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Interview: Behind The Boycott

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service recently interviewed Muhammad Solih, exiled head of the unregistered opposition Erk Democratic Party.

RFE/RL: If the Erk Democratic Party were able to take part in 26 December parliamentary elections, what would the party's platform be in light of the current social and political situation?

Muhammad Solih: Our platform is available on the Erk Internet site, but I'll summarize it again. The first item in our platform is to put the existing dictatorial regime into a constitutional framework. Today, this doesn't seem possible to us, and even if we were to take part in elections, we wouldn't be able to do this because the regime has put itself above the constitution. Second, the market economy has to be fully implemented and we need to finish what has been left undone in this regard. Third, we need to end the oppression of dissidents, ensure freedom of speech, and free and rehabilitate political prisoners. The election system needs to be reformed and opposition figures in political exile need to be brought home and integrated into the political process.

RFE/RL: Erk is calling for a boycott of 26 December parliamentary elections. The party sees no other way to conduct its activities under current political conditions?

SOLIH: A boycott is the only thing we can do in the current situation because taking part in a government election without opposition is tantamount to legitimizing it. This would be a betrayal of democracy and the opposition's function. It would contradict the principles we have held for 15 years. That's why we decided to call for an election boycott.
"A boycott is the only thing we can do in the current situation because taking part in a government election without opposition is tantamount to legitimizing it."

RFE/RL: The opposition Birlik Party has a different approach to this issue. Rather than boycotting the elections, they've decided it's better to ask people to take part in the election but cast their votes against all candidates.

SOLIH: The people who are doing this are themselves well aware of the election law and regulations, and whether or not they vote for or against, they know that those in charge of the elections will just change the results to suit their wishes. But they think that one can set narrow political goals instead of pursuing large political goals.

RFE/RL: International organizations are in a difficult position when it comes to establishing their approach to parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan. Recently, the OSCE announced that it's sending a limited observer mission. What is Erk's position on this issue?

SOLIH: I think that the OSCE limited observer mission is going in order to observe that this election is not an election at all. Even if they didn't go, it would be clear that the election is not an election. But if they see it with their own eyes, it will provide further confirmation that this is another game the government is playing against the people, a spectacle for the outside world. The government itself senses that it can't fool the outside world with this spectacle. The limited mission that's going isn't there to evaluate the election, but rather to record this fact.

RFE/RL: At the same time, we've seen Europe and the West display an entirely different attitude, for example, toward the Ukrainian elections. As soon as the first reports of falsification emerged, they announced that they would not recognize the election results and the candidate they put in power. But the situation is different with elections in Uzbekistan. As you've noted, international organizations can say that these are not elections, but they'll continue to work with the parliament that takes shape after the elections. One example of this is Germany's Bundestag.

SOLIH: Germany's stance on this issue has suffered from double standards from the outset. The British parliament's position on this is more democratic, and the same was of the United States until recently. Now that Uzbekistan is a close ally of the West in the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism, unfortunately, instead of offering harsh criticism, they continue to tread gently. In this respect, you can't compare the attitude toward us and the attitude toward Ukraine. But we hope that there will be harsher and more decisive statements on the Uzbek regime after the election.

RFE/RL: During the previous elections five years ago, we asked you the same questions in the same spirit, and you spoke about the fact that these are not real elections. How long do you think this situation will continue?

SOLIH: You're right. Over the last 10 years, unfortunately, neither your questions nor my answers have changed. The old saw has it that each country gets the government it deserves. Bitter as it is to say, there is a lot of truth in this, unfortunately. Until the people take to the streets to demand their rights, neither America nor Great Britain will help us. The people need to wake up and demand their rights. We think that that day is coming. The point is not to complain about the people; we're not reproaching our people. The news coming from Uzbekistan indicates that our people, like the Ukrainians, will take to the streets soon enough.

Get RFE/RL news, analysis, and background on the Uzbek elections at Uzbekistan Votes 2004.

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