Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has been re-elected for a second five-year term, according to the preliminary results of a poll that Western observers criticised as uncompetitive despite recent political reforms.
Mirziyoyev swept to victory with 80.1 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election, Uzbekistan’s Central Election Commission announced on Monday. Voter turnout was at 80.8 percent.
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The 64-year-old spoke to campaign staff and reporters shortly after his widely expected win was declared.
“I am grateful to and bow in front of our mothers, sisters, daughters, fellow party members for trusting and choosing me,” Mirziyoyev said.
Zayniddin Nizamkhodjaev, the election commission’s chairman, said the vote had adhered to democratic standards. But observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that Mirziyoyev’s reform agenda had not yet resulted in a genuinely pluralistic environment.
“While multiple candidates contested the election, there was no meaningful engagement with each other or with voters, and candidates refrained from challenging or criticising the incumbent,” the observation mission said in a statement.
Mirziyoyev faced four relatively low-visibility candidates in Sunday’s election, none of whom showed up for televised debates, instead sending proxies who failed to engage in substantial discussions. Independent candidates were not permitted to contest the ballot.
The observation mission, which the European Parliament participated in, also noted “significant procedural irregularities” on election day, adding that “important safeguards were often disregarded during voting, counting and tabulation”.
Mirziyoyev’s win will allow him to deepen his reform campaign and likely lead to Uzbekistan opening up further to foreign trade and investment – while retaining a highly centralised political system.
Since taking office in 2016 following the death of longtime President Islam Karimov, Mirziyoyev has relaxed many of the policies of his predecessor.
He has lifted some restrictions on religious practices in the mainly Muslim country, reined in the country’s powerful security services and overseen the release of some political prisoners.
Mirziyoyev has also pledged to cut poverty through rapid economic growth and gradually decentralise decision-making by devolving some powers to district councils.
As the only visible candidate during the pre-election campaign, he toured the country to promise supporting local communities and bridging the gap between rich and poor.
As well as embarking on domestic reforms, Mirziyoyev has rebuilt resource-rich Uzbekistan’s ties with both Russia and the West.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was the first to congratulate Mirziyoyev on his re-election, calling him on Monday even before Uzbek election officials announced the preliminary results.
Russia is building Uzbekistan’s first nuclear power plant and has invested in other big economic projects in the country, from which it attracts a large number of workers.