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Uzbek President Karimov Reelected; OSCE Criticizes Vote

A woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Tashkent on March 29.
A woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Tashkent on March 29.

Uzbekistan's Central Election Commission (CEC) says incumbent President Islam Karimov has easily won reelection in a vote criticized by international observers and denounced by opponents abroad.

Citing preliminary results from the March 29 election, CEC head Mirzoulughbek Abdusalomov said Karimov won just over 90 percent of the votes.

He said that "17.2 million people, or 90.39 percent of the electorate, gave their vote to Islam Karimov."

Karimov, 77, has eliminated most opposition over more than 25 years in power and was widely expected to win a fourth term in office in the Central Asian nation.

Karimov ran against three little-known candidates who praised him during the campaign.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was quick to congratulate Karimov, saying the result was proof of the president's stature among the people of Uzbekistan.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who like Karimov has been leader of his country since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, also congratulated the Uzbek president.

Nazarbaev is up for reelection on April 26.

Vote monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the Uzbek poll lacked genuine opposition to Karimov and was marred by legal and organizational shortcomings.

The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) released its preliminary assessment ahead of the announcement of preliminary results.

The head of ODIHR's limited election observation mission, Tana de Zulueta, said the figure of Karimov dominated the political landscape.

Uzbekistan's "rigidly restrained media gave the incumbent a clear advantage" despite rules granting all candidates equal access to the media, de Zulueta said in a statement.

She also pointed out that the Central Election Commission registered Karimov as a candidate "despite a clear constitutional limit of two consecutive presidential terms."

Karimov was appointed as the leader of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1989.

Since independence in 1991, he has won three presidential elections and extended his stay in office through referendums in 1995 and 2002.

Western organizations such as the ODIHR have never judged any of Uzbekistan's previous parliamentary or presidential elections to have been free and fair.

Other concerns raised by ODIHR included hurdles preventing anyone from standing as an independent candidate.

Mutabar Tadjibaeva, an Uzbek human rights campaigner and former political prisoner who now lives in France, said before the vote that not a single real opposition figure was able to challenge Karimov because "no opposition exists in Uzbekistan."

Tadjibaeva said government opponents have been "destroyed, jailed, driven into exile, or killed."

The ODIHR also said that "voter lists were compiled in a variety of ways throughout the country, and inconsistency in the method of compilation put the accuracy of voter lists in doubt."

Observers from a mission of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a grouping for former Soviet republics dominated by Russia, gave a far more positive assessment of the election -- as is often the case with votes in the tightly controlled nations of the region.

The head of the CIS election observation mission, Sergei Lebedev -- a former director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service -- told a press briefing that the March 29 election was "transparent, free, and democratic."

Lebedev also said the CIS monitors "have the unanimous opinion that the election was well governed and effective."

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) also sent monitors. Uzbekistan is an SCO member along with Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

SCO observer mission chief Dmitry Mezentsev, who is also Russian, said: "Every election campaign event was open and transparent and strictly complied with Uzbek legislation."​

Uzbek President Islam Karimov
Uzbek President Islam Karimov

Organizations such as the CIS and SCO started sending monitors to elections about a decade ago after polls in the region were repeatedly judged by Western organizations to have fallen short of being free and fair.

Karimov is set to start his fourth term in office without any clear successor to replace him should he die or be unable to perform the tasks of president.

This has raised concerns about the future of Central Asia's most populous country and sparked speculation that a behind-the-scenes battle is already under way in Uzbekistan to take power once Karimov is no longer president.

Karimov was not seen in public for several weeks earlier in 2015, sparking speculation about his health and whereabouts.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP,, and TASS
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