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Uzbekistan: Large Turnout Reported In Criticized Elections

  • Bruce Pannier

Uzbekistan yesterday held elections to the parliament, or Oli Majlis. Government officials say the turnout was an impressive 93 percent, but independent observers question that figure -- as well as the campaign process in general.

Prague, 6 December 1990 (RFE/RL) -- Five parties were competing for the 250 seats in Uzbekistan's Oli Majlis, and all of them support the government. The two opposition parties were banned. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) did not send an official monitoring team to the Uzbek elections, saying the campaign process did not meet democratic standards. But some OSCE representatives were present.

The OSCE ambassador to Uzbekistan, Madeleine Wilkens, gave a press conference on the elections today. She began on a positive note:

"Since the 1994 parliamentary election the legislative framework of the election has been improved."

But Wilkins then listed a number of problems the OSCE uncovered during the campaign process. The foremost complaint was interference by local mayors or governors, known as khokims. Reading from an OSCE preliminary statement, Wilkins said the khokims "at regional, district and city levels are heavily involved in and exercise overwhelming influence on the electoral process for the Oli Majlis, including a key role in the nomination of candidates and the conduct of elections."

As evidence for that charge, she noted that in one district (Fergana), four candidates withdrew from the race on the same day. Their withdrawal meant that only the local khokims remained to run for seats in the parliament.

The process of nominating candidates was also criticized. The OSCE statement said there were three classes of candidates. Candidates in the first category were nominated by representatives of local bodies and could register without filing petitions or collecting voter signatures. The second category included candidates from the five registered political parties. They had to collect 50,000 signatures each, but were often helped by local authorities. In the third category fell the independents, who were left to navigate the intricacies of election registration on their own. Seventy-six people who were trying to run as independents had their petitions rejected. Of the 132 independents who passed the initial phase, only 99 remained on election day out of a field of more than 1,000 candidates.

The media came under criticism as well -- not for censorship or even self-censorship, but more for the absence of any independent media outlets. As all five registered political parties competing yesterday are pro-presidential, there was no incentive for the government to deny the parties access to the media. The OSCE statement said, however, that the absence of a diverse media stunted the development of a genuine political debate and campaign during the elections.

The reported high turnout was questioned by the OSCE officials at today's press conference. Hrair Balyan, who heads OSCE monitor and assessment missions to the region, said the organization is suspicious any time the results indicate more than 80 percent of the electorate has taken part. Balyan said that in the more than 60 elections the OSCE has monitored in the last few years, breaking the 80 percent turnout threshold was the first indication there were irregularities in the voting process.

He said there was evidence in Uzbekistan's city of Samarkand that manipulation had taken place. One polling district reported a 99 percent turnout before the polls closed, but at closing time officials discovered they were short of this total. Reportedly, the officials learned who from the district had not voted and took the ballot boxes to their homes after polls had officially closed.

Both Wilkins and Balyan made clear during the press conference that the OSCE has been active in Uzbekistan for several years. The absence of an official monitoring mission was an indication the organization knew what to expect yesterday. The OSCE has already said it will not send monitors to next month's presidential election.

Analysts say many of the complaints made in today's statement will likely be repeated after January 9, when Uzbek President Islam Karimov is likely to be re-elected.

(Yakub Turan and Zamira Echanova of the Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)