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Central Asia Report: December 23, 2004

23 December 2004, Volume 4, Number 46

WEEK AT A GLANCE. As Kazakhstan geared up for Independence Day celebrations on 16-17 December, President Nursultan Nazarbaev addressed foreign diplomats on 14 December, touting Singapore's achievements and urging an "Asian" path for Kazakhstan with an emphasis on political stability. Speaking on the eve of the holiday, the president reiterated the theme, noting, "For history, 13 years is a short time, but a great deal has already been done thanks to the unity of our multinational people, internal political stability, and true friendship with all those around us." Unimpressed by the presidential encomiums, the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan party called for civil disobedience in a 17 December statement that dubbed the president and parliament "illegitimate." The statement condemned "the ruling clan headed by President Nazarbaev" for enriching itself and persecuting the opposition, promising a nonviolent struggle to remove the current government from power.

Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev also squared off with his country's opposition, telling Kyrgyzstan's Defense Council on 17 December that "the social and political situation will sharply deteriorate as a result of [2005] parliamentary and presidential elections." Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev drove home the message, stressing that "we must not allow religious extremist forces and Western organizations to interfere in our internal affairs" and adding, "Under no circumstances can we allow a Georgian version of events in Kyrgyzstan." Opposition figures shot back, warning that the authorities are laying the groundwork for a crackdown on dissent under the pretext of combating extremism. Also on the opposition front, former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva announced the creation of the Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) movement, which subsequently formed a partnership with the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan. Rights defender Tursunbek Akun recounted his 16 November abduction and subsequent 15-day disappearance, repeating his allegation that Kyrgyzstan's State Security Service snatched him in an attempt to foil the activist's petition drive to impeach President Akaev. Finally, Kazakh Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Umarzak Uzbekov said that the recent decision by the Legislative Assembly to delay ratification of a December 2003 treaty with Kazakhstan is "on the conscience" of Kyrgyz lawmakers.

Tajikistan readied itself for parliamentary elections, as President Imomali Rakhmonov set 27 February as the date for elections to the Majilisi Namoyandagon (lower chamber of parliament) and 24 March for elections to the Majlisi Milli (upper chamber). Parliament approved the composition of the Central Election Commission, and political parties began to hold congresses to nominate party slates. (Twenty-two candidates are elected to the 63-member Majlisi Namoyandagon on party slates.) The ruling People's Democratic Party nominated 22 candidates, the Islamic Renaissance Party 22, the Social Democratic Party 21, the Democratic Party 17, and the Communist Party 10. The Democratic Party, whose leader Muhammadruzi Iskandarov was arrested in Moscow at the behest of Tajik authorities on 9 December on terror and embezzlement charges, appealed to the international community to defend what it called "a victim of political repression."

Turkmenistan held elections to the Mejlis (parliament) on 19 December, with official sources reporting 76.88 percent turnout. Virtually everyone outside Turkmenistan dismissed the poll as a farce, and no international observers were present inside the country to monitor the elections. Erika Dailey, director of the Open Society Institute's Turkmenistan Project, summarized the bulk of international opinion when she told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting on 15 December: "The Turkmen election is much worse than an empty exercise. It is a mockery of the citizenry."

Russian Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov visited Uzbekistan in the run-up to the parliamentary elections there on 26 December. Uzbek Interior Minister Hikmat Ibrohimov announced that the Barrier-2 antidrug operation, which began on 1 October, netted over 1 ton of illegal drugs, including 509 kilograms of heroin. The operation, which was initiated by Uzbekistan's Interior Ministry and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, also involved Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, the United States, and Uzbekistan.

RFE/RL'S UZBEK SERVICE TALKS WITH OPPOSITION AHEAD OF PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS. Five officially registered political parties are taking part in Uzbekistan's parliamentary elections on 26 December. Despite their efforts, opposition parties have been unable to secure the right to participate.

If opposition parties were to take part in elections, what proposals would they advance? If they had a place in parliament, where would they focus their activities?

An RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent pursued these issues in an interview with Nigora Hidoyatova, leader of the Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Farmers) party.

RFE/RL: If the Free Farmers party took part in parliamentary elections and won a place in parliament, what issue would it single out first for serious engagement?

HIDOYATOVA: Under present conditions, it is imperative to resolve the important and painful issue of land reforms. If it's not resolved quickly, it will definitely lead to a social explosion. It's true that under current conditions in Uzbekistan this issue can't be resolved at one fell swoop. The situation in the Ferghana Valley, for example, differs significantly from the situation in Navoiy Province. But it could be resolved. The process, of course, is a very difficult one. But unless a solution is found, it could have terrible consequences. In the first place, land reform would substantially reduce the influx of young people from the villages to the cities. As soon as land is privatized, private farming will start to develop. Each landowner will start to see the fruits of his labor. This will work to prevent unemployment, poverty, and, most importantly, the departure of young people abroad in search of work.

RFE/RL: What are the other main areas where the party would take steps?

HIDOYATOVA: Reforms in government are the second important issue. We need to dismiss 60 percent of officials. Why do we need such a large government apparatus? Why should we have to pay for such a horde of officials? If you think about it, they're absolutely unnecessary. What's the benefit of developing so much useless bureaucracy? If the number of officials is reduced, the people's voice will reach them more quickly.

RFE/RL: Since the party has decided to pursue such noble goals, it would be appropriate to examine another issue. Does the party enjoy a position of respect among the people? We know that the Free Farmers party has quite a few supporters in the Ferghana Valley, but what about the south and the west?

HIDOYATOVA: You know that we're not as active in the south and the west. It's a very large region, and we don't have many representatives. We stay in touch with our local offices, but the level of activity is not what we would like. We simply haven't managed it. But we plan to strengthen our activity in precisely those provinces. That's why we're reviewing our plan of action and preparing new leaders for the southern and western provinces.

RFE/RL: Today, there are virtually no intellectuals, experts, or prominent social and scientific figures in opposition parties. Is this an indication of their lack of trust in opposition parties, or is it a result of fear?

HIDOYATOVA: This is a very timely question, and I can give several reasons for this. It's definitely related to the passivity that afflicts intellectuals. At the same time, one can also say that is also the opposition's fault that there are so few leading specialists in its ranks. For 13 years, the opposition has mainly been stewing in its own juices. There's no unity on the level of ideas. Of course, intellectuals themselves have not come together in a united front. But the situation has definitely changed a bit now, and we are complementing each other a bit more now. On the specific subject of the Free Farmers party, I have a doctoral degree in history, and I have more than a few supporters in those circles. When the time comes, they'll show themselves....

RFE/RL: Let's get back to the actual state of affairs. The Free Farmers cannot take part in the elections. Even though the party and all its supporters are boycotting the elections, they're still going to take place. Given that, what is the party's stand on the future parliament?

HIDOYATOVA: We're working to increase the activities of the masses and to bring our fellow citizens into politics by informing them. Under the system that has emerged, the parliament goes about its business and the people go about their business. What was the previous parliament like? It included representatives of virtually the same parties, the official parties that are taking part in elections. And what did they do? On the basis of this situation, we don't have any thoughts about the new parliament. But we call on them to heed the call of their conscience, to work honestly and fairly, and to keep themselves focused on the people.

An RFE/RL correspondent spoke with Asliddin Rustamov, first secretary of the Central Committee of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), about upcoming parliamentary elections.

RFE/RL: The PDP is considered [Uzbekistan's] oldest political party. It emerged at almost the same time that the country gained its independence. What are the main issues in the party's election platform?

RUSTAMOV: The PDP's recent fourth conference proclaimed that the party stands on the left wing of the country's democratic forces. On the basis of this left orientation, we are primarily concerned with social services for the people. But this doesn't mean that the PDP is against the market economy, the development of entrepreneurship, or economic stimulation, as some of our opponents claim.

RFE/RL: You seem to be referring to Ahmadjonov, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. He has asserted that the left wing is striving for egalitarianism and opposes private property. Is the PDP really against private property?

RUSTAMOV: Ahmadjonov's article in the newspaper "21st Century" and subsequent statements in a similar vein are one-sided. A politician should be capable of analysis. We support a market economy. A market economy has both rich people and citizens who are in need of social protections. We would like to follow the path of providing social protections and improving people's economic conditions by stimulating the economic activity of citizens, increasing the number of entrepreneurs, making things easier for them, and developing production, entrepreneurship and all manner of services to strengthen the state budget. The most important thing is to make sure that people have work. That's how the PDP's stance should be understood.

RFE/RL: The PDP calls itself the party of the people in its advertisements. Meanwhile, the people are waiting for their standard of living to improve. What is the first thing they can expect the PDP to do to achieve this?

RUSTAMOV: We intend to raise the most difficult issues in the media and through our parliamentary fraction (when it's formed), as well as to put forward creative new legislative initiatives. For example, we propose introducing appropriate changes to Uzbekistan's Land, Civil, and Tax codes. This is our election slogan: "A high standard of living for our people is a guarantee that our homeland will flourish." We will direct to the bulk of our attention to raising the people's standard of living. To this end, we've prepared concrete proposals to create a national program for ensuring that people have jobs.

The Birlik party is one of the five opposition parties that did not gain the right to take part in parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan. RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent Abdulla Iskandar spoke with Birlik's leader, Abdurahim Pulatov.

RFE/RL: Abdurahim, could you say a few words about Birlik's goals and tasks? Is Birlik on the political right or left?

PULATOV: The party's position is very important. For the party to establish its future strategy, it needs to define where it stands. Birlik is a right-centrist party.

RFE/RL: If Birlik took part in elections and secured a majority in parliament, what political and economic reforms would it first implement?

PULATOV: In the former Soviet republics, and especially in Uzbekistan, economic reforms should receive attention first, since the country's economy and the people's economic situation is deteriorating seriously. But Birlik believes that it's impossible to implement economic reforms in Uzbekistan today because Uzbekistan's economy is in chains. These chains are the current political system. Without changing this system, that is, without introducing the real rule of law and courts, it's impossible to make any changes. For this reason, Birlik feels that we must first have political reform in Uzbekistan. The creation of an independent parliament and judicial system depend on political reforms. The first step will be to destroy the current dictatorship and to create the possibility for all political parties to function. If we are elected to parliament, we will try to take steps to achieve this.

RFE/RL: In a statement on 30 November, Birlik announced that it will take part in the elections. At the same time, Erk and the Free Farmers have called for an election boycott. Why doesn't Birlik go the way of a boycott?

PULATOV: To boycott the political process is to be a spectator. Civil society is necessary for a boycott. People would have to understand what a boycott is. You would need a force capable of explaining these things, like a free press. Moreover, according to Uzbekistan's new laws, if 30 percent of voters participate, the elections are deemed valid. That means that one would have to ensure that more than 70 percent of voters don't vote. I think that's a pipe dream. Political parties need to recognize the difference between reality and a pipe dream. As a more useful measure, we propose calling on people to vote against all candidates in the election. Since Soviet times, people have learned that if there's an election, they need to go and put their ballot in the box. So we tell them, "Go and vote against the figurehead deputies who haven't managed to accomplish anything in 13 years." If a majority votes that way, there's the hope of holding a repeat election.

RFE/RL: But doesn't this effort serve to confer legitimacy on Uzbekistan's parliamentary elections?

PULATOV: I repeat that politics consists of using the possibilities that exist. Whether or not the elections are legitimate doesn't depend on Birlik's participation. Birlik intends to make every effort to continue the struggle. By hook or by crook, as the saying goes. We'll force Islam Karimov to go down the road of democracy.

RFE/RL: The OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] has announced that it will send observers to monitor Uzbekistan's parliamentary elections. Representatives of Uzbek human-rights organizations and some members of the opposition, including Birlik, have called on the OSCE not to send observers. What do you think of this?

PULATOV: That's not what Birlik thinks. We think that international organizations should observe any and all elections, exert influence on the process of holding elections, and help the opposition.

RFE/RL: Observers have expressed the view that Uzbekistan's opposition is in a state of paralysis. What can you say about Birlik's potential?

PULATOV: Uzbekistan's opposition is not in a state of paralysis. Today, Uzbekistan's opposition is bound hand and foot. You can't call it paralysis; it's just that the opposition's abilities have been limited. The current dictatorship has put us, the opposition, in chains. The system in Uzbekistan has been recognized as one of the world's worst dictatorships. For example, a U.S. congressional hearing evaluated Uzbekistan as a throttled democracy. Under these conditions, Birlik is trying after 12 years to break the chains and rise to its feet. The changes that are occurring in the world today show that Uzbekistan's government will not be able to keep the chains on for much longer.

RFE/RL: Are you referring to the events that took place in Georgia last year, and are now occurring in Ukraine?

PULATOV: You can't live cut off from the world today. Events in Ukraine cannot fail to influence the situation in Uzbekistan. I don't mean to say that the processes in Ukraine will repeat themselves in Uzbekistan. If no one shapes these processes, they don't happen suddenly of their own accord. What I want to say is that these processes are forcing the Uzbek government to think. In what sense? It's not that the government is afraid of the opposition. The process in Ukraine is a very clear indication that Russia is not all-powerful. America is capable of many things, while Russia it not. America has not occupied itself seriously with the issue of Uzbekistan. But [Uzbek President] Islam Karimov doesn't know when the United States will take up the issue of Uzbekistan. If the United States raises the issue tomorrow, Karimov's regime will end tomorrow. Russia won't be able to save it. I am confident that all of Central Asia's dictators, even if they refuse to recognize it, will make changes in their policies.

An RFE/RL correspondent spoke with Dilorom Toshkhujaeva, Central Committee secretary of the Adolat (Justice) Social Democratic Party, about the party's participation in upcoming parliamentary elections.

At the outset of the discussion, Toshkhujaeva noted that the party is going into the elections under the slogan "The good of the individual is the highest value." She said that all of the party's efforts are directed at increasing citizens' prosperity. The ideals of social democracy are based on social justice, freedom, and unity. The party is concerned first and foremost with the establishment of social equality.

RFE/RL: The issue of social justice is also a part of the Uzbek People's Democratic Party platform. This naturally gives rise to the question -- is this an urgent issue for Uzbekistan today?

TOSHKHUJAEVA: This issue tops the agenda for social democracy. Our goal is to develop this approach by improving the lives of our citizens.

RFE/RL: Could you say a few words about the other important issues in your party's platform?

TOSHKHUJAEVA: Among the other goals the party sets for itself are rapt attention to law and order in the country, stability, calm among citizens, and the inviolability of rights. To this end, Adolat has conducted a critical analysis of reforms in the judicial system and proposes deepening them and completing their implementation. The party platform reflects the necessary rights standards and rules that must be implemented to reform the judicial system, render its activities free, ensure the real independence of courts, decisively put into practice open court proceedings, demand that violations of human rights entail serious consequences, ensure that administrative and regulatory organs follow the letter of the law in order to prevent the Prosecutor's Office from impinging on citizens' rights, and significantly strengthening societal monitoring of government agencies with a mandate to employ force.

RFE/RL: Some believe that courts are unable to work freely primarily because they fall under the direct influence of specific structures; mainly, this is connected to interference by prosecutors and the Interior Ministry. If this is the case, then is it really possible to free the judicial system?

TOSHKHUJAEVA: In recent years, the judicial system has witnessed many positive changes. For example, the sixth session of the second parliament amended the laws on courts and prosecutors. The laws underwent very serious changes and additions. The process of liberation has not stopped; it is ongoing.

RFE/RL: Even though existing legislation forbids it, the use of child labor during the cotton harvest is very widespread in the provinces. Could you tell us about the party's position on this issue?

TOSHKHUJAEVA: Our laws have clear provisions on child labor. For example, beginning at age 14, children can work with their parents' permission and if they are healthy. I think that this -- the use of children for the harvest -- should not take place on an organized basis, since it can impact children's health. Our children's primary and most important task is to get an education.

RFE/RL: You have outlined noble goals for the party. This being the case, why has the party nominated so few candidates for parliamentary elections? What are the reasons for this?

TOSHKHUJAEVA: During preparations for the [party] congress, our regional branches proposed 120 candidates. But the new parliament is going to be professional, and bearing in mind that the people who work there will have to meet serious requirements, we concluded that some of the candidates weren't ready to work in parliament.

Gulnora Eshonkhonova, the head of the Tashkent Bar Association, has been nominated as a parliamentary candidate by the Fidokorlar party. An RFE/RL correspondent interviewed her.

RFE/RL: What are some of the issues in the party platform and your campaign?

ESHONKHONOVA: Let's look at the aspects of the party platform that focus on court reforms. It stresses the need for laws that broaden society's role in monitoring the National Security Service and law-enforcement organs. In my election platform, I propose stripping courts of the right to open criminal cases. If we assert that the court is impartial, it shouldn't have this power.

RFE/RL: Uzbekistan has many good laws. But some of them don't work in practice. Naturally, people worry that the new laws that are being called for will meet the same fate. What do you think the mechanism should be for putting laws into practice and what should be done to this end?

ESHONKHONOVA: The way that various cases are treated in certain laws is being reviewed. At times, the legal mechanism itself is missing. If a law isn't put into practice, then there is no accountability before the law.

RFE/RL: There are cases in some laws where innovations simply haven't taken hold. If you're elected to parliament, will you have the authority to fight against these cases?

ESHONKHONOVA: There are already agencies with the authority you're talking about. For example, there's parliamentary monitoring. At the same time, the Constitutional Court could resolve these cases.

RFE/RL: Uzbekistan has been recognized by the international community as a state in which human rights are violated. Ample proof exists. What do you think needs to be done to improve the human rights situation in Uzbekistan?

ESHONKHONOVA: These problems exist in all countries. Where do the roots lie? Law enforcement organs don't have competent staff. Or the laws don't work. I think that working with personnel, setting up professional certification for them, and studying international standards will help to solve the problem.

RFE/RL: What laws do you think need to be passed to defend the interests of Uzbek citizens?

ESHONKHONOVA: We need to pay attention to the issue of migration. Our party platform focuses on this issue as well. We consider people and their rights to be the most important thing. If people's rights are defended, they won't be dissatisfied with the state.

Professor and economist Sharbat Abdullaeva heads the working group for ties with women's NGOs in the Uzbek Women's Committee. She is a candidate for parliament for the People's Democratic Party. An RFE/RL correspondent interviewed her.

RFE/RL: If you are elected to parliament, what women's issues do you intend to raise?

ABDULLAEVA: I think that certain measures need to be taken to provide support for women, and especially rural women. For example, I intend to raise the issue of bringing the price for women farmers' harvest into line with the actual worth of the product. I believe that we need to review the issue of introducing specific regulations for environmentally unsuitable land. I am in favor of legislation to ensure that women's migration is given a legal framework and the dignity of Uzbek women is protected.

RFE/RL: You work directly with women's NGOs. In discussions with us, NGO representatives have said that they want to work with the government, but that government agencies say that they don't support NGOs. Do you have any proposals to develop cooperation between NGOs and government agencies? What do you think needs to be done to start such cooperation?

ABDULLAEVA: The initiative to work with government agencies needs to come first from the NGOs. If they bring up the problem, the government won't stand idly by.

RFE/RL: It's no secret that there's a problem with prostitutes, female migrant workers, and the trafficking of women as slaves. Can you propose a mechanism for solving these problems?

ABDULLAEVA: Unless a women herself wants it, neither the state, nor the family, nor economic hardship can forcer her down these various ill roads. You say that women have never experienced such difficulties. But look at the war and the years that came after it. Nevertheless, women never got involved with any of the things you mentioned. They didn't sell themselves, go abroad, or do these other things. Uzbek women have many skills. They can cook at home, make a living by sewing something. If a woman doesn't want to have a husband, if she doesn't get anything from society, if she's an urban women, let her go to the village, get some land and farm it. That will surely bear fruit.

RFE/RL: What ability do you and your party have to put your platform into practice?

ABDULLAEVA: I will be unstinting in finding solutions to these problems. I think that our government and the People's Democratic Party are fully supporting these efforts.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service recently interviewed Muhammad Solih, exiled head of the unregistered opposition Erk Democratic Party.

RFE/RL: If the Erk Democratic Party were able to take part in 26 December parliamentary elections, what would the party's platform be in light of the current social and political situation?

SOLIH: Our platform is available on the Erk Internet site, but I'll summarize it again. The first item in our platform is to put the existing dictatorial regime into a constitutional framework. Today, this doesn't seem possible to us, and even if we were to take part in elections, we wouldn't be able to do this because the regime has put itself above the constitution. Second, the market economy has to be fully implemented and we need to finish what has been left undone in this regard. Third, we need to end the oppression of dissidents, ensure freedom of speech, and free and rehabilitate political prisoners. The election system needs to be reformed and opposition figures in political exile need to be brought home and integrated into the political process.

RFE/RL: Erk is calling for a boycott of the 26 December parliamentary elections. The party sees no other way to conduct its activities under current political conditions?

SOLIH: A boycott is the only thing we can do in the current situation because taking part in a government election without opposition is tantamount to legitimizing it. This would be a betrayal of democracy and the opposition's function. It would contradict the principles we have held for 15 years. That's why we decided to call for an election boycott.

RFE/RL: The opposition Birlik party has a different approach to this issue. Rather than boycotting the elections, they've decided it's better to ask people to take part in the election but cast their votes against all candidates.

SOLIH: The people who are doing this are themselves well aware of the election law and regulations, and whether or not they vote for or against, they know that those in charge of the elections will just change the results to suit their wishes. But they think that one can set narrow political goals instead of pursuing large political goals.

RFE/RL: International organizations are in a difficult position when it comes to establishing their approach to parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan. Recently, the OSCE announced that it's sending a limited observer mission. What is Erk's position on this issue?

SOLIH: I think that the OSCE limited observer mission is going in order to observe that this election is not an election at all. Even if they didn't go, it would be clear that the election is not an election. But if they see it with their own eyes, it will provide further confirmation that this is another game the government is playing against the people, a spectacle for the outside world. The government itself senses that it can't fool the outside world with this spectacle. The limited mission that's going isn't there to evaluate the election, but rather to record this fact.

RFE/RL: At the same time, we've seen Europe and the West display an entirely different attitude, for example, toward the Ukrainian elections. As soon as the first reports of falsification emerged, they announced that they would not recognize the election results and the candidate they put in power. But the situation is different with elections in Uzbekistan. As you've noted, international organizations can say that these are not elections, but they'll continue to work with the parliament that takes shape after the elections. One example of this is Germany's Bundestag.

SOLIH: Germany's stance on this issue has suffered from double standards from the outset. The British Parliament's position on this is more democratic, and the same was of the United States until recently. Now that Uzbekistan is a close ally of the West in the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism, unfortunately, instead of offering harsh criticism, they continue to tread gently. In this respect, you can't compare the attitude toward us and the attitude toward Ukraine. But we hope that there will be harsher and more decisive statements on the Uzbek regime after the election.

RFE/RL: During the previous elections five years ago, we asked you the same questions in the same spirit, and you spoke about the fact that these are not real elections. How long do you think this situation will continue?

SOLIH: You're right. Over the last 10 years, unfortunately, neither your questions nor my answers have changed. The old saw has it that each country gets the government it deserves. Bitter as it is to say, there is a lot of truth in this, unfortunately. Until the people take to the streets to demand their rights, neither America nor Great Britain will help us. The people need to wake up and demand their rights. We think that that day is coming. The point is not to complain about the people; we're not reproaching our people. The news coming from Uzbekistan indicates that our people, like the Ukrainians, will take to the streets soon enough.