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Uzbekistan Election Trends Toward Mirziyoyev Victory

Today in Ukbekistan, elections were held to determine the country’s future leadership in the wake of the September 2 death of long-time Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Although the results of the election are not yet known, acting president Shavkat Mirziyoyev is heavily favored to win. Mr. Mirziyoyev is also the Prime Minister of Uzbekistan.

According to a BBC report published yesterday evening, the Uzbekistan election is unlikely to be truly democratic. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, of which Uzbekistan was formerly a member, the government of Islam Karimov had established a pattern of rigging elections in favor of the president. This governmental system, which ensured the continued rule of Mr. Karimov for more than two decades, is now under the control of Mr. Mirziyoyev as acting president. This set of circumstances has made it extremely likely that Mirziyoyev will be confirmed in his role as president through the electoral process, allowing him to consolidate almost unilateral executive authority within the government of Uzbekistan.

 Islam Karimov, former president of Uzbekistan, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Karimov's successor will be chosen in today's elections. [Image by Handout/ Getty Images]
Islam Karimov, former president of Uzbekistan, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Karimov’s successor will be chosen in today’s elections.
[Image by Handout/ Getty Images]

Despite this path to an easy victory in the election, Mirziyoyev has taken some steps to shore up his popularity among the Uzbek electorate. The economy of Uzbekistan, like those of other former Soviet nations, has faced a long road to recovery from the collapse of the USSR. Mr. Mirziyoyev, as part of a cautious package of economic reforms, has suggested the removal of foreign exchange market controls kept in place by his predecessor. These controls set an official state exchange rate for the Uzbek som, the country’s currency, against other global currencies, making the fair exchange of the som for other currencies virtually impossible in the global foreign exchange market. Reforms intended to combat government corruption, a common concern in the former Soviet nations both before and after the collapse of the communist bloc, have also made up a key part of his policy platform.

Mirziyoyev’s foreign policy includes tightening ties with Russia, according to Reuters. Like Islam Karimov, Shavkat Mirziyoyev is a leader whose career began in the Soviet era of Uzbekistan’s history, when the nation was largely under central guidance from Russia. Karimov, however, pursued a relatively isolationist foreign policy after becoming the president of an independent Uzbekistan. Now, the acting president seems poised to bring Uzbekistan and Russia closer once again. The country’s wealth of natural resources, including vast reserves of natural gas, have made policies that could promote foreign investment popular with the electorate.

Another contender in Uzbekistan’s presidential election is Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov, who has put little effort into his campaign. Reuters reports that Azimov may have become part of a brokered deal intended to secure a guarantee of victory for Mirziyoyev. Under what is known of the terms of that deal, the confirmed president of Uzbekistan would informally share power with Mr. Azimov and Rustam Inoyatov, Uzbekistan’s chief of security. Such an agreement would prevent Mirziyoyev from accumulating the unilateral power enjoyed by his predecessor after the election. Analysts believe, however, that such an agreement could be abrogated easily after the elections take place as the new president consolidates his power.

 An Uzbek citizen votes in the Uzbekistan presidential election. [Image by Anvar Ilyasov/ AP Images]
An Uzbek citizen votes in the Uzbekistan presidential election.
[Image by Anvar Ilyasov/ AP Images]

Polling places in Uzbekistan opened at 6 a.m. local time and closed at 8 p.m. Mirziyoyev, along with members of his family, voted earlier in the day in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Although a victory for the acting president is almost assured, much emphasis has been placed on the margin by which he achieves that victory. A victory with a smaller percentage of the vote could indicate that some systemic changes will occur in Uzbekistan. A victory in which Mr. Mirziyoyev wins by a margin of 90 percent or more, a common result in elections under the late Mr. Karimov, would indicate a continuance of the governmental repression that has defined the Central Asian republic since the early 1990s. As of the time of this writing, preliminary results in the Uzbekistan election were not available.

[Featured Image by Pool/Getty Images]