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Uzbekistan - Politics

The movement toward economic reform in Uzbekistan has not been matched by movement toward democratic reform. The government of Uzbekistan has instead tightened its grip since independence, cracking down increasingly on opposition groups, curbing basic human rights, and making little attempt to develop democratic political norms and practices. Although the names have changed, the institutions of government remain similar to those that existed before the breakup of the Soviet Union. The government has justified its restraint of personal liberty and freedom of speech by emphasizing the need for stability and a gradual approach to change during the transitional period, citing the conflict and chaos in the other former republics (most convincingly, neighboring Tajikistan). This approach has found credence among a large share of Uzbekistan's population, although such a position may not be sustainable in the long run.

Clans in Central Asia have deep historical roots and regional structures that allow elites to bring their own people into key positions that strengthen and consolidate power. In Uzbekistan, a Bukhara-Samarqand clan with common Tajik bonds, an ethnic Uzbek-dominated Ferghana Valley clan, and a distinct Tashkent clan, are all important.

The influential Tashkent “clan” is allied with the Ferghana clan. Through their alliance these two clans are based in Tashkent, Ferghana, Andijan and Namangan. Their major rival is the Samarqand clan, based in Samarqand, Bukhara, Dzhizak and Navoi, via its alliance with the Dzhizak clan. Unlike the civil war in Tajikistan in the 1990s, the ‘civil war’ in Uzbekistan happened behind the scenes between these various clans. The Uzbek Government has denied the existence of clan politics.

Uzbekistan has no meaningful political opposition within the country. Since 1991, virtually all prominent opponents of the government have fled or have been arrested. Five pro-government political parties hold all seats in the parliament, and independent political parties have been effectively suppressed since the early 1990s.

Pro-government media outlets (radio, TV, newspaper) dominate the media landscape and control all local reporting on political events. In the past, editors and journalists who have broached politically sensitive topics have experienced repercussions, including criminal libel charges and loss of employment, but this happens rarely today as self-censorship is the norm. The government blocks access to websites of opposition parties based outside of the country, independent media, and others critical of official government policy.

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. The Communist Party of Uzbekistan first voted to cut its ties with the CPSU, and then changed its name to the People's Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (PDPU).

Five political parties were registered and fielded candidates for the legislative chamber: Peoples’ Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (ex-Communist Party), Social-Democratic Party “Adolat” (“Justice”), National Democratic Party “Milliy Tiklanish” (“National Revival”) National Democratic Party “Fidokorlar” (“Self-Sacrificers”) and the Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (LDPU), registered on 3 December 2003. Political parties represent one of the most fundamental components of a competitive democracy, but in the Uzbek context, political parties do not present the voter with their intended legislative agenda, critical policy analysis, or polity alternatives. There were four unregistered political parties in Uzbekistan, which were excluded from the 2004 elections: “Ozod Dehkonlar” (Free Peasants), Party of Agrarians and Entrepreneurs (both established in 2003), “Birlik” (“Unity”) and “Erk” (“Freedom”), in existence since 1989 and 1991 respectively.

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. The parliamentary election, the first held under the new constitution's guarantee of universal suffrage to all citizens eighteen years of age or older, excluded all parties except the PDPU and the pro-government Progress of the Fatherland Party, despite earlier promises that all parties would be free to participate. The new, 250-seat parliament, called the Oly Majlis or Supreme Soviet, 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.

By law, neither parties nor candidates can raise campaign funds from private sources. All of the parties’ and candidates’ election-related expenses, including for campaigning, are financed from the state budget and the CEC sets the amount of the funds available. The size of a party’s financial entitlement is determined by the number of candidates registered to contest the elections. The ban on private financing of parties and candidates during the campaign prevents citizens from financially supporting their preferred party or candidate. The amount of funding made available by the CEC to candidates caps the funding of campaigns at a low level and thus limits the scope for purchasing additional campaign material and advertising, notably for constituency-level campaigning.



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