The re-election of the incumbent Uzbek President did not come as a surprise to most. Karimov has been in charge of the country since 1990, prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The Uzbek strongman competed for the presidency alongside several unknown candidates, who all praised Karimov during their campaigning period. Constitutionally Karimov was not allowed to run for President as he has already served the maximum of two terms.
According to the Uzbek Central Election Commission approximately 90% of the population had cast their votes in the 29 March election. Critics have stated that Karimov’s competitors were hand-picked and effectively campaigning for him. The three other candidates are all members of pro-government parties. According to Mutabar Tadjibayeva, an Uzbek human rights-activist living in Paris, “no opposition exists” in Uzbekistan. The reason for this is that the opposition have been “destroyed, jailed, driven into exile, or killed” Tadjibayeva added.
The OSCE’s observation mission raised doubts over the independence of the Central Election Commission as it registered Karimov as a candidate in spite of the clear constitutional limit of two consecutive presidential terms. The OSCE also reported there was a lack of genuine opposition. Moreover, the elections were accompanied by a lack of press freedom and fraudulent voting. Uzbekistan's previous parliamentary and presidential elections have never been judged by the OSCE as free and fair.
It is unclear who will be Karimov’s successor should he pass. The presidential elections garnered extra attention as the 77-year old wasn’t seen in public for about a month earlier this year. According to Dr Lawrence Markowitz, an expert on Central Asian affairs at Rowan University, Uzbekistan’s political elite aims to keep Karimov in power for as long as possible.
The elite benefits from the current state system by converting state resources into private wealth. In return for political support the state provides them with safety and protection. Markowitz explained: “[This] system, and corruption it fosters, is so pervasive in public offices in Uzbekistan that it now severely constrains any transfer of power since a disruption of this flow of wealth brings repercussions for many political elites.”
Karimov’s re-election may not come as a surprise, but considering his age it will be interesting to see who will take over when the time comes and how this person will govern. According to Dr. Markowitz the current system is highly corrupt and highly unequal. He believes it “privileges elites and marginalizes everyone else politically”. Moreover, the system is not economically sustainable. “If it is not reformed, I believe it will eventually lead to instability." Markowitz added.
Uzbekistan is considered one of the most stable states in Central Asia. An important reason for this is Karimov’s leadership. He may have been re-elected but as the clock ticks and Karimov grows older the future remains uncertain for Uzbekistan.
Sources: RFE/RL, OSCE, BBC