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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).

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.

1999 Elections

In the 05 December 1999 parliamentary election no significant differences were noted in the platforms of the five registered political parties. In general, neither the registered parties nor independent candidates nominated by citizens’ initiative groups offered genuine alternatives to the electorate. During the pre-election phase, individuals, groups, political parties and non-governmental organizations that oppose the government could not freely associate, present their views and take part in the political and electoral process. The opportunities to campaign were extremely limited due to restrictions imposed by law. Election commissions imposed a strict control on all campaign activities. No outdoor rallies were allowed and indoor meetings could be arranged only by the authorities and when all other candidates in the district were invited. Material assistance was only allowed through a State fund, dispensed under the authority of the election administration and equally allocated to all candidates.

Election of the Deputies of Oliy Majlis of second convention (2000-2004) was participated, beside the bodies of representative power, by five political parties and initiative groups of votes. Oliy Majlis of second convention registered faction of the Social-Democratic Party “Adolat”, uniting 11 Deputies, faction of Democratic Party “Milliy tiklanish” – 10 Deputies, “Vatan tarakkiyoti” Party faction – 20 Deputies, faction of National-Democratic Party “Fidokorlar” – 34 Deputies, faction of the National-Democratic Party of Uzbekistan – 49 Deputies, block of Deputies nominated by representative power bodies – 107 Deputies, and block of Deputies nominated by initiative groups of voters – 16 Deputies. As “Vatan tarakkiyoti” Party merged into “Fidokorlar”, Deputies of their respective factions in the parliament formed a single 54- Deputy faction during the second session of Oliy Majlis of second convention.

As an outcome of constitutional reform stipulated by transition to bicameral parliament and on the basis of changes made in the Constitution of Uzbekistan, as well as adoption of the basic constitutional laws, two-round elections of Deputies of Legislative Chamber were organized. To hold the election, the Central Election Commission of Uzbekistan has formed 120 election districts divided into electoral precincts in accordance with the law “On election of Deputies of Oliy Majlis of Uzbekistan”.

2004 Elections

Elections for the new bicameral parliament took place on December 26, 2004, resulting in election of 62 Deputies, and during the second round held on 9 January 2005, the remaining 58 Deputies of the Legislative Chamber were elected, thus filling all positions in the Chamber. But no truly independent opposition candidates or parties were able to take part. Independent political parties were allowed to organize, recruit members, and hold conventions and press conferences, but were denied registration under restrictive registration procedures. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) limited observation mission concluded that the elections fell significantly short of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections.

Khurshid Azimov, a 42-year old local lawyer who handled many of the human rights cases funded by the Swiss Legal Defense Fund, was assasinated in 2007. Reportedly, Azimov was drinking beer with friends near the Chorsu bazaar inlate June when an unidentified individual approached him and stabbed him in the arm with a syringe, injecting him with an unknown substance. Azimov speculated that his beer may have been laced with a sedative, which enabled his assailant to inject him with the syringe. Azimov was at first refused entry to several local hospitals. After spending several days at home with increasing symptoms, Azimov was finally admitted to a local hospital. On 08 July 2007, Azimov died. The incident sends a clear message to Uzbekistan's human rights defenders that they are not safe, and can be attacked even in one of Tashkent's most crowded locations.

Azimov was highly sought after by defendants' families, as he had a surprisingly strong record in getting suspended or alternative sentences for his clients. Since conviction rates in Uzbekistan are nearly 100 percent, the fact that Azimov was able to win suspended or alternative sentences for his clients, demonstrates his unusual success as a lawyer. In addition to being a lawyer, Azimov authored approximately 15 science fiction novels, but it is unknown how many, if any, were published.

During his early career, Azimov was a protege of Hamid Zainutdinov, a well-known lawyer who defended the political opposition and alleged religious extremists during the 1990s. Like Azimov, Zainutdinov also died in mysterious circumstances in 2001. Zainutdinov died on April 7, 2001 shortly after agreeing to defend Imam Abdulvahid Yuldashev and his assistant, Shukhrat Tadjibaev. The official cause of Zainutdinov's death was diabetes. But before he died, Zainutdinov reportedly told acquaintances that he had been poisoned by the authorities to prevent him from taking Yuldashev's case.

2009 Elections

Parliamentary elections took place in December 2009. While Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers reported noticeable procedural improvements in comparison to the 2004 parliamentary elections, the OSCE did not deem the 2009 elections free and fair due to government restrictions on eligible candidates and total government control of media and campaign financing. A second round of parliamentary run-off elections took place in 39 constituencies on 10 January 2010.

Conspiracy theories about the elections abound, but (as is often the case with conspiracy theories) lack proof, and require giant leaps of logic. No international observers witnessed the second round of voting, and therefore the local independent media has speculated that the run-offs were engineered precisely so that any irregularities would take place away from prying international eyes. However, the available evidence suggests that the run-off elections were probably just what they seemed. By examining candidate lists, listening to the parties, and observing the voting at the polls, the conclusion was that the elections, though flawed, were not just a sham, totally orchestrated by the central government. The candidate list was restricted by the government, but the people running for office were the usual suspects for a parliamentary election-local politicians and community organizers, heads of agricultural collectives, and general pillars of the community, including doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and school directors.

The elections were neither free nor fair, but perhaps they were not wholly worthless. The Government kept opposition candidates off the ballot and controlled the media, as they always do. Ironically, though, the election outcome would probably not change very much in a fully free and fair election. Although many ordinary Uzbek citizens are unhappy with the state of affairs in the country-especially when it affects their pocketbooks-few of them actually oppose the government at this point. Whether this reflects the placid political culture or deeper fear of repression, or both, is the subject of constant analysis.

2014 Elections

Parliamentary elections took place in December 2014. According to the OSCE’s observer mission, the elections “were competently administered but lacked genuine electoral competition and debate.” The preliminary report of the OSCE’s limited observer mission to parliamentary elections in December 2014 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.” The government limited participation in the December 2014 parliamentary elections solely to candidates nominated by the four registered pro-presidential 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,” claimed by the Central Election Commission to be 89 percent of registered voters. Several human rights activists claimed that, without proxy voting in the presidential and parliamentary elections, turnout would not have been sufficient for the elections to meet the legal minimum participation threshold.

On 21 December 2014, the first round of parliamentary elections were held in Uzbekistan. On 21 December 2014, the first round of parliamentary elections were held in Uzbekistan. The four political parties vying for the 135 seats - the Liberal Democratic Party, People's Democratic Party Of Uzbekistan, National Revival Party "Milly Tiklanish" and the Social Democratic “Adolat” (Justice) Party - all supportive of then president Islom Karimov’s government.

After the second round of elections on 4 January 2015, the remaining 22 deputies were elected in their respective districts. According to official results, out of the 135 electable seats, the Liberal Democratic Party won 52, the National Revival Party "Milly Tiklanish" won 36, the People’s Democratic Party won 26 and the Social Democratic “Adolat” (Justice) Party won 20. The turnout for the second round was 76,93 percent. Among the 150 elected deputies, 24, or 16 percent are women.

On 29 March 2015, voters elected President Karimov to a fourth term in office in polling that, according to the limited observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), deprived voters of a genuine choice due to “the lack of a political alternative to the incumbent president.” Preliminary results showed Uzbek incumbent president Karimov winning over 90 percent of the vote, the country's central election commission announced 30 March 2015. Rough tally was over 17 million votes for Karimov, and the final results of the election would be announced in 10 days, said the commission during a briefing.

Karimov ruled the country for a quarter-century. Three other candidates were also vying for the presidency, but those candidates effectively campaigned for strongman Karimov, calling him "the best candidate." There is no opposition in the impoverished state.

Under Uzbekistan's constitution, the presidency was limited to two consecutive terms. After the last election, the 77-year-old incumbent orchestrated an amendment to the constitution reducing presidential terms from seven to five years. International monitors said Uzbek officials justified Karimov's decision to continue to run for office by pointing out that terms of a different length can not be considered consecutive.

The entry into force of the law "On parliamentary control" imposed a special responsibility before UzLiDeP as the party which had the greatest corps of deputies in representative bodies. In this regard, the Executive Committee of the Political Council of UzLiDeP and its faction in the Legislative Chamber of Oliy Majlis of Uzbekistan held a joint meeting on April 26, 2016. It was noted at the meeting that parliament has a special role in the further democratization and modernization of the country. A logical step in this direction was the entry into force the law "On parliamentary control", which aims to create an integrated system of legislative base of the parliamentary control over the execution of requirements of the Constitution and laws.

Islam Karimov, the president of Uzbekistan, died 02 September 2016. On 4 December 2016, Uzbekistan held early presidential elections. Shavkat Mirziyoyev of the Liberal Democratic Party won 88.61% of the votes.

2019 Elections

Opposition parties are forbidden and denied registration, therefore they are unable to take part in elections. These unregistered opposition parties, or groups, predominantly function in exile. During the early 1990s various opposition parties and individuals were arrested on charges of ‘anti-state activities’. In 2006 Sanjar Umarov, head of the Sunshine Uzbekistan opposition movement, was jailed for 11 years (later reduced to eight) for ‘economic crimes’. The group had criticised the Andijan crackdown in 2005 and urged economic reform. This was an example of President Karimov’s stance on oppositional forces. Generally, oppositional organizations have had the goal of establishing democracy in Uzbekistan. Most do not have a clear program and none of them could be regarded as social democratic, however they can be considered as more progressive than the political parties that ran for parliament in the 2014/2015 parliamentary elections.

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