Uzbekistan’s Central Election Commission says that acting President Shavkat Mirziyaev has won the December 4 presidential election with 88.6 percent of the vote.
Mirziyaev’s victory had been widely expected since he took over as interim leader of the country in early September, following the death of authoritarian President Islam Karimov after more than a quarter-century of iron-fisted rule over the Central Asian country.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said that the election underscored "the need for comprehensive reforms" in Uzbekistan, where Karimov had extended his power for years in a series of votes denounced by Western governments and international observers as undemocratic.
"While the election administration took measures to enhance the transparency of its work and the proper conduct of the election, the dominant position of state actors and limits on fundamental freedoms undermine political pluralism and led to a campaign devoid of genuine competition," ODIHR, which conducted an election-monitoring mission in Uzbekistan, said In a preliminary statement on December 5.
ODIHR observers also said that Uzbek "media covered the election in a highly restrictive and controlled environment, and the state-defined narrative did not provide voters the opportunity to hear alternative viewpoints."
None of the six previous post-Soviet elections observed in Uzbekistan by ODHIR monitors was deemed democratic and fair.
Election Commission Chairman Mirza-Ulugbek Abdusalomov said the official turnout was 87.83 percent, with more than 17.9 million voters casting ballots.
Mirziyaev, 59, ran against three other candidates, all from pro-government parties.
He was formally nominated for president by the Liberal Democratic Party, the largest political party in Uzbekistan.
Mirziyaev, who has been prime minister since 2003, has said that he intends to largely follow the political course of Karimov.
A central question is whether he would ease the authoritarian rule imposed by Karimov or veer from his policies -- and to what degree.
Critics dismiss as populist campaign ploys some of his recent efforts to force bureaucrats to answer to the people and resolve their problems, such as a hotline to the president and a demand that local leaders meet with their constituents.
But some Uzbek dissidents living abroad have high hopes that he will implement economic reforms, allow more freedom at home, and open ex-Soviet Central Asia’s most-populous country more to the outside world.
In a speech on his first day as acting president, he said Uzbekistan would continue the policy of not joining any international military alliances and not hosting any foreign military bases, along with not stationing its troops abroad.
Uzbekistan, a major grower of cotton and a producer of natural gas, borders volatile Afghanistan and lies in a strategic region where Russia, China, and the West vie for influence.
It is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes Russia and China, but pulled out of the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization for the second time in 2012.
The Kremlin said in a statement on December 5 that Russian President Vladimir Putin "warmly congratulated" Mirziyaev on his victory in a phone call and invited him to visit Moscow.
Under Karimov, the predominantly Muslim country's staunchly secular government appeared eager to suppress any signs of what it saw as Islamic militancy, and policies in that area will be watched for any evidence of a shift.
In the September 8 speech, Mirziyaev also said that strengthening ties with neighboring Central Asian states was "the main priority" for Uzbekistan’s foreign policy -- and has won praise for apparent steps in that direction.
Karimov, who became Uzbekistan’s Communist Party chief in 1989 and ruled as president after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, tolerated little dissent and eliminated almost all political opposition within the nation of about 30 million.
The government said he died on September 2, at age 78, after suffering a stroke.