the Disillusioned kid: Electoral Sham (and you don't even have to look at the exit polls to tell)
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Thursday, November 25, 2004

Electoral Sham (and you don't even have to look at the exit polls to tell)

The world's attention is currently focused on events in the Ukraine. It is not, however, the only former Soviet Bloc country currently weighing up its relations with the West and Russia facing controversial elections. This is also occurring in Uzbekistan, although with Islam Karimov having all but abandoned even the facade of democracy, the situation in the Central Asian Republic may be even more extreme.

An article by Galima Bukharbaeva of the (highly recommended) institute for War and Peace Reporting reveals that Parliamentary elections to be held on December 26 are to be boycotted by three opposition parties. The Birlik ('Unity') and Ozod Dehkonlar ('Free Farmers') parties announced their decision after they were prevented from registering candidates, while a third party ERK ('Will') declared from the outset that they "did not want to take part in a lie".

Bukharbaeva explains the significance of the election:
The election will create a two-house parliament for the first time, replacing the old single-chamber body. The lower house will have 120 deputies elected on a constituency basis, less than half the 250 who now sit in the legislative chamber. The upper house will consist of 100 senators, 16 appointed by President Karimov and the rest picked by regional councils.
According to The Central Election Commission, CEC, about 500 candidates will compete for the 120 seats in the legislature. Birlik and Ozod Dehkonlar had hoped to be among them. Since no Uzbek opposition group has been granted official recognition, they are prevented from standing in their own name. The two parties had instead opted to have candidates stand as independents, who would be nominated by public "initiative groups".

Bukharbaeva notes that even this is a step forward as the two parties have been forced to operate underground, with their leaders in exile, for a decade. Despite this apparent step forward, both parties found officials unwilling to accept application papers. He reports, "Leading figures in Birlik accuse election officials of a range of tactics to avoid processing its applications, including refusing to accept documents, closing election offices and even running away from them. In cases where documents were accepted, they were returned later with officials complaining that signatures in support of the candidate had been forged."

The effect of these machinations was that the November 11 deadline ran out before Birlik was able to provide evidence as to the provenance of the signatures they had collected "and in some cases even before it managed to track down the election staff." Among those whose papers were rejected was the party?s deputy chairman Ismail Dadajanov who put his name forward in the Fergana Valley city of Kokand. He reported having difficulties previously when he had arranged a meeting of his initiative group in a theatre only for managers to abruptly change their mind and declare that the building required urgent renovation work.

And what does the CEC have to say about all this?
A spokesman for the CEC denied allegations of misconduct by officials. Press secretary Sherzod Kudratkhojaev said it did not matter to his commission whether independent candidates represented an opposition party or not, since their nominations came from an initiative group, not the party itself.

Documents were rejected not to stop the opposition taking part in elections, but because the candidates ? like many other independents ? had broken many rules, said Kudratkhojaev.

He dismissed the allegations of police intimidation made by Birlik?s Musojonov, saying, "There was no pressure on anyone; that information is not objective."

Some of the initiative group members did not even know their details were being used to nominate a candidate for the election, he said.

"How can these complaining opposition members nominate themselves as deputies - how can they call for order - if they commit violations themselves?" asked the CEC spokesman.
All very convincing given the Karimov regime's record, I'm sure you'll agree.

Dadajanov notes that the upside of his party's failure to achieve representation in the elections is that it clearly shows the paucity of choice on election day. "We showed in practice that these elections cannot be honest if there were violations even at the initial stage of gathering documents," he said. Bukharbaeva cites "independent political scientist" Bahodir Musaev who argues that the nomination of candidates by the opposition was doomed from the start because Karimov remains opposed to true pluralism. "These elections are without choice," he said. "This system of power does not allow outsiders in." Musaev also believes, "The boycott will not work, because to achieve that, one would need an organised structure to conduct an extensive public campaign. The regime will not allow that."

Karimov's opposition to true pluralism does not mean there will be no candidates contesting the election. There will still be five parties on the ballot, all set up with Karimov's blessing and articulating pro-government policies, with little to tell them apart. Nonetheless an Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe report on the elections noted, "The lack of registered opposition parties and obstacles for independent candidates seriously marginalises the possibilities for meaningful political competition."

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