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Uzbekistan: International Observers Say Vote Fell Short Of Standards

A man casting his ballot in yesterday's Uzbek election Prague, 27 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A number of international observers have indicated that parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan yesterday failed to meet democratic standards -- despite the fact that the government has hailed them as "open and honest."

Five parties were seeking seats in the 120-seat lower house of parliament -- although none of the country's leading opposition parties were allowed to take part.

Independent experts have said they are doubtful the vote will change much in the country.

The Uzbek Central Election Commission today described the vote as "open and honest." Spokesman Sherzod Kudratkhodzhaev said turnout reached 85 percent of eligible voters - though independent observers and RFE/RL correspondents in Uzbekistan say the actual turnout appeared to be much lower.

Foreign Scorn

Some 230 observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization monitored the polls.

The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) sent a limited mission after assessing the preelection situation and concluding the vote would not be representative since opposition parties were banned.

"Unfortunately, the elections did fall significantly short of the OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections," said Lubomir Kopaj, the head of the ODIHR mission in Uzbekistan. "Regrettably, the implementation of the election legislation by the authorities failed to ensure a pluralistic, competitive, and transparent election."

Intimidated And Uninformed

Many voters had no information about candidates. Some reportedly said they were forced to vote.

"Today, [my neighbor,] an old woman, went to the polling station. I asked whom she voted for. She said she was told whom to vote for," said one Uzbek woman. "A member of the polling commission ticked one candidate's name off in the ballot and cast it herself. My neighbor just went there and came back."

In some polling stations, the election campaign continued yesterday.

A voter in Namangan told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service: "It's 9:30 in the morning, but the election campaign goes on. In the early morning, a group of people from the gas department came by bus and started their propaganda. They asked us to vote for one candidate named Rahmatullah Nusratullaev, the head of the gas department. They said if we voted for him, we would have a big supply of gas. I asked for their names and documents, but they ran away. Is this democracy?"

The three main opposition parties -- Erk (Freedom), Birlik (Unity), and Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Peasants) -- were excluded from elections.

Erk and Ozod Dehqonlar boycotted the vote. Birlik decided to monitor the elections. However, party leader Vasila Inoyatova said she was not able to leave her house.

"For the last two days, I have been blocked by some 'observers,'" Inoyatova charged. "There are some 'observers' in their cars [around my house]. I have no doubt that as soon as I leave my house, the government officials are going to pretend that I interfered in the election process or broke some laws. It happened before. Once we were going by car, the police stopped us and claimed we ran over someone. They can easily organize any provocation again."
"I wanted to go to the polling station, but my house was blocked by several cars and observed during the last week." -- independent human rights activist Surat Ikramov

Independent human rights activist Surat Ikramov said he also was carefully watched yesterday.

"I wanted to go to the polling station, but my house was blocked by several cars and observed during the last week," Ikramov said. "I telephoned some officials in the Interior Ministry. Soon, the cars disappeared. Then, I left my house to go to the polling station. They reappeared again and were watching me going to my polling station and to some others to monitor the situation. They were watching me all along the way."

Uzbek officials were not available to comment.

CIS Approval

However, the head of the CIS observer mission, Vladimir Rushailo, said in a news conference today that in his mission's opinion, the elections were free and open.

"All the polling stations attended by the CIS observers opened on time. The voting process, according to them, was calm," Rushailo said. "[It proceeded in a] working atmosphere in accordance with the national election legislation. The local election commissions provided Uzbek citizens with conditions for a free and secret-ballot vote."

Outside experts said there is little chance the result will significantly change President Islam Karimov's regime, which has been widely criticized for suppressing individual rights and religious freedoms.

Alain Deletroz of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group spoke with RFE/RL by telephone: "Can we expect that these elections will change anything? Can we expect that some government official will resign after elections? Any minister? Let's ask this question to ourselves. The answer is obvious. Therefore we can't say these elections are serious. Usually, when elections are held, there are statements that policy will change and subsequent changes. In [Uzbekistan], there are only statements."

Voters yesterday were choosing representatives to the lower house of parliament. In the 100-seat upper house -- the Senate -- 16 seats will be chosen by the president and the rest by local municipalities.

A Tashkent-based independent sociologist, Bahodir Musaev, in a telephone interview with RFE/RL said the Uzbek Senate is more influential, something that he said contradicts the normal development of democracy.

"The role of the Senate is politicized and bigger than lower house -- Legislative Assembly," Musaev said. "But the world history of democratic development shows that democracy should start from the lower house. In our country, it starts from upper house."

According to the election law, Karimov will become a senator for life once his term ends. He will also have life-long immunity from any criminal or legal prosecution.

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

Related Stories:
"Uzbek, CIS Officials Call Vote 'Open And Honest'

"Polls Close In Uzbek Parliamentary Vote"

"Uzbek President Slams OSCE For Criticizing Vote"

[For RFE/RL background and analysis of the Uzbek vote, see our dedicated Uzbekistan Votes 2004 webpage.]

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