Presidential polls have closed in Uzbekistan, where the electoral commission reported 91 percent turnout in an election incumbent Islam Karimov is certain to win.
Karimov, who has ruled the country since before the collapse of the Soviet Union, faced on Sunday three other opponents put forward by parties in the Uzbek parliament that are openly supportive of his presidency.
In a low-key campaign that began on February 17, none of the candidates had openly called on voters to opt for them instead of Karimov, who stressed the importance of stability for the country that shares a 137km border with war-torn Afghanistan to the south.
During his appearance before a small group of voters in the capital Tashkent on Wednesday, Karimov had said that “there will be chaos in society” without a “strong government”, adding that “the time will come” for greater freedoms in Uzbekistan.
Karimov’s view has been endorsed by the other three candidates.
Akmal Saidov, put forward by the Democratic National Renaissance Party, faced Karimov in the last presidential poll in 2007, but claimed less than three percent of the vote as Karimov took close to 90 percent.
Hotamjon Ketmonov, the chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, and Nariman Umarov, who leads the Social Democratic Party of Uzbekistan Adolat (Justice), are the other two candidates on the ballot.
No exit polls allowed
Russian news agencies, citing the Uzbek Central Election Commission, said turnout was 91 percent. Results will be released Monday.
Voting at more than 9,000 polling stations across the country began at 01:00 GMT (6am local time) and ended at 15:00 GMT (8pm local time).
Burkhon, a 63-year municipal transport mechanic who declined to give his surname, cited periodic unrest in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as well as the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, as reasons for casting his vote for Karimov.
“We haven’t had such bad things, thanks to Karimov, and we don’t want them happening in the future,” Burkhon told the AFP news agency.
Gulhayo Khujanova, an 18-year-old student casting her vote for the first time, told AFP: “I voted for our president, Islam Karimov. I am really satisfied with what he is doing for young people.”
A further 44 polling stations were also open at Uzbek diplomatic representations abroad, including in Russia, where at least two million Uzbeks work as migrant labourers, according to Russia’s Federal Migration Service.
More than 300 international observers from 43 different countries were monitoing the vote.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe is expected to provide its assessment of the ballot on Monday.
Exit polls are banned under Uzbekistan’s restrictive laws.
The presidential vote will complete a political cycle for the country of more than 30 million people, after parliamentary elections took place in December.
Strategically located Uzbekistan is a close partner to both Russia and China and has also provided support to the US-led military operation in Afghanistan.