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Uzbek Election Watchdog Clears Karimov For Third Term

Islam Karimov (file) (ITAR-TASS) November 19, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbekistan's election watchdog has cleared the way for incumbent President Islam Karimov to seek seven more years in office, despite a constitutional ban on third terms.

The Central Electoral Commission did not address the specifics of Karimov's candidacy at a brief press conference today to announce his and three other candidates' registration for the December 23 election.

But the commission appears to have rejected critics' arguments that the two-term limit bars the only president in Uzbekistan's post-Soviet history from running again.

Observers had widely predicted that Karimov would skirt that clause of the constitution, presumably by arguing that referendums in 1995 and 2002 rendered at least one of his two terms inapplicable.

Karimov, who will turn 70 in January, was nominated by the Liberal Democrats, one of Uzbekistan's five registered political parties.

His stranglehold on media and other institutions makes his reelection all but certain.

Election Commission Chairman Mirzoulugbek Abdusalomov announced that Karimov would be joined on the ballot by three other candidates who are generally regarded as loyal to the current president.

The rivals are Asliddin Rustamov, from the pro-government People's Democratic Party; Dilorom Toshmukhamedova, the country's first-ever female presidential candidate, who was nominated by the Adolat (Justice) Social Democratic Party; and Akmal Saidov, who chairs a parliamentary commission on democratization and civil society and heads the National Human Rights Center. Saidov was put forward as candidate from a citizens' group.

Abdusalomov said two other applicants failed to collect signatures from 5 percent of Uzbekistan's estimated 16 million eligible voters, as required by law.

A Long Tenure

Karimov has been in office since 1989, first as a Communist Party boss of what was then the Uzbek Soviet republic. He was elected president in December 1991, shortly after Uzbekistan gained independence; however a 1995 referendum extended his first term by five years. In 2000 Karimov won a second term with nearly 92 percent of the vote, but another referendum two years later extended that presidential stretch from five years to seven.

Western election observers have never recognized an Uzbek election as fair or democratic.

Karimov provided early operational support to the United States' "war on terror," and his country's fossil fuel deposits lend it considerable weight as the West seeks to diversify energy supplies.

But relations with the West have flagged since a bloody crackdown on demonstrators in eastern Uzbekistan in May 2005 followed by Tashkent's new embrace of Moscow.

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