Uzbekistan, Central Asia’s most populous nation, gained independence in 1991 and since then pursued a policy of economic self-reliance and sought to balance its diplomatic ties with the West and Russia while having strained relations with its ex-Soviet neighbours because of disputes mainly over water and energy.
Assoc. Prof. Ozgur Tufekci
Uzbekistan’s first presidential election since the death of Islam Karimov took place in 2016. Following the death of Islam Karimov, who died of a stroke in 2016, Shavkat Mirziyoyev assumed power and became Uzbekistan’s new President. Islam Karimov had ruled the country for more than a quarter-century and during his era, Uzbekistan had been one of the most repressive societies on earth. Besides, Mirziyoyev was Karimov’s prime minister for more than a decade and was widely seen as his right-hand man.
Since Karimov’s death, his successor, President Mirziyoyev and his government have attempted to be more transparent and fair. To do so, the government has launched a string of reforms that have included the freeing of more than 50 high-profile political prisoners, reducing the powers of the much-feared state security service, launching a government campaign to eradicate forced labour, introducing the rule of law reform in order to enhance the transparency and accessibility of the allegedly corrupt courts, etc. He has also taken some concrete steps to improve the country’s human rights record.
Currently, Uzbekistan is also transforming into an open economy. Mirziyoyev has liberalised its foreign exchange system and aiming to restructure its entire economy. Socio-economic changes can be observed in daily life particularly in the capital city, Tashkent. There are many construction-sites (houses and shopping centres) throughout the whole Tashkent. Along with new brands and franchising system, people may see lots of cafes, restaurants, and boutiques in the Tashkent streets. Most of them have been opened in the last two to three years. And, it seems that Uzbeks are quite happy with the new Uzbekistan except the rising inflation rate. While people I talked in Uzbekistan express their gladness of the reforms, they keep complaining about rising prices of gas, water, meat, etc. At the end of the day, all these reforms have been just one of the steps to improve Uzbekistan’s image. Yet, the government has still a lot to do to prove its commitment to reform.
Background and Political Context
Another reform took place in the election code of Uzbekistan in February 2019. Yet, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE ODIHR) has stated that the parliamentary election will not allow voters a genuine choice of candidates despite the fact that Uzbekistan adopted some changes to its election code.
Some of the changes in the code are as follows: “removing a provision for seats in parliament reserved for the Ecological Party of Uzbekistan, removal of restrictions on voter rights based on criminal proceedings or convictions and voters are also able to add their names to more than one of the signature lists that political parties are required to compile in order to register to run in the elections.” (HRW, 2019)
On 20 September, the Central Election Commission (CEC) called the parliamentary elections to the lower (legislative) chamber of Oliy Majlis (parliament) for 22 December 2019. The elections, held under the slogan “New Uzbekistan – New Elections”, constituted an important milestone in what the president has termed an irreversible modernisation and democratisation process.
Despite the registration of a new political party, the Ecological Party of Uzbekistan (EPU), the political party landscape is largely unchanged. Four other registered parties are all represented in the outgoing parliament. All five parties are supportive of the government and the president, and none have proposed policies that are at odds with theirs (OSCE/ODIHR, 2019).
There are five political parties in Uzbekistan:
- Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (LDPU) holds the centre-right in the political spectre and preaches liberal democratic values based on modern democracy, interpreted as a representative democracy, the essence of which rests in the competition among political groups for the voters’ voices, while its major value is human rights and freedoms (UN, 2016).
- Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (DPU) Milliy Tiklanish may conventionally be classified as a moderate conservative movement. In the political spectre, it is a right-wing party. The party attaches special attention to the issue of national revival, which is understood as the awakening and strengthening of national identity. It comes out for preservation and development of the historically-shaped state and public life in compliance with the relevant national traditions (UN, 2016).
- People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (PDPU) holds a leftist position in the national political spectre. Provision for social equality and social security, support for low-income families and vulnerable strata of population, preservation and consolidation of the role of the state in different spheres of life are this party’s major ideas (UN, 2016).
- Social Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (SDPU) Adolat holds the left centrist position in the political spectre. Adolat’s electorate includes engineering-technical and research workers, pedagogues, doctors, employees of budgetary organisations and the services sector. The major ideas of SDPU include the provision of access to social and economic opportunities, justice and solidarity, commitment to a fair civil society and socially-oriented market economy (UN, 2016).
- Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan (EMU)’s main goal is to involve the general public in the complex issues of environmental protection and public health. The decision to create the Party was made on November 14, 2018 at a meeting of a group of citizens, including environmental experts, doctors, scientists, representatives of the education sector and various civil society institutions. On January 24, 2019, the party was registered by the Ministry of Justice of Uzbekistan (Infogram, 2019).
While all five political parties have a candidate in every constituency, there are no independent candidates. In Uzbekistan, the law seeks to make sure that each candidate is treated equally. In this sense, candidates have the same budget (10m UZS) which is given to them by the CEC. No other financing is allowed. Every candidate gets 30 minutes on regional TV to promote their message. This promotion usually takes the form of an interview.
On 15 November, the CEC registered 750 candidates; one for each party in every one of the 150 constituencies. Only about 30 per cent of sitting MPs were seeking re-election and the majority of candidates nominated by parties were running for the first time. All parties complied with the gender quota of 30 per cent of the total number of candidates nominated by each party. Collectively, parties nominated 310 women candidates (41 per cent).
More than 20 million voters in Uzbekistan casted their ballots on 22 December 2019 to elect a new parliament. Some 10,200 polling stations have been established across the country to facilitate the election of 150 deputies to the legislative chamber and local councils.
According to the Chairman of the Central election Commission Mirzo Ulugbek Abdusalomov, the results of the parliamentary elections as follows:
- 53 deputies from the UzLiDeP,
- 36 deputies from the DP “Milliy Tiklanish”,
- 24 deputies from SDP “Adolat”,
- 22 deputies from the NDPU,
- 15 deputies from the Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan.
Among the deputies, 9 people or 6 percent are under the age of 30, 97 people or 65 percent are between the ages of 30 and 50, and 44 deputies or 29 percent are over 50 years old. The youngest deputy is 26 years old, while the oldest one is 71. 130 deputies or 87 percent are Uzbek, 20 deputies or 13 percent are representatives of other nationalities. 5 deputies represent Karakalpak and Russian nationalities, 3 deputies are Tajik and Kazakh, 2 deputies are Korean, by one representative from Kirgiz and Turkmen nationalities (CEC of Uzbekistan, 2020).
The elections were held under the slogan “New Uzbekistan, new elections” and the ordinary Uzbek citizens were quite happy about the elections. Even many of them I spoke during the election day and the day before call it as a “bayram (eid)”. Despite the irregularities in the Uzbek parliamentary elections, it seems that ordinary people embrace and support the “(partly)-free” elections.
For now, reforms on education, social and religious issues, tax policy and attracting FDI (foreign direct investment) have been relatively successful. Regarding the political reforms, the government has still a lot to do. Meanwhile, the international community should encourage and support President Mirziyoyev. Right as UN’s Fraser mentiones that “The worst outcome would be that the government does everything that it has been encouraged to do for decades, whether it is on human rights, health systems, the rule of law, tax reforms, or gender violence, and we then walk away and say that we are not going to support it. (Pikulicka-Wilczewska, 2018)”
CEC of Uzbekistan. 2020. “Speech of the Chairman of the Central election Commission Mirzo Ulugbek Abdusalomov at a briefing on the election results”, http://elections.uz/en/lists/view/2243, Accessed on 07.01.2020.
HRW. 2019. “Uzbekistan’s Parliamentary Elections: A Human Rights Backgrounder”, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/12/16/uzbekistans-parliamentary-elections-human-rights-backgrounder, Accessed on 05.01.2020
Infogram. 2019. “Political parties in Uzbekistan” https://infogram.com/partii-v-uzbekistane-1h7g6kyegl8o4oy, Accessed on 05.01.2020.
OSCE/ODIHR. 2019. “Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions of Observation of Parliamentary Elections in Uzbekistan”, https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/uzbekistan/442888?download=true, Accessed on 05.01.2020.
Pikulicka-Wilczewska. 2018. “On the reform path: Uzbekistan opens up after years of isolation”, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/reform-path-uzbekistan-opens-years-isolation-181014092246543.html, Accessed on 05.01.2020.
RFE/RL. 2019. OSCE: ‘Serious Irregularities’ In Uzbek Vote, But ‘Greater Tolerance Of Independent Voices’, https://www.rferl.org/a/osce-serious-irregularities-in-uzbek-vote-but-greater-tolerance-of-independent-voices-/30340210.html, Accessed on 06.01.2020.
- 2016. “What ideas do political parties advance?” https://www.un.int/uzbekistan/fr/news/what-ideas-do-political-parties-advance, Accessed on 05.01.2020.
 George Tsereteli, president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly said: “The elections took place under clearly improved legislation and greater tolerance of independent voices but did not yet demonstrate genuine and full respect for election-day procedures” (RFE/RL, 2019).