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OSCE says Uzbek presidential election fell short of democratic standards

Uzbekistan's presidential election, in which authoritarian leader Islam Karimov faced three candidates who publicly supported him, failed to meet democratic standards, a leading international democracy and security group said Monday.
The election-monitoring arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement that Sunday's vote "was held in a strictly controlled political environment, leaving no room for real opposition, and the election generally failed to meet many OSCE commitments for democratic elections."
No results have been released, but Karimov, a former Communist Party boss who has been Uzbekistan's president since the collapse of the Soviet Union, was widely expected to win overwhelmingly.
Uzbekistan is a member of the OSCE, which aims to promote democratic standards, but is one of the most politically repressive of the former Soviet states. Most of Karimov's opponents have been sent to jail or into exile and authorities muzzle news media.
The Associated Press and some other international news organizations were denied accreditation to cover the election.
The three other candidates in the race were given little coverage in state-controlled media. On election day, state television broadcast a series of programs extolling Uzbekistan as developing democratically and economically under Karimov _ despite economic stagnation due to his resistance of market reforms.
"In the context of democratic development, it is notable that this time there were more candidates. ... But since all candidates in the present election publicly endorsed the incumbent, the electorate was deprived of a genuine choice," Walter Siegl, the OSCE's ambassador to Uzbekistan, said in the statement.
A much different assessment came from the observer mission of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose grouping of most of the former Soviet republics.
The election "proceeded in line with the country's election legislation and universally recognized norms for holding democratic elections," mission head Sergei Lebedev was quoted as saying by the ITAR-Tass news agency. "It was a major factor in further democratization of social life in Uzbekistan."
The CIS is dominated by Russia, whose Dec. 2 parliamentary elections came under international criticism.
Almost half the population of ex-Soviet Central Asia lives in Uzbekistan, and the country's political course and stability are crucial for the energy-rich region in which Russia, China and the United States are vying for influence.
Karimov's clampdown on Muslims who worship outside state-controlled institutions has fueled radical Islam throughout the region, adding to tension in an already troubled part of the world.
Karimov has maintained a hostile stance toward the West since he ordered the shutdown of a U.S. air base in 2005 following Western criticism of his government's bloody crackdown on an uprising in the city of Andijan.
He also threw out several foreign media organizations and almost all aid groups, accusing them of trying to foment a revolution, and has sought to strengthen ties with Russia and China.
Karimov, who will turn 70 next month, became the top Communist boss in 1989 in what was then a Soviet republic and Soviet industry's main cotton supplier. Since the Soviet collapse, he has won two presidential elections _ in 1991 and 1999 _ and had his term extended twice, once through parliament and again in a referendum.
None of those elections were recognized by international observers as free or fair.
Human rights activists reported numerous cases of multiple voting throughout the country and official pressure on voters at polling stations to cast ballots for Karimov.
Karimov has resisted market reforms since the Soviet disintegration and has brought the resource-rich nation's economy to the brink of collapse, plunging most of its 27 million people into poverty. More than 3 million Uzbeks have left for Russia and Kazakhstan in recent years as guest workers by the two countries' official estimates.
In suppressing the 2005 Andijan revolt, Uzbek government troops killed some 700 mostly unarmed civilians, rights groups and witnesses said. Authorities blamed the violence on Islamic radicals, and said only 187 people died.

Updated : 2022-01-28 15:44 GMT+08:00