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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 9,949 9,713 11,300 91
GNI per capita
 US $ 420 450 550 173
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (date from the World Bank)

Books on Uzbekistan

Update No: 349 - (20/01/10)

Elections to parliament a farce?
One should remember that in the UK, most members of the lower house, The House of Commons, were until 1832 elected to ‘rotten boroughs’. These electoral districts were in the possession and gift of members of the upper house, the House of Lords. Democracy is not made in a day.

Uzbekistan has held parliamentary elections three times since gaining independence in 1991; none have been seen by observers as meeting modern Western democratic standards. Uzbeks again headed to the polls to vote in a new Legislative Chamber on December 27, although all indications were that -- with no opposition candidates -- it would not fare any better than its predecessors.

New, if restricted, dispensation
But this poll for the rubber-stamp lower house incorporated some new twists that, even if the result of the carefully controlled contest ended up the same, have made for a more interesting and elaborate show during the campaign period. For one thing, the country's four registered political parties, all of which are openly pro-presidential were, nevertheless, criticizing each other.

At the start of the last presidential race, in 2007, the People's Democratic Party (KhDP), the Adolat (Justice) Social Democratic Party, the National Revival Party, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (LDPU) all nominated incumbent President Islam Karimov as their candidate. Karimov, who has ruled the country since early 1990, accepted the nomination of the LPDU, the country's youngest party.

Now, the parties appear to be addressing a criticism Karimov first made in April 2004, when he said that the country's political parties "do not have a solid, independent platform, to the point where they differ little from one another."

But is there now a difference?
Comments made on December 21 by Kamola Hamidova, a member of Adolat's political council, show how Uzbek politics has responded to Karimov's criticism, which he has since repeated on numerous occasions. "The LDPU is the party of entrepreneurs and businessmen, but they failed to have good cooperation with their constituency," Hamidova said. "And we heard that there are cases when they did not even protect the rights of their own members." Zuhra Botirova, of Adolat's executive committee, has said the LDPU is making promises it cannot keep.

It is not whether you support President Karimov, but how.” They say that they are ready to take responsibility for the fate of the reforms. But from what they are doing these days, I can't imagine how they are going to do this in future," Botirova said.

Considering the LDPU won a majority of seats in the last parliamentary elections in 2004, despite it being the first poll the LDPU had participated in, it is perhaps the most likely target for criticism from other parties.

Criticism of the LDPU by former communists
The newspaper "Uzbekistan ovozi" (Voice of Uzbekistan) is the mouthpiece of the KhDP, which was the Communist Party in Soviet times. On October 8, "Uzbekistan ovozi" wrote: "Unfortunately," upon closer examination of LDPU policies "one finds out that cases of overestimating themselves, as well as cases saying groundless and illogical words about others, are becoming habitual." The KhDP may feel a greater need than other parties to topple the LDPU.

While the KhDP remains Uzbekistan's largest political party with some 364,000 registered members (and it won the second-highest number of seats in the 2004 election), that number is just over half what its membership was at the start of the decade.

KhDP Chairman Latif Gulonov vowed in October that his party would "fight for every seat in every electoral district."

An Overture to Democracy?
In any case, the criticisms being lodged are vague at best, focusing more on the conduct of other parties than on core issues such as social improvements or government reforms.

For voters wishing to know more about aspects of democratic elections, Uzbek television has been airing a new programme during the campaign. However, "Elections -- A Reflection of Democracy" have concentrated mainly on validating the way Uzbekistan conducts its elections.

On the October 3 edition of the programme, Central Election Commission deputy head Kochkor Togaev said Uzbekistan's electoral practices are more democratic than that of many other countries. For example, Togaev noted, "If a person does not take part in the election, he will not be prosecuted."

Accolades from the West
Other programmes have shown "an Italian university professor" and "a Japanese university teacher" saying that Uzbekistan's legislation in some ways outpaces that of their own countries.

On the October 10 edition, Frederick Ponsonby of Shulbrede, who as a hereditary peer enjoys a lifetime seat in Britain's House of Lords as Baron Ponsonby of Roehampton, appeared on "Elections -- A Reflection of Democracy." During the programme, the Labour politician praised the "independent election system headed by the CEC," saying it ensured an "atmosphere of freedom, openness, and impartiality in Uzbekistan."

Uzbek political parties and candidates "have the opportunity to express their own ideas, views and manifestos freely," Ponsonby said.

Only Party Members
A significant change to the parliamentary elections was that only candidates from the four registered political parties could compete. Previously, the law allowed for independent candidates or candidates from "initiative groups." One of the candidates in the 2007 presidential election was from an initiative group.

Mavjuda Rajabova -- who sits in the Senate, the upper house of parliament whose members will be determined by local council deputies in January -- explained why initiative groups or independent candidates weren't needed during another segment of "Elections -- A Reflection of Democracy."

"The majority of the population has been involved in the parties' activities," Rajabova said, adding that "certain criminal elements yearning for parliamentary seats could enter the parliament by organizing initiative groups of voters."

Ecology and feminism to the fore
Key among the changes to be seen was that the number of seats available in the new Legislative Chamber rose to 150 from the previous 120 seats. And of the 150 seats, only 135 were decided in the December 27 poll. The remaining 15 seats automatically went to Uzbekistan's Ecological Movement, a newcomer to the political scene, having been created in August 2008.

Electoral amendments that gave the movement automatic seats were made about the same time the government started criticizing plans to build large hydropower projects in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The Uzbek government and state media question the environmental consequences of such projects.

Another change is that new legislation guarantees a 30 percent quota in parliament for women. According to the "Japanese university teacher" seen on "Elections -- A Reflection of Democracy," the change is likely to be well-received by outside observers. 

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