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Uzbekistan leader secures second term in landslide win

Shavkat Mirziyoyev has been credited with launching what he calls a “New Uzbekistan” programme   | Photo Credit: Reuters

Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev cruised to victory on Monday in an election that monitors said was “not truly competitive” despite some reforms in the authoritarian Central Asian state.

Uzbekistan’s Central Election Commission said Mr. Mirziyoyev had taken 80.1% of the vote against four token opponents, according to a preliminary count.

The vote was held on Sunday with no real opposition facing Mr. Mirziyoyev, who came to power in 2016 after the death of his mentor, dictator Islam Karimov, who ruled Uzbekistan for 27 years.

’Reforms sidestepped’

Mr. Mirziyoyev has been credited with launching what he calls a “New Uzbekistan” programme, ending a decades-old system of forced labour with roots in the former Soviet Union and introducing limited media freedoms.

But like Karimov, the new leader has sidestepped political reforms that would allow any alternative to his rule.

A mission led by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Sunday’s polls were “not truly competitive” and pointed to “the exclusion of opposition parties”.

“Significant procedural irregularities were noted on election day,” the mission added in a statement.

“Election legislation still has a number of deficiencies and does not yet fully comply with international standards for democratic elections.”

Elections chief Zainiddin Nizamkhodjayev insisted to reporters that the elections were held “on the basis of international standards and meet international norms”.

Before official results were announced, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the Uzbek leader and congratulated him on “a convincing victory”, the Kremlin said.

Backsliding on reforms

Uzbek political analyst Alisher Samigzhanov said the vote was just for show.

“The word ‘opponent’ is contradictory here. None of the (other) candidates honestly think they can become president,” he told AFP.

A would-be independent challenger, academic Khidirnazar Allakulov, fell at the first hurdle after failing to register a party that could nominate him.

Mr. Mirziyoyev has overseen an unprecedented boom in foreign tourism in the country that borders Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and counts China and Russia among its partners.

But as his first term ends, the 64-year-old president is struggling to counter impressions that his government is sliding back towards the habits of his long-reigning predecessor.

Mr. Mirziyoyev himself has stopped short of criticising Karimov, and credited “the huge work done by our first president” at a ceremony marking 30 years of post-Soviet independence in the summer.

Rights groups say that the past two years have seen a crackdown on dissent, particularly on internet freedoms that bloomed after 2016.

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have also blunted his initial economic achievements, with unemployment rife amid a sharp rise in living costs.

Most voters put economic problems over issues of human rights.

‘Just a game’

A money changer at Tashkent’s old town bazaar suggested that Mr. Mirziyoyev’s reforms were cosmetic.

“New buildings do not mean new Uzbekistan,” said the young man, who did not want to be named.

Another Tashkent resident struck a similar note.

“It’s just a game,” said a taxi driver who also preferred not to be named. “If you lived here you would see that.”

Mr. Mirziyoyev has overseen growing economic ties with both Russia and China, even as Tashkent holds out on Moscow’s requests to rejoin the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a military bloc that it left in 2012.

He has also called for engagement with the new Taliban government in Kabul and has positioned Uzbekistan as a hub for trade and aid for the war-scarred country.

But Uzbekistan has kept the West engaged by readmitting foreign media outlets and international organisations banned under Karimov, as the landlocked country of 34 million people edges out of isolation.


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Printable version | Dec 4, 2021 5:09:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/uzbekistan-leader-secures-second-term-in-landslide-win/article37167281.ece

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