LibDems lead Uzbek vote criticised as lacking genuine opposition

OSCE observers note lack of 'real contest' as ruling Liberal Democratic Party retains biggest number of seats.

    A woman speaks with a member of local electoral committee as she votes at a polling station in Tashkent on December 22, 2019 [Yuri Korsuntsev/AFP]
    A woman speaks with a member of local electoral committee as she votes at a polling station in Tashkent on December 22, 2019 [Yuri Korsuntsev/AFP]

    Uzbekistan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party has retained the biggest number of seats in the Central Asian nation's legislature so far, winning 43 seats out of 128 in Sunday's vote, the Central Election Commission said on Monday.

    The remaining 22 seats in the lower house of Parliament will be contested in a second round of voting next month, commission chairman Mirza-Ulugbek Abdusalomov said.

    Although Uzbek leader Shavkat Mirziyoyev has no party affiliation, it was the Liberal Democrats who nominated him for the presidency in the 2016 election.

    Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on Monday criticised the "lack of real contest", claiming they witnessed violations in the process - albeit fewer than in previous elections.

    Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Tashkent, said: "It's not a big victory yet, but it is good news for the ruling party, as it has always been good news for the ruling party ever since it was created 28 years ago.

    "All five parties in this election were supportive of government policies. Regardless of the final figure for the ruling party, it's not that anything will really change."

    While the OSCE observers praised reforms to the electoral law, they said such progress "did not offset the absence of opposition parties, a continuing lack of respect for fundamental rights, and some serious irregularities on election day."

    The Milliy Tiklanish (National Revival) party has won 35 seats, the Adolat (Justice) Social Democratic Party got 21, the People's Democratic Party 18 and the green Ecological Party has won 11 seats so far.

    All five parties back Mirziyoyev who has embarked on a campaign to reform the resource-rich Central Asian nation and open it up to foreign investment.

    The election was held under the slogan "New Uzbekistan, new elections" as authorities sought to portray them as the latest example of a new-found openness.

    'People do not know who they are voting for'

    In the capital Tashkent, residents said they wanted to see more from elected officials and voiced concerns that they would not have dared express under Islam Karimov, who ruled for almost 30 years.

    Aleksandr Kim, a 60-year-old community leader, said local officials had initiated a last-minute push to persuade people to participate but noted that many did not understand the purpose of the election.

    "People do not know who they are voting for," Kim told AFP.

    Karimov was often criticised by international watchdogs over torture and forced labour allegations.

    Mirziyoyev has continued to honour Karimov publicly but has been credited with eradicating much of the slavery in the cotton sector and lifting Uzbekistan out of isolation, albeit while eschewing pluralism.

    The United Kingdom's influential magazine The Economist has named Uzbekistan as its country of the year, saying "no other country travelled so far" in 2019.

    Yet the reform drive has so far not allowed real competition to Mirziyoyev, 62, to develop.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies