Election campaign launched in Uzbekistan

Victoria Panfilova, columnist of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, specially for Vestnik Kavkaza
Election campaign launched in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan's Supreme Assembly (Oliy Majlis) elections - to the Legislative Chamber and the Senate, as well as to local regional and district representative bodies - maslikhats - are scheduled for December 22. This is the first parliamentary election to be held in the country under new president Shavkat Mirziyoyev. They are called upon to strengthen the image of a country that is advancing along the path of building a legal democratic state. In the context of an active investment policy, it will give Uzbekistan additional benefits.

Five years ago, Uzbekistan has begun a transition from a super-presidential system to a parliamentary republic. However, dramatic changes have been seen only after Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power in 2016. Reforms launched in the republic contributed to its economic and social development. According to the results of the first half of 2019, GDP growth amounted to 5.8%, mainly due to accelerated growth in industry - 6.9%, as well as investment growth - 58.9%. There are positive changes in the foreign policy sphere - Uzbekistan is becoming a key player in Central Asia.

Tashkent believes that the time has come for reforms in the parliament so that the Oliy Majlis should not only be involved in lawmaking, but also takes an active part in political decisions of the country's leadership. The president is betting on parliament as a real political force to be reckoned with. In one of his speeches, he recalled each parliamentarian's increasing responsibility for what is happening in Uzbekistan.

"Today, the perception of Uzbekistan in the world started to play a more important role than before. This is important for the country in terms of investment inflows, investor confidence, international partners' will to work with the Uzbek authorities and business. In this situation, it is important for Uzbekistan to have elections recognized by international observers, which number this year will be higher than usual. A total of 300 observers will be sent from the OSCE/ODIHR alone. Observers from the CIS Parliamentary Assembly, SCO and other organizations, observers from 50 countries of the world will come as well. This can be called a movement in the right direction, the continuation of work to improve the image and strengthen the legitimacy of state power, its political and economic course," researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Vorobyov told Vestnik Kavkaza.

A distinctive feature of the current elections will be the fact that they will be held on the basis of the new Electoral Code, which, as adviser-ambassador to the Embassy of Uzbekistan in Russia Zakir Zaitov said at a roundtable on November 18, incorporates the principles and norms of international law recognized in the democratic community. According to him, the developers compared the Electoral Codes of 50 countries, and "the best was borrowed."

Five registered political parties will participate in the parliamentary elections: People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (PDP), Social Democratic Party Adolat, Uzbekistan National Revival Democratic Party, Movement of Entrepreneurs and Business People - Uzbekistan Liberal Democratic Party and the Ecological Party of Uzbekistan, which was registered in January this year. In the last election, it participated in the status of the Ecological Movement, and received 15 seats in parliament.

The elections will be held on a party lists basis in 150 territorial constituencies. One deputy is elected from each constituency. The chamber has 150 deputies. Each party will independently form a list of candidates - up to 150 people. However, many candidates in the upcoming election campaign are not known to the general public, while prominent representatives of political parties were not included in the list of candidates. But there will be no government interference in the formation of lists, when each candidate was approved by the president’s office. However, as Zaitov emphasized, attention will be given to ensure gender equality - according to the new Electoral Code, at least 30% of the total number of candidates should be women.

The intrigues of the upcoming elections are which party will receive more seats, which will retain the key committees, whether the parties will be able to create factions in parliament. In accordance with the political culture typical of the Uzbek elite, the struggle will be rather private. The fact that all five parties will enter parliament is beyond doubt. It would be overly optimistic to expect radical changes in the election campaign, which started on November 18. The domestic political process in Uzbekistan, despite the fact that it has gained momentum, remains conservative. It is beyond Uzbekistan's political culture to do what we observe long before the start of the election campaign, for example, in the parliament of Kyrgyzstan.

The struggle for seats in parliament will unfold between the People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan and the Uzbekistan Liberal Democratic Party. Under first President Islam Karimov, people's democrats and liberals alternately were favorites, receiving more weight and greater dominance in parliament. It is possible that this practice, stratifying different groups of elites by interests under certain party brands, will continue. The Ecological Party may act as their competitor. They raised their rating in the wake of criticism of the authorities for the illegal cutting of trees in Tashkent and other cities.

Any public unrest, protests are not expected during the election campaign or following the results of voting. There is no opposition in Uzbekistan. Shavkat Mirziyoyev enjoys authority and support of the population. And elections in Uzbekistan are held, as a rule, in a festive atmosphere.