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Polls Close In Uzbek Parliamentary Election

26 December 2004 -- Polls have closed in Uzbekistan's parliamentary elections -- contested by five parties but none opposed to President Islam Karimov.

Some 500 candidates competed for 120 seats in the Oliy Majlis, or lower house of parliament. These are the first parliamentary elections since the country introduced a two-chamber parliament in 2002.

The Central Election Commission reported heavy turnout, saying more than 70 percent of eligible voters cast ballots hours before the polls closed. Reports from the capital Tashkent said turnout appeared to be lighter than the official figure.

Karimov said today he would not tolerate what he called "revolutions," as in Ukraine. After casting his vote in the capital Tashkent, Karimov criticized Europe's leading election monitor for saying today's vote was flawed.

Karimov said the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) could not have the exclusive right to assess elections. "Today the OSCE cannot be exclusive or dominating on the [election-monitoring] issue. The OSCE represents Europe, as you know. And we Central Asian countries joined the OSCE only because we were post-Soviet republics," Karimov said.

The OSCE sent a limited mission of around 20 observers to monitor the poll, which it has already criticized for lacking fairness.

Representatives from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) also have monitors at polling stations.

Five parties are fielding more than 500 candidates for 120 lower-house seats in the Oliy Majlis. All five parties support
Karimov's policies. The country's three main opposition parties -- Erk (Freedom), Birlik (Unity), and Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Peasants) -- have been banned from taking part. They have called for voters to boycott the election.
"If we had no representation among the people as the president of Uzbekistan said, his government would have allowed us to participate in the election."

Karimov insisted that Uzbekistan has no "real" opposition and that the existing opposition groups had no popular support.

"When someone artificially argues that we have not registered some opposition parties that were claiming to do something, let's be objective. [There is no] serious opposition party. Birlik discredited itself a long time ago, and practically doesn't have any support on the Uzbek territory among the population [and] in the social structures. You can help people acting on behalf of so-called opposition parties and who found refuge somewhere in Europe. But nothing will change, you see," Karimov said.

Erk's leader Muhammad Solih, living in exile in Western Europe, responded to Karimov's remarks on opposition parties in an interview with RFE/RL: "If we had no representation among the people as the president of Uzbekistan said, his government would have allowed us to participate in the election."

Karimov also warned he will not tolerate what he called "revolutions," such as in Ukraine, which is rerunning a presidential election today after mass street protests against an earlier ballot that was declared rigged.

The Central Election Commission said more than 70 percent of the more than 14 million eligible voters had casts their ballot by 4 p.m. local time (12 p.m. Prague time), four hours ahead of polls closing.

In spite of the official figures, turnout appeared to be low. Citizens interviewed by RFE/RL said they were not much interested in the vote.

A female Tashkent resident said she believes the vote will not decide anything: "I don't believe deputies will change anything for better. I never spoke to any deputy. I never got information about their work. I can't imagine any help from deputies."

Many appeared to ignore the vote altogether, such as Diloram, a woman from the city of Andijon in the Ferghana Valley. "People were happy about the election. You know why? Because ahead of the vote there was more gas supplies and no electricity outage," she said. "It seems to us that this election is the same kind as in [Soviet] times."

Karimov has held power since independence in 1991 through a series of elections and referendums judged by the West as flawed.

(Adolat Najimova of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)

[For more RFE/RL coverage and analysis of the parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan, click here.]

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