UZBEK ELECTION COUNTS FOR LITTLE  Six candidates, five political parties and 
only one possible winner.  By IWPR staff in Central Asia 

would make it harder for smaller faith groups to operate.  By Nafisa Pisarejeva 
in Dushanbe 


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Six candidates, five political parties and only one possible winner.

By IWPR staff in Central Asia 

There may be six candidates running for the Uzbek presidency this December, but 
there will be few surprises when the incumbent Islam Karimov is elected for his 
third term – or perhaps his second, depending on how you count his 18 years in 
power. Analysts say the other candidates are minor pro-government figures who 
are standing merely to create the impression that voters have a choice.

Despite the emergence of “rival” candidates, President Karimov held off 
formalising his candidacy until November 6, when he accepted a unanimous 
nomination by a congress of the Liberal Democratic Party, LDP, one of several 
parties whose creation he has engineered over the years.

In an unprecedented show of numbers, all the other legal, pro-government 
parties have also come up with their own candidates. On October 15, the Central 
Electoral Commission gave the green light to their nominees, as well as to the 
head of a government agency for human rights. The election will take place on 
December 23.

In the last presidential election, held in 2000, there was only one alternative 
figure whom voters could have chosen. Abdulhafiz Jalolov won four per cent of 
the vote despite backing Karimov and voting for him himself. Karimov won 92 per 
cent of the vote, although there was no way of evaluating this figure 


What has yet to be made clear is how Karimov can be re-elected at all. 

He first took charge of what was then Soviet Uzbekistan in 1989, and was 
elected president of the now independent country in 1991. At that point, the 
constitution allowed him to serve two five-year terms. However, a referendum in 
1995 extended his first term for a further five years, so he only stood for his 
second term in 2000. But two years later, the constitution was amended to make 
this a seven-year stretch. 

That more or less exhausted the constitutional options, even for a leader who 
makes up the rules, and when Karimov’s term in office ran out in January 2007, 
the country entered a kind of constitutional limbo. 

The somewhat tortuous solution – which has not been stated explicitly by the 
authorities – appears to be that Karimov’s third term in office is actually his 
second, on the assumption that he got to start all over again at the 2000 
election. That second mandate was converted retrospectively into the first of 
two seven-year terms. Hence, he is entitled to another shot at the presidency. 

According to Uzbek analyst Komron Aliev, Karimov pays little heed to 
constitutional niceties.“Over his last 16 years in power [since the 1991 
election], Karimov has said what he wanted and done what he wanted. It would be 
naïve to expect any changes now,” he said. “Democracy in Uzbekistan has been 
destroyed and the constitution has been changed many times.”

Tashkent-based analyst Iskandar Khudoiberdiev added, “It is not the first time 
that the current leadership has failed to observe laws - even legislation that 
it adopted itself. This has been going on since the start of Karimov’s rule. 
Those who are in in power are above the law. We have no independent courts.”


To get their candidates registered, parties or public “initiative groups” are 
required to submit 800,000 signatures along with their application to the 
Central Electoral Commission, CEC. So far the only candidate not nominated by a 
party is also an establishment figure. Akmal Saidov is director of the National 
Centre for Human Rights and chairs the parliamentary committee for democratic 
institutions. Five individuals – three human rights activists, a doctor and an 
unemployed academic - announced plans to stand as independents, but have fallen 
by the wayside as the CEC failed to register them as candidates. 

All five political parties taking part in this election are staunchly 
pro-Karimov, which is unsurprising as he engineered their creation one after 
another. Over the years they have taken it in turn to be the president’s 
favourite, but despite each one proclaiming a new approach when it first 
emerged, they are in practice indistinguishable and are largely inactive 
between elections.

“In recent years, the process of building parties in this country has been 
controlled by Islam Karimov and his administration. Therefore, all the leaders 
of the current parties were appointed by the president,” said an analyst in 
Tashkent, who asked not to be named. 

Two opposition parties dating from the early Nineties, Erk and Birlik, operate 
only underground and their leaders are in exile. They will not be fielding 
candidates; nor will the more recent Ozod Dehkonlar (“Free Farmers”) Party.

The People’s Democratic Party, PDP, has nominated the leader of its 
parliamentary faction, Asliddin Rustamov. The PDP is the oldest of the five, 
emerging from the Communist Party to become Karimov’s political vehicle in the 
early Nineties. It fielded the only alternative candidate in the last 
presidential election. 

The Adolat (“Justice”) Social Democratic Party has nominated parliamentarian 
Dilorom Tashmuhammedova – the only woman standing – while the Milli Tiklanish 
(“National Revival”) Democratic Party offered its candidacy to writer and 
parliamentarian Khurshid Dostmuhammad. These two parties were set up in 1995, 
perhaps to dilute the PDP’s numerical domination of parliament and allow 
Karimov to explore different political vehicles.

The president’s next creation was the Fidokorlar (“Self-Sacrifiers”) National 
Democratic Party, set up in 1998. For a time, it was the top party – a merger 
with another group made it the biggest parliamentary faction in 2000, and it 
was Fidokorlar that nominated Karimov when he was re-elected that year. The 
party has now selected Akhtam Tursunov, who chairs the parliamentary committee 
for defence and security, as its candidate. 

Dating from 2003, the LDP is the most recent party to appear. It styles itself 
the “movement for entrepreneurs and businesspeople”. Speaking a year later, 
Karimov said the party was needed because the others “differ little from one 
another”. The LDP won a majority in the December 2004/January 2005 
parliamentary election, winning 34 per cent of seats. The PDP trailed at 28 per 
cent while the other each scored under 20 per cent. 

The LDP has underlined its dominant position by forming an alliance with 
Fidokorlar and Adolat called the Bloc of Democratic Forces. 

“The LDP… is positioning itself as a leading force that unites businessmen and 
entrepreneurs under the slogan of, ‘One enterprising, courageous, energetic, 
determined, businesslike and vigilant person is better than thousands upon 
thousands of idle, apathetic people’,” said the Tashkent-based analyst.

An LDP official who asked to remain anonymous said the party will mobilise all 
its forces and those of the state, too, to ensure a resounding victory for 

“The LDP candidate will lead in the elections. The party now has all the 
resources – administrative, power, funding and information. No protest force is 
going to overcome this bureaucratic machine consisting of corrupt officials, 
security-sector figures and business elites who are, for the moment, putting 
their stake on Karimov,” said the source. 

Another LDP official suggested this exercise in pluralism was a desperate 
attempt to improve Uzbekistan’s tarnished image. 

“The authorities want to show the West that Uzbek elections are much more 
democratic than Kazak ones, so they want all the parties [to take part],” he 

Although the December 2005 ballot in which Kazakstan’s Nursultan Nazarbaev was 
re-elected was roundly condemned by international monitors, the four candidates 
standing against him did at least include some real political opponents. 


Analysts in Uzbekistan say none of the candidates is a heavyweight who might 
conceivably pose a threat to Karimov.

“Even if some of them fall by the wayside, no harm will be done as they are all 
much of a muchness,” said political analyst Farhad Tolipov. 

The candidates’ efforts to win votes are likely to reflect this, with some 
lacklustre campaigning around the country, and no one saying a word against 

“Nobody is planning to mount a serious fight for the presidency,” said a 
Tashkent-based journalist. 


Across Uzbekistan, there appears to be little interest in the December 
election. Some voters are prepared to vote for Karimov – the only president 
they have ever known - on the grounds that he has brought stability. 

“I know I’m voting for Karimov,” said one enthusiast in Samarkand, Karimov’s 
home city in western Uzbekistan. “Islam Karimov has stabilised the situation. 
There is no war here, and people live peacably. What more do we need?” 

For people like this voter, a strong ruler is preferable to the kind of regime 
change led by popular revolts seen in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan in 2005, and 
earlier in Ukraine and Georgia. “We see what all these revolutions bring,” he 
said dismissively.

However, many others are resigned to an election that already shows signs of 
being rigged. 

“Outsiders will not be allowed to assume power. We know very well how Karimov 
clings to power,” said a qualified engineer in the Khorezm region in the 
northwest. “Muhammad Salih was the last authoritative contender I can think of.”

Salih is leader of the unregistered Erk party and has been living in exile 
since 1993, when he fled because of mounting harassment. He stood against 
Karimov in the first presidential election, held in 1991. 

A woman from the city of Navoi, south of Khorezm, said she had heard there were 
to be multiple candidates from multiple parties but had not decided whether to 

“It’s all for show. Everybody knows Karimov will win this election even if 
people don’t vote for him. They will fix the result and he will stay,” she said.

In southwest Uzbekistan, a village council worker said, “Now they’re saying on 
TV that there are many candidates, although I can’t remember their names. I 
heard Karimov was nominated by some party or other, and that means it’s all 
going to happen all over again. 

“I remember how the election went seven years ago. There were people from the 
mahalla [neighbourhood] committees sitting in the polling stations to ensure we 
had Karimov’s name on our ballot papers.” 

One 70-year-old pensioner plans to make a small protest against Karimov by 
picking the candidate nominated by the PDP, the former communist party which 
the president has discarded in favour of the LDP.

“People no longer believe in any party,” he said. “They know there is Karimov’s 
party, and the rest of them were created by Karimov to show the world how 
democracy is blossoming here. 

“I am going to vote for the PDP because they are former communists and life 
wasn’t too bad when they were in power. I do know, though, that my vote will 
count for nothing – they will amend it [in favour of Karimov] when the ballots 
are being counted.”

With a just over a month to go, neither voters nor Uzbekistan-watchers are 
holding their breath. 

“As in previous years, the election will be conducted in a pre-arranged manner 
which ignores the interests of the people, said analyst Khudoiberganov. “We 
will see 85 to 90 per cent of the electorate voting for one man.”

(The names of many interviewees have been withheld for security reasons.


Proposed legislation would make it harder for smaller faith groups to operate.

By Nafisa Pisarejeva in Dushanbe 

Civil rights activists in Tajikistan fear the government is pushing for more 
restrictive legislation on religious practice, in the same way it did with a 
law on non-government groups earlier this year.

Activists and faith group representatives say their views have been ignored in 
the discussion of the new legislation, which has been going on for the past two 
years. The draft law, which would make it tougher for smaller religious 
communities to register with the authorities, is still being discussed by 
officials and has yet to be sent to parliament.

The new legislation has been designed by the culture ministry’s religious 
department and to replace the relatively liberal law on religion dating from 
1994. It sets out tough new conditions which religious groups must meet before 
gaining official registration, including an increase in the minimum number of 
members, and it would prohibit missionary activities.

Islam is the religion of Tajiks and the large Uzbek minority, while ethnic 
Russians are traditionally of Orthodox Christian background. These two major 
religious communities have avoided poaching each other’s congregations, but 
have looked on with concern as newer groups, often Protestant Christian, have 
moved in and begun proselytising since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 

The new law is clearly aimed at curbing the activities of these smaller groups, 
and they are now trying to make their concerns heard. In July, some 20 
Protestant groups and the Baha’i Society wrote to President Imomali Rahmon 
voicing alarm over the draft religious legislation. 

“The law creates completely impractical conditions for registering religious 
minority organisations, whether they already exist or are newly created. Thus, 
they make it illegal for believers to practice their religion, and this 
suggests that in future, the state will persecute them for their beliefs,” 
their statement read.

There have also been expressions of concern from the Roman Catholic Church.

Human rights activists say the Law on Public Associations, which was passed at 
the end of April and governs the activity of non-government organisations, 
NGOs, set a bad precedent because there, too, the views of civil society 
activists were ignored, and the result was a restrictive piece of legislation.

“We must not allow what has happened to the law on public associations to 
happen to this religious legislation. If we don’t defend our rights actively, 
every law that is passed will ignore our interests,” said the chairman of the 
ethnic Korean society, Viktor Kim.

Most Koreans in Tajikistan – who are there because Stalin deported large 
numbers from the Far East in the late Thirties – are Christians, and many have 
joined some of the newer faith groups.

The NGO legislation, introduced to replace out-of-date laws from the Nineties, 
requires organisations to register annually with the authorities. Local and 
international NGOs argue that this gives the authorities leverage to exert 
pressure on them.
That law was drafted without involving civil society activists or independent 
legal consultants, they say. 
While some amendments have since been adopted following complaints from local 
and foreign groups – including the scrapping of a requirement for foreign 
ministry accreditation in addition to registration with the justice ministry – 
these only apply to international NGOs.

Kim said that before the law was introduced, civil society groups found it 
easier to participate in debates, and their views were taken more into account. 

“Now we do not have close ties with parliament. While they may talk about their 
willingness to cooperate, their doors are closed,” he said.

Political scientist Parviz Mullojanov said important legislation should not be 
passed without consulting the public.

“Conducting [reviews] of public expertise is impossible without the active 
involvement of NGOs, and requires close cooperation between the civil sector 
and legislative bodies,” he said. 

A member of the team which drafted the NGO legislation on NGOs told IWPR, on 
condition of anonymity, that the new regulations had been passed because NGOs 
were suspected to have played a role in popular revolts in Ukraine, Georgia and 
Kyrgyzstan, in which political leaderships were overthrown. 

“Many international NGOs in different countries threaten the security of 
country, and we should take that into account,” he said. “NGOs such as Freedom 
House and the National Democratic Institute are the causes of many revolutions 
and disorders in the post-Soviet countries.”

Mullojanov said that following the March 2005 Kyrgyz “revolution”, in which the 
then president Askar Akaev was ousted after thousands took the streets in 
protest over the disputed result of an election, Tajik politicians concluded 
that NGOs played a part in mobilising the population. 

One clause in the NGO law requires all relevant groups to re-register by the 
end of the year. According to head of the registration department at the Tajik 
justice ministry, Davlat Sulaymonov, about 70 local and international NGOs have 
been re-registered already and about 20 more applications are being considered.

Mullojanov predicts that the outcome will be a significant drop in the existing 
number of registered NGOs, put at over 3,000. 

Analysts predict that the proposals on religious law may have a similar effect, 
cutting the number of faith groups that enjoy legal recognition. Without 
registration, churches can be closed down and worshippers prevented from 
practising their religion in public. 

Under current laws, only ten signatures are needed to register a faith 
organisation. The new proposals would require a minimum of 20 members and 200 
aspiring members. 

“Not every group of worshippers in the country will be able to collect the 
number of signatures set out in the bill,” said Aleksandr Vervay, who chairs 
the Union of Evangelical Baptist Christian Churches in Tajikistan.

“We have given our recommendations on this bill, and if this new law is to be 
adopted, we want it to take into account the concerns of religious 
organisations and to be widely discussed.”

Said Ahmedov, a former chairman of the government’s committee on religious 
affairs, added that while the old law had some defects, at least it did not 
restrict the activities of religious groups. 

Nafisa Pisaredjeva is an IWPR contributor in Dushanbe.

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