Uzbekistan held presidential elections on October 24, in a peaceful and secure atmosphere, with incumbent President Shavkat Mirziyoyev handily taking first place with 80.1% of the recorded votes. Second place went to Maqsuda Vorisova of the Peoples Democratic Party of Uzbekistan with 6.6% of the vote, making it clear that the Uzbek people overwhelming endorsed President Mirziyoyev for a second term, although with slightly less of a margin than the 90% he garnered in the 2016 election when he was already the country’s interim President. Turnout was high, at approximately 80.8%.
Special conditions surrounding this election
This was Uzbekistan’s sixth presidential election since independence in 1991, but only the second in which former strongman Islam Karimov, who died in 2016, did not participate.
Mirziyoyev’s party, the Uzbekistan Liberal Democratic Party (UzLiDeP), has focused on these key elements in its platform: Anti-communism, Anti-secularism, Economic liberalism, Secularism and Civic nationalism.
The current constitution includes a limit of two (5-year) terms for the president, and both opposition figures and foreign observers have focused attention on this requirement, fearing the potential for Putin-style modifications to this term limit, without having any indication that this is even under consideration.
None of the officials New Europe spoke with in Uzbekistan noted that Covid-19 restrictions/conditions had any impact on this election.
Additional perspectives from observers, consultants
New Europe spoke with a number of members of the OSCE-ODIHR monitoring mission on election day and afterwards, all of whom noted that their observations had already been factored into reports and conclusions issued by the monitoring team. A few key procedural points were (1) concern about the speed of the vote counting, which many saw as too rapid, and also (2) about the rather timid posture of the party observers at these vote counts, all of whom seemed to accept the numbers without question. These observers themselves did not encounter any difficulties from local authorities when they asked for cross-checks. Many observers agreed with New Europe’s observation that political campaign advertising and printed materials were far less visible than one would have expected.
The OSCE-ODHIR report sums the situation up in one sentence. “While multiple candidates contested the election, there was no meaningful engagement with each other or with voters, and candidates refrained from challenging or criticizing the incumbent.”
Foreign consultants working in Uzbekistan generally had a more positive long-term perspective when speaking to New Europe. Concerns were voiced about the restrictions and difficulties some individuals faced in registering as candidates earlier this year, but other advisors considered this to be relatively routine for countries in the region making a controlled democratic transition and cautioned against expecting too much progress on all fronts too quickly.
The shared view was that the next presidential election, due in 5 years, will be the real test of Uzbekistan’s democratic progress, and optimism was heard from many interlocutors that the citizens will have a real choice at that time although the electoral mechanisms and political party structures will require more time to reach western standards.
On the ground in Samarkand
New Europe was in the Samarkand area on election day and visited a polling station at the Samarkand University. There were no restrictions on whom foreign observers and journalists could speak with, except in close proximity to the individual voting booths, which were behind partial protective screens but not fully covered to ensure complete privacy. Voting was peaceful and people appeared to be in an upbeat mood. Lines at the registration desks were short.
In a discussion with Samarkand (#7) Electoral District Chairman Farmon Toshev about the ongoing elections, Toshev focused on recent reforms which aimed to enhance the accuracy and transparency of the electoral process. He explained that the date change of the election, from December 2020 to October 2021, enabled many more citizens to participate because of the warmer weather at that time of year. Toshev told New Europe foreign advice was also factored into the latest reform legislation “In this legislation we gave much attention to international consultants’ advice as well as the needs of our people.”
Toshev highlighted a number of other key reforms. First, he noted “We have consolidated the regional election commissions.” He also explained that “The voter list was issued electronically,” something he said would allow out-of-district voters to vote wherever they were physically present across the country on election day. He added that another important change in this cycle was “All members of the electoral commission are paid, for the first time.” Finally, he explained that “Observers can watch the counting” something which ultimately allowed foreign groups to reach interesting conclusions about problems in the electoral process.
Foreign reactions as expected
Congratulatory messages were sent to President Mirziyoyev on his re-election from Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan hours before official results were announced. After the results were officially announced October 25, congratulatory telephone calls from Russian’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Kazakhstan’s Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Kyrgyzstan’s Sadyr Japarov were all received. As to be expected, messages will continue to flow in, but India’s Narendra Modi was among the first in the region to manage the congratulatory process by Twitter.
The US Department of State issued a short statement October 25:
“The United States supports the people of Uzbekistan for exercising their right to vote in the presidential elections on October 24. We concur with the OSCE-ODIHR monitoring mission’s observation that the vote was peaceful and characterized by high voter turnout but share the OSCE mission’s concerns that the elections took place in an overly restrictive political environment and that important election safeguards were disregarded.
The United States welcomes the Government of Uzbekistan’s improved cooperation with the OSCE-ODIHR monitoring mission and calls on the government to carry out all OSCE recommendations related to elections and the promotion of civil and political rights. We are committed to continued engagement with the Government of Uzbekistan on these and many other issues of bilateral and regional importance.”