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Uzbekistan: (Un) Controlled Parliamentary Elections?

«It appears that the Parliament of the country will remain «obedient» in the hands of the government. This phenomenon will be perceived as if natural by the voter, the government and a member of the Parliament himself », – notes Bakhtiyor Alimjanov, Ph.D. in History and an independent researcher from Uzbekistan, in his article for CABAR.asia.


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The 2019 parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan will be held on December 22, where 150 deputies will be elected. An election campaign throughout the country started on September 20 of this year. More than 20 million electors, including more than 2 million youth representatives for the first time, will cast their vote[1]. There are five running political parties. The upcoming elections raise following questions accumulated over the past thirty years: will these parliamentary elections be different from the previous ones? Will these elections affect the country’s political life? Who will become a deputy? Will the deputies reflect the interests of their constituency?

Features of the 2019 elections

It must be recognized that this is the first parliamentary election under Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s presidency. The new government zealously embarked on “reforming” the electoral processes. An Electoral Code was developed particularly for the upcoming elections[2], consisting of 103 articles and regulating the electoral process. According to its developers, “the Code will create healthy inter-party competition in the country”[3].Also, for the first time, the majority electoral system will substitute a proportional electoral system[4]. There is an increase in quota for “female” seats. Article 70 of the new Electoral Code states that “the number of women shall be at least thirty percent of the total number of candidates nominated by a political party”.

The main feature of the upcoming elections is that only parties have the right to nominate candidates, according to article 37 of the Electoral Code. According to article 68 of the Electoral Code, a party that has collected 40 thousand signatures has the right to nominate a candidate for the parliament. It is striking that the Code allows parties nominate non-partisans as well (Article 70). It is not clear how the party can nominate a non-party candidate. The principle of partisanship of the upcoming elections is being violated. It is also unclear how campaigning can be carried out with prohibited mutual criticism of MP candidates. Art. 44 of the Electoral Code reads: “It is forbidden to disseminate false information, as well as information that discredits the honor and dignity of candidates.” This restriction and a peculiar “political ethics” nullify all discussions and debates.

Features of parliamentarism

The parliament of Uzbekistan has its historical roots: in 1994, The Supreme Council of the Uzbek SSR was “transformed” into the Parliament of the new nation-state. Until 2004, the Parliament was unicameral and mainly consisted of former communists and functionaries of the power. Since 2005, the parliament became bicameral, and the parties of “entrepreneurs” (2003) and “ecologists” (2018) appeared, who tried to give an impetus to the legislature. It should be noted that there are no opposition and religious parties and independent candidates in the country who could participate in parliamentary elections. According to the Electoral Code, independent candidates and opposition parties are formally denied access to political life. The “protective” functions of the Electoral Code impede the development of the country’s political life. “Opposition”, in Uzbekistan’s political life, is perceived not as a struggle or criticism of the government, but as a struggle between parties for parliamentary seats at all levels, i.e. inter partes competition is replaced by the word “opposition.”

 

What’s new?

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Oddly enough, the formal existence of parliament and political parties legitimizes presidential power in the state and ensures the separation of powers. Parliament has become an integral part of the executive branch. The basis of an “obedient” parliament lies on the registration and financing of the parties. For example, according to Art. 98 of the Electoral Code, financing of elections is carried out at the expense of the state budget. Dependence on the budget gives the government the right to control elections and form an “obedient” parliament. Parties, in turn, are highly dependent on the will and decisions of the executive branch. It appears that parties play the role of a springboard for young and promising “politicians”. At the same time, the Parliament, especially the Senate of the Republic, is an honorable vacation destination for veterans of the politics, ranging from former security officials to former hokims (governors).

Public Sphere and Parties

The late 80s – early 90s of the 20th century marked the moment of the most active political life in Uzbekistan. In 1988, the Birlik movement emerged; in 1990, the Erk party was created. Religious movements and parties also appeared. Soon after independence, the first president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, began weakening the Parliament (then called the Supreme Council) and opposition parties to strengthen executive power. According to one of the researchers of this issue, K. Borishpoletz, “Karimov called on the opposition for constructive cooperation, but its radical leaders relied not on the participation in power but on its conquest. The opposition’s staunch rejection of the “junior partner” role gave reasons for the president’s supporters to affirm that the further concessions to the demands put forward by the radical opposition might have turned the country into another hot spot in the region”[5]. Since then, parties have not played a significant role in Uzbekistan’s public life.

With Shavkat Mirziyoyev coming to power in 2016, there is hope that the parliament will become more active and begin to meet the needs of citizens and the era. Despite started and ongoing “openness” and “transparency” reforms, the situation in political life is still unsatisfactory. The President of Uzbekistan, by his decree of February 7, 2017, approved the Strategy for Action on the five priority areas of the country’s development for 2017-2021. The first priority of the Action Strategy is to improve state and social construction, aimed at strengthening the role of the Parliament and political parties in deepening democratic reforms and modernizing the country[6]. In reality, the Parliament has issued various acts over the past three years that have weakened the position of the legislative branch among the population due to the impossibility of putting these acts into practice. In any democratic state, the legislative and executive bodies of the country are assumed to coherently work together in resolving issues. Instead, the parliament of Uzbekistan has become an “assistant” to executive bodies. As a result, political liberalization ended before it even began.

Unfortunately, the country still lacks objective public political observers and independent journalists. Neither the authorities nor the population have a clear idea of ​​democratic reforms and modernization. It all comes down to general declarations, but no specific actions are taken. Political “reform” boiled down to the creation of a new environmental party and the “liberalization” of mass media (particularly blogging).

Voters and Deputies

There is only one real “politician” in Uzbekistan, and it’s the president. In April, Kun.uz conducted an express survey on the “Your Opinion” Telegram channel. The respondents were asked if they knew about their MPs/deputies. 2 968 took part in the survey, and, unfortunately, 95% of the respondents argued that they do not know their deputy in the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis[7]. The are few reasons for “anonymity” of the deputies. Firstly, Uzbekistan remains a strong presidential republic. Second reason is non-transparent election of the deputy candidates. Thirdly, the lack of a democratic political culture and traditions. I also note that so far Uzbekistan’s political life did not obtain the clear understanding of the term “politician” (in Uzbek “siyosatchi”). There is only one real “politician” in Uzbekistan, and it’s the president. The rest repeat his ideas and initiatives. A deputy is not associated with a “politician.” A deputy is the “chosen one” by the people but has nothing to do with politics. A deputy is the executor of the will of the government and the country’s chief Politician. A deputy figure is located “below” (but not the basis of the pyramid) of the power hierarchy: president-ministers-senators-khokims of oblasts-deputies. Most often, khokims (governors) of regions simultaneously combine their position with senatorship just like ministers occasionally become party members. The “interweaving” of the legislative and executive branches of the government creates the illusion of unity of power and people under the president’s leadership.

 

The main political reforms hinder is the fact that the political system of the country remains quasi-democratic. As you know, in quasi-democratic systems the democratic system of a government is formally copied, and the government is confronted with a permanent political “stagnation”. It appears to us that the country’s Parliament will remain “obedient” in the hands of the government after the 2019 elections. This phenomenon will be perceived as if natural by the voter, the government and a MP/deputy himself.

Who are you, Mr. Uzbek deputy?

An Uzbek deputy has a “missing” biography. Voters know very little about the real biography of the deputy candidate. One thing is known: the future deputy candidate is either a “worthy” person or held a leadership position for a long time or was a successful in his field (entrepreneur, farmer, teacher, etc.). Any manager is automatically perceived as a wise person who understands the interests of the country population. Therefore, the perfect deputy candidate is a leader with a standing (not necessarily experienced) who “knows” what to do once in power. At the same time, the former manager does not pose a danger to the executive body. The violation of the basic principle of forming a professional parliament is demonstrated. As a result of this “screening and filtering” policy for deputies, there is still not a single “bright and attractive” politician or deputy candidate in the country’s parliament. As conceived by the drafters of Uzbek policy, all deputies unanimously support the governments’ actions, refrain from criticizing the president, and zealously criticize each other within the framework of ethics. In this case, the voter does not know who to vote for. When all candidates are “identical” in appearance and have essentially the same action programs, it does not matter who you vote for.

Based on the current situation in the political life of the country, I suggest that the government and political parties take the following actions:

  • reduce the number of signatures to one hundred (100) for registration of the party and deputy candidates of all levels;
  • increase the quota for women in the lists of political parties to 50%;
  • forbid parties from nominating non-partisan candidates;
  • forbid different leaders at all levels to combine the post of senator and party membership;
  • democratize the country’s Electoral Code in accordance with international democratic standards;
  • give complete reliable information about deputy candidates;
  • create a free media environment in the coverage of political processes;
  • weaken executive control over parties.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.


[1]  https://xdp.uz/ru/partiya-yangiliklari/226

[2] http://www.lex.uz/ru/docs/4386846

[3] http://elections.uz/ru/events/news/45819/

[4] http://elections.uz/ru/events/news/45865/

[5] https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/vybory-v-gosudarstvah-tsentralnoy-azii-opyt-politicheskoy-konkurentsii-v-usloviyah-perehodnogo-obschestva

[6] https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2017/02/07/strategy

[7] https://kun.uz/ru/news/2019/08/27/opros-za-kakuyu-partiyu-vy-by-progolosovali-yesli-by-vybory-sostoyalis-zavtra

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