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Uzbekistan: Voters 'Choose' Incumbent President

Uzbek President Islam Karimov yesterday won re-election to another five-year term in a vote widely criticized as undemocratic. The OSCE, which did not send observers to the country, said the election did not offer voters a genuine choice. Our correspondent writes that voters may be hoping for stability in the aftermath of the vote, but even this may be an elusive goal.

Prague, 11 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbek voters on Sunday returned incumbent President Islam Karimov to office in elections that were more interesting for the size of the victory than for the result itself.

Preliminary figures released today show Karimov winning about 92 percent of the vote. His only opponent, Abdulhafiz Jalolov of the People's Democratic Party, took about 4 percent of the vote, with another 4 percent being invalidated for various reasons.

The election was widely criticized as not offering voters a genuine choice of competing ideas and policies. Leading opposition parties were banned from the vote.

Karimov is the former head of Jalolov's party and the policies of the two men are practically identical. Even Jalolov himself admitted on Sunday that he had voted for Karimov.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors elections in the region, refused to send a mission to assess the vote. The OSCE sent a team to Uzbekistan last month to monitor parliamentary elections and concluded that vote failed to meet the organization's standards.

The OSCE's Vagram Abijiyan said yesterday his organization didn't send an assessment team to the presidential election because it would have been a waste of time:

"The broad electoral framework of this vote could not permit truly pluralist and competitive elections, and therefore the election fell short of the OSCE commitment [to democracy]. There is a document entitled the 'Preliminary Assessment of the Parliamentary Elections' and we can find a paragraph on the [Uzbek] presidential election which says 'there is no competitiveness ... and consequently the OSCE and the ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) cannot justify the deployment of an observation or assessment of the presidential elections.'"

A long-time political opponent of the Uzbek government, Abdurakhim Pulat of the banned opposition Birlik party, spoke to RFE/RL's Uzbek service on Sunday while voters were still casting ballots. He said the vote was a sham and resembles the country's first election after independence, in 1991:

"All the results we are receiving show this election is the same as the election in 1991. Both that election and this are not real elections but simply stage plays. I heard Abdulhafiz Jalolov publicly say he voted for Karimov. All this shows us that these elections are not serious political events."

Our correspondent writes that Uzbek citizens are unlikely to see much change during Karimov's coming five-year term, although in comments on Sunday Karimov did say he would speed up the pace of reform in the country.

Many voters no doubt are hoping a Karimov presidency, with such an overwhelming majority, can at least deliver stability to a country recently threatened by fundamentalist violence. But it's unclear how an election process that appears to stifle any dissent can contribute to that outcome.

The illusion of stability was shattered last year when Islamic terrorists exploded a series of bombs in the capital Tashkent in an apparent assassination attempt on Karimov's life. The militants returned as recently as last November and attacked a resort less than 100 kms from Tashkent.

(Arral Azizullo of the Uzbek Service and Abbas Djavadi of the Tajik Service contributed to this report)