters were kept out. [Source: Maria Golovnina, Reuters, December 27, 2009 */*]

Fearful of reprisals, ordinary people were afraid to give full names to reporters. "People here seriously do not care. ... It's not an election," said one young resident of Tashkent. A 32-year-old driver called Javokhir said "I am not going. I am not interested. What's a parliament anyway?" Shirin, an elderly woman selling dried fruit in a busy Tashkent market, saw little grounds for optimism. "I really want things to change," said the pensioner who stands in the cold for hours each day selling her produce to save money for her son's wedding. "But I don't know if it's possible. It's very hard to hope." */*

“Despite widespread apathy, the official turnout was high -- about 80 percent by 5 p.m., Russia's RIA news agency reported. In an echo of its Soviet past, voting in Uzbekistan is often compulsory in neighborhoods and companies. The election monitoring arm of the OSCE did not send a full mission, saying none of its earlier recommendations had been implemented. In Tashkent, witnesses saw cases of multiple voting. One elderly woman brought a pile of passports to a polling station and was seen posting several ballots into a sealed box. The central election commission could not be reached for comment despite numerous attempts. */*

“Candidates from four parties contested 150 seats in the lower house. The Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan, focused solely on environmental issues, automatically gets 15 seats in the chamber. The four parties have publicly criticized each other, mainly over social policy, while praising Karimov's achievements. */*

On parliamentary elections on December 27, 2009, the OSCE reported: the “elections took place in the context of Uzbekistan’s declared “step-by-step approach” towards further democratization. While some of the December 2008 amendments to the election law slightly improve the legal framework for elections, their good faith implementation remains indispensable to ameliorate electoral practices in Uzbekistan. However, other amendments, such as providing 15 reserved seats in the lower chamber for the Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan and the abolishment of the possibility for civic initiative groups to nominate independent candidates, constituted further departures from OSCE commitments. These provisions are contrary to paragraph 7.2 and 7.5 of the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document, respectively. Overall, the election legislation continues to fall short of OSCE commitments and requires significant improvements." [Source: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe]

There were parliamentary elections on December 21, 2014 held under similar circumstances.

Karimov Re-elected Uzbekistan's President in Predicted Landslide

In March 2014, Karimov won a presidential election with 90.39 percent that otherwise was criticized by western observers for irregularities and lack of competition. Alec Luhn wrote in The Guardian, Karimov “won re-election in a predictable landslide victory that will put him in office for another five years. This will be his third term under the current constitution, even though that same treaty limits presidents to two terms. The only question going into the election was how badly Karimov would trounce his three toothless competitors from the country’s other parliamentary parties, who have themselves praised the president as the best candidate. The electoral commission put the turnout at an impressive 91.08 percent. [Source: Alec Luhn, The Guardian, March 30, 2015 *=*]

“Monitoring missions from the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which include former Soviet republics and China, called the election open and democratic. Although Vladimir Churov, the Russian electoral commission head also lauded the vote, he told the state news agency RIA Novosti that “there’s no such thing as totally clean elections” and said his team would discuss “certain remarks on the organisation of the voting” with local authorities. *=*

“Autocratic leaders across the former Soviet Union have been known to dispatch “quid pro quo” observer missions to each others’ elections to lend them legitimacy. But the OSCE observer report on the election catalogued many “legal and organisational shortcomings,” noting that slavish media coverage gave Karimov a “clear advantage” and that “proxy voting on behalf of several voters appeared to be universally practised”. Independent candidates have been barred from running by recent reforms. Human rights groups also lambasted the election as unconstitutional and unfair.” *=*

“Analysts have said the ageing Karimov is trying to postpone a power transition that has recently been complicated by an ugly family feud. Last autumn, the president’s oldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova, an occasional pop star and businesswoman whose dealings are the subject of two corruption investigations in Europe, accused her sister of sorcery and claimed her mother was trying to “destroy” her. Before her Twitter account was mysteriously shut down, Karimova also accused the powerful head of Uzbekistan’s security service, Rustam Inoyatov, of attempting a power grab. Despite the repressive political situation, Uzbekistan’s economy continues to grow on the back of gas, cotton and gold exports, reportedly expanding by 8.1 percent in 2014.” *=*

Future of Uzbekistan

There are worries that Uzbekistan is ripe for a very bloody revolution in part because Karimov has not allowed an opposition to develop and there is no leader strong enough to fill the vacuum after he leaves. There are worries that Uzbekistan could either descend into anarchy or come under the control Islamists. Russia and the United States would be unlikely to aid the Islamists. There are also concerns unrest could spread to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

David Lewis of the Belgium-based International Crisis Group told AFP, “It’s really hard to see an optimistic outcome here. My money would be on widening protests into different parts of the country. And when you get a large amount of people in the streets, the default option of the government is going to be repression. They do not have many other mechanisms in their repertoire.”

Many think it is only a matter of time before Uzbekistan goes through a violent revolution. Stanislav Belkovsky, the head of the national Strategy Institute in Russia, said, “What happened in Andijan is just the beginning. I consider that in the coming...years an Islamic revolution and the Islamicization of Uzbekistan are unavoidable. Of course this will be accompanied by bloodshed.”

Other are not sure. They argue that the government’s brutal tactics have produced widespread fear and a cowering population. On what might happen if unrest occurs, Craig Murray, the British ambassador in Uzbekistan in the early 2000s, said, “I very much fear that the Uzbek government will be able to put it down just by use of fairly brutal force...There’s’ tremendous anger among the local population at what’s happened but I don’t think there’s much chance of this being another Kyrgyzstan or Georgia or Ukraine of whatever.”

Paula Newberg, a scholar at the Brookings Institute, wrote in the International Herald Tribune: “Willing ignorance in its educated citizenry has made it hard to believe what the president says, but no one quite knows what anyone else believes, either. Officially dissent doesn’t exits; unofficially, obedience probably doesn’t, either...This might seem expedient for assuring a quiescent Parliament, but is a dangerous strategy for ensuring stability...Georgians and Ukrainians taught us that insularity generates curiosity, curiosity produces impatience and impatience can topple governments.”

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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