Shavkat Mirziyoyev won Uzbekistan’s presidential elections garnering 88.61% of the votes, the head of the country’s electoral commission said on December 5.
Mirziyoyev’s victory was widely expected in a poll observers say was just a formality organised to ensure the official transition of the acting president to the presidency. Mirziyoyev, the 59-year-old prime minister was appointed interim president following the death of strongman Islam Karimov, who had run the resource-rich former Soviet republic with an iron fist since 1989.
In the run-up to the December 4 vote, Mirziyoyev has offered a promise of change and announced a number of radical reforms. It remains to be seen whether these will remain just empty promises or Mirziyoyev will move to open ex-Soviet Central Asia’s most-populous country more to the outside world.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which was allowed to send a full-scale mission to observe the campaign, said that the Uzbek elections “underscored the need for comprehensive reforms to address long-standing procedural and systematic shortcomings, including to a legal framework that is not conducive to holding genuine democratic elections”.
“While the election administration took measures to enhance the transparency of its work and the proper conduct of the election, the dominant position of state actors and limits on fundamental freedoms undermine political pluralism and led to a campaign devoid of genuine competition,” OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said in a preliminary statement on December 5.
ODIHR also said that “media covered the election in a highly restrictive and controlled environment, and the state-defined narrative did not provide voters the opportunity to hear alternative viewpoints”.
Mirziyoyev was formally nominated for president by the Liberal Democratic Party, the country's largest political party. He ran against three little-known candidates, who were nominated by pro-government parties.
Mirziyoyev's contenders did not provide coherent political platforms and focused on vague promises, such as “family safety”, “national renewal” and “protection of socially vulnerable groups”, suggesting their role was to support Uzbekistan’s lip service to democratic procedures.
Among the radical reforms announced by Mirziyoyev is a decree aimed at providing legal guarantees to “drastically reduce [government] interference” in the activities of businesses. The decree is set to abolish all unscheduled inspections of activities of business entities and any counter-checking of such activities starting from 1 January 2017. Thus, regulatory authorities of Uzbekistan will be prevented from abusing their power.
The new Uzbek leader also announced a programme to provide better housing, proposed amendments to ease Uzbeks’ ability to renounce Uzbek citizenship and rehabilitated banned artists, among other positive signs. Most notably, in a pledge to improve Uzbekistan’s investment climate, Mirziyoyev unveiled on November 28 a plan to liberalise the country’s currency market. He has also moved to improve ties with neighboring countries. Regular flights between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are expected to resume in January for the first time in 24 years.
Under Karimov, Mirziyoyev held the position of prime minister since 2003. He is also known to be in control of the country’s cotton industry, which has been under fire for many years for engaging in child labour and forced labour. The Uzbek authorities under Mirziyoyev, however, are stepping up efforts to eradicate such practices and the European Union (EU) is reportedly preparing to lift a ban on Uzbek cotton and textile exports.