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Uzbekistan: Elections Not Likely To Provide Surprises

Uzbek voters will be choosing a president on Sunday, but our correspondent says the result is preordained: incumbent Islam Karimov. The OSCE says there isn't enough competition for the vote and it's not monitoring the election.

Prague, 7 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbek voters go to the polls Sunday to elect a president, with incumbent Islam Karimov heavily favored to continue as the only president the country has ever known.

Opposing Karimov will be Abdulhafiz Jalolov, a candidate from the People's Democratic Party (the former Communist Party). Jalolov is a professor of philosophy and former ideological chief of the Communist Party.

Our correspondent writes that even though two men are contesting the election, the average voter will see little difference between the candidates. Karimov is the former head of the People's Democratic Party and his views differ only marginally from Jalolov's on many issues. If there is any difference between the two it would be Jalolov's stated goal of quickening the pace of reform in some areas.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) traditionally monitors polls in the region for fraud and irregularities. The OSCE will not be sending an observer mission. The OSCE sent a limited assessment team to Uzbekistan's parliamentary elections last month and concluded those elections did not provide voters with a genuine choice.

Hrair Balyan, the head of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said the OSCE isn't monitoring this Sunday's vote because -- as with December's vote -- voters aren't being given a real choice.

"As you know, we are not observing the presidential elections in Uzbekistan because we do not think in any way, shape or form there is viable competition for this post. Our view in terms of elections in Uzbekistan has not changed since the parliamentary elections and we still think that Uzbekistan falls far short of OSCE commitments in terms of fulfilling obligations for democratic elections."

Karimov's opponent in the only other presidential election Uzbekistan ever held, in 1991, was Mohammed Solih. Solih heads the now banned Erk Democratic Party and since last February when bombs went off in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, the Uzbek government has accused Solih of trying to overthrow the government.

Solih told RFE/RL that Sunday's election is a step backward, even compared with the 1991 vote:

"In the 1991 elections, there was freedom for an opposition party to nominate a candidate. But in the 2000 election, no opportunity was given to the opposition and everyone knows it. That is the principal difference."

Our correspondent says the vote is being held on schedule, according to a 1995 referendum that extended Karimov's term in office. In the past few years, leaders in other Central Asian countries have manipulated the election calendar to give themselves and their parties a boost.

In Kazakhstan, last year's presidential elections were held almost a year ahead of schedule because of a snap decision by parliament to hold elections in 90 days. A major contender for the office was then barred by the courts from competing. The incumbent Nursultan Nazarbaev won easily, taking over 80 percent of the vote.

In Tajikistan last November, the Central Elections Commission there barred all candidates but one, and then only approved a contender's application days ahead of the vote. The incumbent Imomali Rakhmonov won easily, with 97 percent of the vote.

The timing of elections is no longer a problem in neighboring Turkmenistan following a decision last week by the country's National Forum. The forum named President Saparmurat Niyazov leader for the remainder of his life.

(Abbas Djavadi from the Tajik Service and Bill Hasanov and Yaqub Turan of the Uzbek Service contributed to this report)