ELECTIONS AND POLITICS IN UZBEKISTAN

ELECTIONS IN UZBEKISTAN

At least a third of the eligible voters must show up to make an election valid. In the 1995 referendum to extend Karimov's president's term, only those voting "no" entered a cubicle. Those who voted yes simply placed their unmarked ballot in the ballot box. Not surprisingly the referendum was passed with a 99.6 percent yes vote and 99.3 voter participation.

Legislative elections in Uzbekistan: last held on December 21, 2014 and January 4, 2015 (next to be held in December 2019). election results: Senate - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - NA; Legislative Chamber - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - LDPU 52, National Rebirth Party 36, NDP 27, Adolat 20, Ecological Movement 15.

The president was originally supposed to be elected to five year terms, serving a maximum of two terms. In March 1995, Karimov secured a 99 percent majority in a rigged referendum to extend his term as president from the prescribed next election in 1997 to 2000. A 2002 referendum increased the president's term from five years to eight years with the next election taking place in December 2007.

Presidential elections: president elected by popular vote for a five-year term (eligible for subsequent terms; previously was a five-year term, extended by a 2002 constitutional amendment to seven years and changed back to five years in 2011); election last held on March 29, 2015 (next to be held in 2020); prime minister nominated by the political party or parties that win(s) the most seats in parliament; ministers and deputy ministers appointed by the president. Presidential election results in 2015: Islom Karimov reelected president; percent of vote - Islom Karimov: 90.4 percent; Akmal Saidov: 3.1 percent; Khatamjan Ketmanov: 2.9 percent: Nariman Umarov: 2.1 percent; other 1.5 percent. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

According to the U.S. Department of State: “Following 2007 elections that the OSCE monitoring group considered did not meet international democratic standards, President Karimov began a third term. The constitution prohibits a president from seeking a third term in office, a contradiction that the government did not address publicly. The OSCE’s limited election observation mission noted that, while there were more candidates than in previous elections, all candidates publicly endorsed President Karimov’s policies and there were procedural problems and irregularities in vote tabulation. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

See History

Electoral System in Uzbekistan

Suffrage is universal for individuals 18 years of age and older. All aspects of elections, particularly registration by parties and independent candidates, are controlled by the government’s Central Election Commission. An election is legally valid if more than 50 percent of eligible voters participate and a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes. In the post-Soviet era, reports of very high participation in elections and referenda have been considered unreliable. Parliamentary elections, which are held every five years, include runoffs if no candidate receives 50 percent or more in the first round. [Source: Library of Congress February 2007 **]

Only five parties, all pro- government, were allowed to participate in the parliamentary elections of December 2004 and the runoff elections of January 2005. There was a parliamentary election in December 2009. In 2002 a referendum extended the president’s term of office from five to seven years but later it was changed back. There was a presidential election in December 2007, although technically President Karimov’s term ended in January of that year. **

The first parliamentary election in the early 1990s excluded all parties except the People's Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (PDPU, Karimov’s party) and the progovernment Progress of the Fatherland Party, despite earlier promises that all parties would be free to participate. The 250-seat Oly Majlis at that time included only sixty-nine candidates running for the PDPU, but an estimated 120 more deputies were PDPU members technically nominated to represent local councils rather than the PDPU. The result was that Karimov's solid majority continued after the new parliament went into office. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Politics in Uzbekistan

Politics in an all the Central Asian states has been described as secretive and clannish. One diplomat told the Washington Post that Uzbekistan is an “opaque place,” where politics are dominated by “mysterious and corrupt clans and alliances” but “no one can, or will, explain them to a visitor.”

The Fergana Valley has traditionally been the most politically powerful region. Karimov’s clan is from Samarkand but includes some business leaders from Tashkent.

Paula Newberg, a scholar at the Brookings Institute, wrote in the International Herald Tribune: “Like an old command economy, the Uzbek state writes rules in order to follow them...Democratic manuals say that parties are needed, so they’re created, regulated, registered and populated—by the state...if a Parliament is required then surely, it can be made up of bureaucrats whose loyalties lie with the state, not with factitious voters.”

No real political opposition exist. In early 1995, Karimov announced a new policy of toleration for opposition parties and coalitions, apparently in response to the need to improve Uzbekistan's international commercial position. A few new parties were registered in 1995, although the degree of their opposition to the government was doubtful, and some imprisonments of opposition political figures continued. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

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. *

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.” /*/

Political Participation in Uzbekistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The preliminary report of the OSCE’s limited observer mission to parliamentary elections in December 2007 concluded the elections “were competently administered but lacked genuine electoral competition and debate.” The report further noted the elections did not “address main concerns with regard to fundamental freedoms that are critical for elections to fully meet international commitments and standards.” [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

The government limited participation in the December parliamentary elections solely to candidates nominated by the four registered propresidential parties and maintained control of the media and electoral financing. The OSCE preliminary report also underlined that proxy voting was widespread and “may have influenced the turnout,” reported by the Central Election Commission at 89 percent. At least one human rights activist claimed that, without proxy voting, turnout would not have been sufficient for the elections to meet the legal minimum participation threshold. \*\

Participation of Women and Minorities: There were 24 women in the 150-member lower chamber of parliament, and 15 women in the 100-member Senate, along with two women in the 28-member cabinet. During the December parliamentary elections, in accordance with the law, just over 30 percent of candidates were women. There were 11 members of ethnic minorities in the lower house of parliament and 11 members of ethnic minorities in the Senate. \*\

Laws That Restrict Political Partie sin Uzbekistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The law allows independent political parties, but the Ministry of Justice has broad powers to oversee parties and to withhold financial and legal support to those they judge as opposed to the government. The law makes it difficult for genuinely independent political parties to organize, nominate candidates, and campaign. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

A new party must have the signatures of 20,000 individuals living in at least eight of the country’s provinces in order to register. The procedures to register a candidate are burdensome. The law allows the Ministry of Justice to suspend parties for as long as six months without a court order. The government also exercised control over established parties by controlling their financing and media exposure. \*\

The law prohibits judges, public prosecutors, NSS officials, members of the armed forces, foreign citizens, and stateless persons from joining political parties. The law prohibits parties that are based on religion or ethnicity; oppose the sovereignty, integrity, or security of the country, or the constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens; promote war or social, national, or religious hostility; or seek to overthrow the government. The law also prohibits the Islamist political organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir, stating it promotes hate and condones acts of terrorism. The government banned or denied registration to several political parties following the 2005 Andijon violence. Former party leaders remained in exile, and their parties struggled to remain relevant without a strong domestic base. \*\

Political Parties in Uzbekistan

Political pressure groups and leaders:there are no significant opposition political parties or pressure groups operating in Uzbekistan. Political parties and leaders: 1) People's Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (PDPU, Xalq Demokratik Partiyas, or NDP, Karimov’s party) led by Hotamjon Ketmonov, formerly Communist Party. 2) Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan (O'zbekiston Ekologik Harakati) led by Boriy Alixonov. 3) Justice (Adolat) Social Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, led by [Narimon Umarov. 4) Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (O'zbekiston Liberal-Demokratik Partiyasi) or LDPU, led by Sodiqjon Turdiyev. 5) National Rebirth Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (Milliy Tiklanish), led by Sarvar Otamurodov. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

In the post-Soviet 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.

In September 1991, when Uzbekistan declared its independence, the Communist Party of Uzbekistan voted to cut its ties with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) Three three months later, the CPSU changed its name to the People's Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (PDPU). Successor to Communist Party and dominated by Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov, the PDPU dominates legislature and government; other major legal party, Fatherland Progress Party, has no opposition role; opposition parties weak, fragmented, many excluded by government and their leaders exiled or jailed.

In 1992 the PDPU retained the dominant position in the executive and legislative branches of government that the Communist Party of Uzbekistan had enjoyed. All true opposition groups were repressed and physically discouraged. Birlik, the original opposition party formed by intellectuals in 1989, was banned for allegedly subversive activities, establishing the Karimov regime's dominant rationalization for increased authoritarianism: Islamic fundamentalism threatened to overthrow the secular state and establish an Islamic regime similar to that in Iran. The constitution ratified in December 1992 reaffirmed that Uzbekistan is a secular state. Although the constitution prescribed a new form of legislature, the PDPU-dominated Supreme Soviet remained in office for nearly two years until the first parliamentary election, which took place in December 1994 and January 1995. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

People's Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (PDPU)

When independence was gained in Uzbekistan in 1991, the Communist Party of Uzbekistan was officially banned, but its successor, the PDPU, assumed the personnel, structure, and political domination of its predecessor. Since forcing out a small number of deputies from opposition parties, PDP members have complete control of the Supreme Soviet, and most members of other government bodies also are PDP members. The only other legal party in Uzbekistan, the Progress of the Fatherland Party, was created by a key adviser to President Karimov, ostensibly to give the country a semblance of a multiparty system; but it differs little in substance from the PDP.

The first parliamentary election in the early 1990s excluded all parties except the(PDPU, Karimov’s party) and the progovernment Progress of the Fatherland Party, despite earlier promises that all parties would be free to participate. The 250-seat Oly Majlis at that time included only sixty-nine candidates running for the PDPU, but an estimated 120 more deputies were PDPU members technically nominated to represent local councils rather than the PDPU. The result was that Karimov's solid majority continued after the new parliament went into office. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In 1992 the PDPU retained the dominant position in the executive and legislative branches of government that the Communist Party of Uzbekistan had enjoyed. All true opposition groups were repressed and physically discouraged. The Karimov regime's dominant rationalization for increased authoritarianism was that Islamic fundamentalism threatened to overthrow the secular state and establish an Islamic regime similar to that in Iran. The constitution ratified in December 1992 reaffirmed that Uzbekistan is a secular state. Although the constitution prescribed a new form of legislature, the PDPU-dominated Supreme Soviet remained in office for nearly two years until the first parliamentary election, which took place in December 1994 and January 1995. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Opposition in Uzbekistan in the 1990s

Oppositions are virtually nonexistent. They have been refused registration, "brought to heel" or banned. The government has sought to drive opposition groups underground and limit the impact of Western-funded democracy and civil-society groups., especially after the revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

Through the early 1990s, the government's stated goal of creating a multiparty democracy in Uzbekistan went unrealized. Of the several legitimate opposition parties that emerged in Uzbekistan before the collapse of the Soviet Union, none has been able to meet the official registration requirements that the government created to maintain control and exclude them from the public arena. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In 1992 the PDPU retained the dominant position in the executive and legislative branches of government that the Communist Party of Uzbekistan had enjoyed. All true opposition groups were repressed and physically discouraged. Birlik, the original opposition party, was banned for allegedly subversive activities, establishing the Karimov regime's dominant rationalization for increased authoritarianism: Islamic fundamentalism threatened to overthrow the secular state and establish an Islamic regime similar to that in Iran. Although the constitution prescribed a new form of legislature, the PDPU-dominated Supreme Soviet remained in office for nearly two years until the first parliamentary election, which took place in December 1994 and January 1995. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The first opposition party, Birlik, was created in 1989, primarily by intellectuals and writers under the leadership of the writer Abdurakhim Pulatov. The movement attempted to draw attention to problems ranging from environmental and social concerns to economic challenges, and to participate in their solution. The main weakness of Birlik was that it never was able to present a united front to the government. Soon after the party's establishment, a group of Birlik leaders left to set up a political party, Erk (Freedom), under the leadership of Mohammed Salikh. The Uzbek government was able to exploit the disunity of the opposition and eventually to undermine their position. Following the establishment of independent Uzbekistan, the Karimov regime was able to suppress both Birlik and Erk. Both parties were banned officially; Erk was reinstated in 1994. *

Other parties include the Movement for Democratic Reforms, the Islamic Rebirth Party (banned by the government in 1992), the Humaneness and Charity group, and the Uzbekistan Movement. A former prime minister (1990-91) and vice president (1991) of Uzbekistan, Shukrullo Mirsaidov, created a new party, Adolat (Justice) in December 1994. Like Birlik and Erk, the new party calls for liberal economic reforms, political pluralism, and a secular society, but experts describe its opposition to the government as quite moderate. Nevertheless, Adolat has not been able to operate freely. *

In 1995 opposition parties continued to be divided among themselves, further diluting their potential effectiveness, and many of the leaders have been either imprisoned or exiled. In mid-1995, Mohammed Salikh was in Germany; Abdurakhim Pulatov was in exile in Turkey; and his brother Abdumannob Pulatov, also active in the opposition and a victim of brutal government oppression, took refuge in the United States. *

Opposition Leaders and Groups in Uzbekistan

There are no significant opposition political parties or pressure groups operating in Uzbekistan. As of 2004 there were four small opposition groups, none of them officially recognized. The three most serious challengers to Karimov’s regime at that time were: 1) Shukrulla Mirsaidov, a former prime minister who has been under house arrest in Tashkent since 1992; 2) Muhammed Salih, the leader of the Erk Party (See Below); and 3) Abdurahom Polat, a scientist and leader of a pro-democracy group called Birlik, or Unity. He divided his time between Turkey and the United States after recovering from a near-fat beating in Tashkent in 1994.

The banned the Erk (Freedom) Party is led by poet Mukhamed Salikh, who ran against Karimov in a 1991 election and claims his party would have won had Karimov not rigged the vote. Later Salikh was forced to flee to Europe and was sentenced in absentia to 15½ years in prison for his alleged role in bombings in Tashkent in 1999. He is now based in Norway.

Erk first appeared in the spring of 1990. It emerged from the “informal” organization Erk, which had split from the Brilik (Unity) organization. Karimov has accused of Erk of fostering a "terrorist" campaign aimed at creating a fundamentalist Islamic state. The head of Erk in 2004 was Atonazar Arifov.

The dissident Milhail Ardzinov was badly beaten up by political police in 1999. In 2002, after the number of political and religious arrests dropped dramatically, Ardinov’s Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan was allowed to register with the government in part due to pressure from the United States.

See History, Human Rights

Opposition in Uzbekistan in the 2000s

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. **

Fred Hiatt wrote in the Washington Post: “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. [Source: Fred Hiatt, Editorial page editor, Washington Post, November 30, 2014 ^^]^

In the 2009 election, 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.

Democracy Groups

Several foreign pro-democracy groups and reform-minded nongovernmental organizations opened offices in Uzbekistan in the 1990s. The George-Soros-funded Open Society Institute, whose goal is to establish free and open societies around the world, the U.S. government-backed National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, were shut down by Uzbekistan authorities in 2004.

Uzbekistan’s homegrown pro-democracy groups have either been shut down or exist in exile. There are said to be reformers in the bureaucracy, the parliament, the business community and even the military but if they express their views too strongly the risk losing their positions or worse.

Uzbekistan Government and Organized Crime

Diplomatic memos released by Wikileaks revealed that the Uzbekistan government hads “close connections with organized crime.” Associated Press reported: “The March 2006 communique sent by then-U.S. Ambassador Jon Purnell says the embassy had obtained video footage of lavish parties thrown by relatives of a reputed mafia chief and attended by the wives of several government ministers. [Source: Associated Press, January 17, 2011 <<<]

The cable named the crime boss as Salim Abduvaliyev, a man described by Russian crime experts as being a former wrestling champion who consolidated Uzbek organized crime groups in the 1990s and acquired various businesses in former Soviet republics. "Salim's wife and the wives of the GOU [Government of Uzbekistan] Ministers form a tight circle of friends," wrote Purnell, who left the post in 2007. "GOU" stands for Government of Uzbekistan. Uzbek officials, who rarely comment on controversial matters, could not be reached for immediate comment. The cable describes an engagement bash for Abduvaliyev's son, Sardor, in July 2005, attended only by women, as is tradition. Included among the 20 guests were the wives of Interior Minister Bakhodir Matlyubov, Justice Minister Burtosh Mustafayev, Foreign Minister Elyor Ganiyev and Finance Minister Rustam Azimov, the cable said. <<<

“Abduvaliyev, who is referred to in the cable as a "Tashkent mafia chieftain," was not at the party, but an associate of his handed out $100 bills to guests as they danced, another local custom. Each guest also got a $1,000 necklace from Abduvaliyev. The party was held at Abduvaliyev's mansion near Tashkent, decorated by a Versace representative flown in especially for the job, the cable said. <<<

“Abduvaliyev also threw a grandiose birthday party for his wife, Shahlo, around the same time, attended by the wives of both Ganiyev and other former officials, the cable said. Most guests, also including a foreign-based oligarch and a prominent businessman, gave his wife $3,000 cash, the cable said. Abduvaliyev chairs Uzbekistan's wrestling association and provides lavish support to Uzbek athletes. In 2007, he received a government award as "the year's best sports sponsor."

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

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