AFP, Published on Sunday, July 09, 2023 at 09:17
Nearly 20 million Uzbeks are due to vote on Sunday in an early vote that sees self-styled reformer President Savgat Mirziyov easily retain power in Central Asia’s most populous country.
Some 10,800 polling stations, due to close at 8:00 pm (3:00 pm GMT), opened at 8:00 am (03:00 GMT) local time, after the Uzbek national anthem, AFP journalists in the capital Tashkent noted. This former Soviet republic.
In this presidential election 2016 Mr. Convened by Mirziyoyev, then easily renewed in 2021, in the context of a constitutional referendum, accepted by more than 90% of the voters of this gas-rich country, strategically located in the heart of Central Asia.
The president’s mantra was on display everywhere, with the president’s mantra of “New Uzbekistan” being consecrated, the April 30 vote confirming a move from a five-year term to a seven-year term and authorizing Shavkat Mirziyoyev to stand for two additional terms.
The measures, which would allow the 65-year-old leader to theoretically remain in power until 2037, have been criticized by international observers for their lack of real competition after big wins in elections.
– “Fight against corruption” –
There was little doubt about the outcome of the vote and all Uzbeks interviewed by AFP pledged to cast their votes for the outgoing leader, who faces three unknown candidates.
“I hope that Shavkat Mirziyoyev will be the future president, so he will accelerate the fight against corruption, he will take care of the problems we have in the environment,” 57-year-old entrepreneur Nodira Kidoyatova faced as she left the poll. At the station, like everywhere else, polling booths have no curtains and no envelopes for ballot papers.
For voters unable to move, the ballot box is brought home, AFP observed, while state media showed images of streams of people moving through polling stations, sometimes dancing and singing.
“This is my first election and I’m going to vote for Savkat Mirceo because I want young people to have more opportunities and places to study,” believes 18-year-old Milana Iuldacheva, a resident of Krasnogorsk. A request that echoes one of the outgoing president’s promises.
– Strong population growth –
According to Rousibou Guibadoullina, a street vendor, he wants to “ask candidate President Mirceau that the younger generation can rest in summer vacation camps under the Soviet Union,” a mural in this former mining town that became famous in the fifties. Visible in a building on the main square of the Soviet Union.
In this predominantly young country with strong population growth, economic problems persist despite progress, with many Uzbeks forced to move to Russia to feed their families.
Sunnat Dutchiev, a 40-year-old welder living in Tashkent, expects the new president to solve “gas problems” and “improve the quality of roads” after a winter marked by repeated cuts.
Internationally, Mr. Mirziyoyev’s stated aim is to break Uzbekistan’s quarter-century of isolation under his prime minister, Islam Karimov, and pursue his open policy to attract foreign investment.
But domestically, the political landscape has changed little, with only five recognized parties supporting the presidential policy to a greater or lesser degree.
This election is no exception, with a big favorite facing virtually unknown rivals, although programs and posters in Uzbek and Russian are evenly distributed among the candidates.
A formula already tested during elections in Central Asia’s former Soviet republics and singled out by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the campaign is “brilliant, reflecting a lack of opposition to the outgoing president.
NGOs have criticized the crackdown on rare protests against a constitutional amendment in the north of the country in July 2022, when 21 people died according to official reports.
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