Uzbekistan votes in parliamentary elections

Polls opened Sunday in parliamentary elections in the ex-Soviet Central Asian state of Uzbekistan, with all four competing parties supportive of President Islam Karimov’s government.

Over 17 million voters have registered for the ballot to elect the 150-seat lower house of the parliament, the Oliy Majlis, with the authorities sending millions of text messages to get people out to vote.

Polls opened at 6:00 am (0100 GMT) and were due to close at 8:00 pm (1500 GMT).

“Uzbekistan’s election laws and preparations for the vote meet all international democratic standards and give voters a free and fair choice,” said Mirza-Ulugbek Abdusalomov, head of Central Election Commission.

Over 270 observers from 36 countries and missions of four international organisations, including pan-European security group the OSCE, will monitor the polls, according to Abdusalomov.

But in October the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights decided to deploy smaller election assessment mission instead of a full observer mission, citing democratic shortcomimgs.

Uzbekistan’s “current political spectrum does not offer the electorate a genuine choice between competing political alternatives,” it said.

Earlier this month Karimov — who has been ruling the country since 1989 — described the vote as a “test for democracy” in the country.

In televised pre-election debates parties mostly accused each other of usurping government achievements and programmes but also cautiously touched on corruption and unemployment issues.

Uzbekistan formally legitimized factional opposition in the parliament after 2004 elections to answer Western criticism that there is no real political opposition in the tightly controlled ex-Soviet republic.

International rights groups criticized Uzbekistan for stepping up pressure on rights activists ahead of the election. But the authorities reject the accusations.

The number of seats in the lower house of Uzbekistan’s parliament was in 2008 increased from 120 to 150, with 15 seats automatically going to the country’s Ecological Movement.

The Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan was founded in August 2008 and is composed of activists from the pro-government environmentalist groups and health sectors.


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