Books on Uzbekistan
349 - (20/01/10)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Uzbek political parties and candidates
"have the opportunity to express their own
ideas, views and manifestos freely,"
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
"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
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
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.