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Uzbekistan - Political Parties

Following the failure of the coup against the Gorbachev government in Moscow in August 1991, Uzbekistan's Supreme Soviet declared the independence of the republic, henceforth to be known as the Republic of Uzbekistan. At the same time, the Communist Party of Uzbekistan voted to cut its ties with the CPSU; three months later, it changed its name to the People's Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (PDPU), but the party leadership, under President Islam Karimov, remained in place. Independence brought a series of institutional changes, but the substance of governance in Uzbekistan changed much less dramatically.

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.

Only candidates nominated by official-and pro-government-political parties are eligible to participate in parliamentary elections. The law on Election for the Oliy Majlis establishes unequal conditions for the nomination of candidates, in effect creating three classes of candidates. The first class, requiring no petitions or other approval, are candidates nominated by Jokorgy Kenes of Karakalpakistan, Regional and Tashkent City and Councils of Peoples Deputies. They were often referred to as the “Executive Body” candidates. The second class, requiring 50,000 signatures and with no more than 8% collected from any one region of the country, are candidates nominated by political parties registered by the Ministry of Justice six months prior to the day the elections were called. The third class, requiring a petition signed by more than 8% of total voters in a district, are “independent” candidates nominated by voters’ initiative groups.

The electoral process in Uzbekistan works with the parties identifying citizens whom they see as good “Executive Body” parliamentary candidates. The parties are made up of those politically active citizens who have "bought in" to the Governments's political message -- e.g. the idea that Uzbekistan needs a strong central government and "evolutionary" progress towards democracy. Opposition candidates need not apply. Second, the parties likely submit their lists of potential candidates to the Government security apparatus for vetting. Again, any signs of opposition or dissent would be deal-breakers. And finally, the government conducts the elections themselves as correctly as possible, secure in the knowledge that no opposition candidates are even on the ballot. Following the theory that the simplest explanation is usually the best, this scenario makes far more sense than the idea that the entire elections process is a facade masking a process that was engineered from the outset.

As of 2012 political parties and leaders included:

  • Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan--established December 3, 2003, number of seats in the Legislative Chamber of the parliament 52, Muhammadyusuf Teshaboev, chairman;
  • People's Democratic Party or PDPU (Uzbekiston Halq Democratic Partiya, formerly Communist Party)--established November 1, 1991 in Tashkent, number of seats in the Legislative Chamber of the parliament 32, Ulugbek Vafoev, first secretary; PDPU represented the majority in the outgoing Parliament in 2004. President Karimov was the first secretary of the PDPU until 1996.
  • Democratic National Rebirth Party (Milly Tiklanish Democratic Partiya) or MTP--established on June 3, 1995 in Tashkent, and merged with the National Democratic Party "Fidokorlar" ("Selfless men") on June 20, 2008, number of seats in the Legislative Chamber of the parliament 31, Ulugbek Muhammadiev, chairman; Fidokorlar was created a year prior to the 2004 election and was registered promptly by the Ministry of Justice. Fidokorlar was the political party that nominated President Karimov for the January 2000 presidential elections. This party had the lowest number of withdrawn candidates in the 2004 parliamentary election.
  • Adolat (Justice) Social Democratic Party--established February 18, 1995 in Tashkent, number of seats in the Legislative Chamber of the parliament 18, Ismail Saifnazarov, first secretary;
  • Ecological (“Green”) Movement--established 2009 in Tashkent (15 seats, as reserved according to the constitution), Boriy Alixonov, chairman.

Other political or pressure groups and leaders: Birlik (Unity) Movement--Abdurakhim PULATOV, chairman; Erk (Freedom) Democratic Party--Mohammad SOLIH, chairman (banned Dec. 1992); party of Agrarians and Entrepreneurs of Uzbekistan--Marat ZAHIDOV, chairman; Ozod Dehkon (Free Farmers) Party--Nigara KHIDOYATOVA, general secretary; Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan--Abdujalil Boymatov, chairman; Independent Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan--Ismoil ODILOV, chairman; Ezgulik--Vasilya INOYATOVA, chairwoman.

Through the early 1990s, the government's stated goal of creating a multiparty democracy in Uzbekistan went unrealized. When independence was gained, 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.

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. 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.

By 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.

After the second round of parliamentary elections took place in 39 constituencies on 10 January 2010, Uzbekistan's Liberal-Democratic Party emerged with over 35% of the seats in the Lower House of Parliament, the Oliy Majlis. Relative party percentages remained almost unchanged from the previous parliament. The Liberal-Democratic Party, considered the party of entrepreneurs and businessmen and the party most closely associated with Islam Karimov, dominated the Oliy Majlis with 53 seats (about 35% of the total). Since 10% of the seats in the Lower House were reserved for representatives from the Ecological Movement - chosen separately at an Environmental Movement convention - the Liberal-Democratic Party actually won more than 39% of contested seats.

The People's Democratic Party of Uzbekistan earned 32 seats (about 21% of the total), the "Milliy Tiklanish" (National Revival) Democratic Party took 31 seats (about 20.6%), and the "Adolat" (Justice) Social Democratic Party took 19 seats (about 12.6%). This breakdown of seats was virtually unchanged from the previous parliament -- the main differences were the addition of Ecological Movement MPs, the absence of independent MPs, and the slight gain in the standings of the People's Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (PDP). In the previous parliament, the PDP trailed Milliy Tiklanish by one seat; now they have taken second place by a margin of one seat. Although independent nominees were not allowed on the ballot this year, at least one party (Adolat) nominated several candidates that are not party members--so, in a sense, independent candidates could run, as long as they were nominated by an official party.

A spirit of competitiveness among the parties reared its head for the first time during the parliamentary election campaign. Each of the parties vaguely follows an international party model (e.g. the Social Democratic Party sees itself as a sister organization to Social Democratic parties in Europe), which theoretically gives them a great deal of latitude for debate. However, in practice the parties do not engage in dissent with the executive branch. Party representatives claim that they are learning to exercise influence on legislation and policy, as part of Uzbekistan's "evolutionary" transition to democracy, and they certainly have been more vocal in their inter-party disagreements.

Virtually all party leaders came of age in the era of the Soviet Union. In their eyes, political progress after the fall of the Soviet Union has been enormous, and international observers are unjustly critical of Uzbekistan's democratic growing pains. Whatever their shortcomings, the Uzbek party leaders appear to be quite sincere in their desire to respond to the needs of Uzbek voters. They discussed the importance of reaching out to voters, meeting regularly with their constituents, and giving Uzbek citizens greater access to information about government and legislation.

Representatives of Uzbekistan's four political parties see no irony in the fact that the Government sets the agenda for each of the parties which are supposedly competing with each other for votes. On the whole, party leaders appear to be perfectly content with the political status quo, and seemed to genuinely believe that they are playing a constructive and influential role in the formation of policy. Some party leaders make reference to their "sister" parties in other countries-European Social Democrats, for example - reinforcing the impression that the political parties are trying to play a certain role without really understanding it. The Uzbek party leaders and parliamentary representatives give the general impression that they are all actors in some grand political pageant, playing parts which are scripted for them by the president.

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