Uzbekistan elections likely to extend president's rule

World Sunday 09/July/2023 15:39 PM
By: DW
Uzbekistan elections likely to extend president's rule

Tashkent: Uzbekistan is holding a presidential election on Sunday that is likely to secure President Shavkat Mirziyoyev another term in office.

Polling stations opened in the capital city of Tashkent at 8 a.m. local time (0300 GMT) and will close at 8 p.m.

Around 20 million Uzbeks are eligible to vote.

The election follows recent constitutional changes that extended the incumbent's term from five to seven years and paved the way for him to serve two more terms.

Mirziyoyev first assumed the presidency in 2016, after serving as prime minister under the strict rule of autocrat Islam Karimov.

In 2021, he was reelected for a second term, the limit allowed by the constitution.

Under previous rules, the president would have been required to step down in 2026. But the recent amendments mean  Mirziyoyev could potentially remain in power until 2037.

The 65-year-old leader has pledged to open up the gas-rich Central Asian nation to foreign investment and tourism.

Improving economy and education
Mirziyoyev has sought to present himself as a reformer leading a "New Uzbekistan."

Since coming into office in 2016 following the death of Karimov, he has steered the tightly controlled former Soviet republic away from isolation.

Mirziyoyev has implemented a number of reforms, including opening up foreign trade, lifting foreign exchange controls, and introducing some political liberalization.

The president's reelection campaign has focused on improving the economy and education system, with a goal of doubling the country's gross domestic product to $160 billion (€146 billion) in the near future.

"These are my first elections. I will be voting for Shavkat Mirziyoyev because I want there to be more opportunities for young people and places to study," 18-year-old Milana Yuldasheva told the AFP news agency.

Meanwhile, 64-year-old Abduali Nurmatov said he hoped the president would solve "problems with gas and electricity" that his town suffered during the last winter.

No real opposition
Human rights organisations say that although there have been some improvements since the end of Karimov's rule, there is still a long way to go, and authorities have shown no sign of allowing a real opposition to emerge.

The three presidential candidates officially running against Mirziyoyev in Sunday's polls are largely unknown.

According to Uzbek political expert Farkhod Talipov, there's little doubt that the incumbent will win.

"All the other candidates are completely unknown and unpopular," he told AFP. "Their candidacies are just an artificial way of showing a political struggle that does not exist."

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) described the election campaign as "low-key, mirroring lack of opposition to the incumbent."