Shavkat Mirziyoev was overwhelmingly reelected on July 9 for a third term as president of the repressive Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan in a snap poll that an international monitoring mission said was “lacking genuine competition.” Uzbekistan’s Central Election Commission said on July 10 that Mirziyoev was reelected with 87 percent of the vote. The turnout was almost 80 percent of Uzbekistan’s 19.6 million registered voters.
Throughout the campaign, the three token opponents formally running against Mirziyoev had been largely silent. Earlier this year, Mirziyoev oversaw a constitutional referendum that increased the presidential term from five years to seven and cleared the way for him to serve two more terms. He could remain in power until 2037.
“The July 9 early presidential election was technically well-prepared but took place in a political environment lacking genuine competition,” the monitoring mission from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the election monitoring arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said in its preliminary report on July 10.
“Substantial changes are needed to provide a sound legal basis for the conduct of democratic elections,” the ODIHR said. Mirziyoev, who is 65, became president in 2016, following the death of longtime autocratic leader Islam Karimov. He served as Karimov’s prime minister for 13 years before moving on to the presidency.
Mirziyoev won plaudits early in his presidency, ushering in some reforms and sparking optimism for potential change. But he has since lapsed back into what many analysts say is a more familiar and repressive administration reminiscent of Karimov’s.
Mirziyoev is credited with eradicating forced labor in the cotton fields, opening the country to tourism and investment, and allowing limited media freedoms. But critics have pointed, among other things, to a crackdown on minority unrest in the nominally autonomous region of Karakalpakstan in July 2022 as part of steps that have undermined the strongman’s claim to national unity and reform.
Some 20 million people were eligible to vote in the landlocked country of 35 million people that is rich in natural gas and strategically placed in a volatile region, bordering Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
Mirziyoev’s official opponents — a former education minister, a former high-ranking forestry official, and a career judge fresh from a term in the slavishly loyal Senate — had remained mostly silent since the campaign kicked off in May.
One potential legitimate opponent, however, was thwarted in his attempts to take part in the election. Xidirnazar Allaqulov, a former university rector turned regime opponent, said his bid to establish a political party had repeatedly and sometimes violently been disrupted by authorities. “For 32 years of independence, there has been no competition in our political arena,” Allaqulov, 67, told RFE/RL in a phone interview. “They don’t want it. They don’t want justice. They don’t want the rule of law.”