Stuck in 1989: Uzbekistan’s electoral system

With the semester about to start up and all that’s been going on with Egypt, I’ve fallen behind on some of the posting.  Which is a real shame, because I have a few old student posts to finish up from last semester!  In light of this (and as a break from some of the more weighty news that I’ve been following), here is a guest post on Uzbekistan’s “elections.”


The symbol of the Central Election Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan

On paper, Uzbekistan appears to have a successful democratic system; but, Freedom House classifies Uzbekistan as a “consolidated authoritarian regime” and ranks them as one of the least democratic states in the world.

Uzbekistan is clearly set up to appear as a democracy.  Elections have been held regularly every five years, with Parliamentary elections in 1999, 2004 and 2009.  The next Parliamentary election is scheduled for 2014. Presidential elections occur every seven years; however, the upcoming 2014 presidential election has been delayed due to the overlap with Parliamentary elections.  Steps have been taken to ensure gender equality, and 22% of the current Parliament is women.  Uzbekistan uses an electoral system very similar to France’s electoral system for their legislature.  The legislative branch is the Oliy Majlis (Supreme Assembly) and is a bicameral system with both an upper and lower house.  The legislative chamber is the Qonunchilik Palatasi.  The Qonunchilik Palatasi has 150 representatives, and 135 seats are directly elected via a majority electoral system.  A majority electoral system requires the winning candidate to receive the majority of the votes, meaning one more vote than 50%.  Majority elections are also called “Two-round” systems because if a candidate does not receive 50%+1 of the vote in the first round, a second round will take place with only the top two candidates from the first round competing.  This ensures that during the second round, one candidate will win majority.  Voters cast their vote for individual candidates, rather than a national party like in a proportional representation system.

Five parties are represented in the legislature: Liberal Democratic Party (53 seats), People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (32 seats), Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (31 seats), Social Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (19 seats), and the Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan (15 seats).  The Ecological Movement Party is guaranteed fifteen seats in the legislature, and this seems to show state support for minority parties.

If Uzbekistan seems to be so democratic, why are they not deemed free and fair  and why do they rate so low on democracy measurements?  President Karimov’s manipulation of the electoral system is similar to that of Vladimir Putin in Russia.  The state tightly regulates parties to ensure that no opposition party can form, and candidates cannot run for office unless they are in an officially recognized party. This ensures that any candidate running for office will be supportive of the current regime.  By controlling the formation of parties, Karimov has been able to appear democratic, while still squelching any opposition movement.  The OSCE describes Uzbekistani elections as being held in a “strictly controlled political environment” because there are no opposition parties in Uzbekistan. Every party in Parliament endorses President Karimov’s administration.  Even the candidates in the 2007 presidential election, who were running against Karimov, publicly endorsed the incumbent president.  Karimov is also known for arresting opposition leaders and has been urged by many human rights groups to free political prisoners.  Both Putin and Karimov have maintained power longer than constitutionally allowed.  Uzbekistan presidents are constitutionally allowed two terms of office, and yet Karimov has been re-elected twice, his current term has been extended twice, and he is preparing to run for office again in 2014.  Karimov’s manipulation of the system makes elections in Uzbekistan much less democratic than they appear to operate on paper.

Karimov has been the leader of Uzbekistan since 1989, before the fall of Communism in 1991.  Communist Uzbekistan has continued to exist for the past 22 years, and shows no signs of changing anytime soon.

References

CBC News. (2007, December 24). Uzbekistan election a sham: Human rights group. Retrieved February 27, 2013, from CBC News : http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2007/12/24/uzbekistan-election.html

CIA World Factbook. (2013, February 5). Uzbekistan. Retrieved February 26, 2013, from CIA World Factbook: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/uz.html

International Foundation for Electoral Systems. (n.d.). Glossary. Retrieved February 27, 2013, from Election Guide: http://www.electionguide.org/glossary.php

Inter-Parliamentary Union. (2009, June 29). France. Retrieved February 27, 2013, from Inter-Parliamentary Union: http://www.ipu.org/parline/reports/2113_A.htm

Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis of Republic of Uzbekistan. (2013, January). Deputy Group of the Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan. Retrieved February 27, 2013, from Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis of Republic of Uzbekistan: http://www.parliament.gov.uz/en/structure/fractions/1882

Marat, E. (2004, December 22). Uzbekistan Holds Elections Without Opposition. Retrieved February 27, 2013, from Eurasianet.org: http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/civilsociety/articles/eav122304.shtml

OSCE. (2007, December). Strictly controlled Uzbek elections did not offer genuine choice, ODIHR observers conclude. Retrieved February 27, 2013, from Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe: http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/49354

Pannier, B. (2009, December 27). Uzbek Elections Mean Little, But More Entertaining This Time. Retrieved February 26, 2013, from Radio Free Europe: http://www.rferl.org/content/Uzbek_Elections_Mean_Little_But_More_Entertaining_This_Time/1914402.html

Pannier, B. (2010). Uzbekistan. Retrieved February 26, 2013, from Freedom House: http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/2010/uzbekistan

PBS . (2007, December 24). Uzbek Strongman Cruises to Re-election in Questionable Vote. Retrieved February 27, 2013, from PBS: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/asia/july-dec07/uzbekistan_12-24.html

Radio Free Europe. (2009, December 27). Strong Turnout Reported in Uzbekistan Vote. Retrieved February 27, 2013, from Radio Free Europe: http://www.rferl.org/content/Strong_Turnout_Reported_In_Uzbekistan_Vote/1914757.html

Radio Free Europe. (2012, March 23). Uzbekistan Delays Presidential Vote. Retrieved February 27, 2013, from Radio Free Europe: http://www.rferl.org/content/uzbekistan_delays_presidential_vote/24525102.html

Radio Free Europe. (2012, December 06). Uzbekistan Urged to Release Political Prisoners. Retrieved February 28, 2013, from Radio Free Europe : http://www.rferl.org/content/uzbekistan-urged-to-free-political-prisoners/24791178.html

Ryzhkov, V. (2012, October 16). Anatomy of Putin’s Battle Against the Opposition. Retrieved February 27, 2013, from The Moscow Times: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/anatomy-of-putins-battle-against-the-opposition/469807.html 

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