By: Fran McDonough
On October 24th, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev won re-election with 80% of the vote in the 2021 presidential election that observers said was “not truly competitive.”
In the lead up to the election, several international human rights organizations raised concerns over the lack of opposition candidates on the official ballot. Although there were five candidates in total, including incumbent President Mirziyoyev, it was widely acknowledged that Mirziyoyev’s four opponents were challengers in name only, as they each represented only pro-government, formally-approved political parties.
According to a report from Human Rights Watch published on October 13th, Uzbek authorities in the Justice Ministry—responsible for registering official political parties—have made it nearly impossible for actual opposition groups to register. Since Uzbek law only permits officially recognized parties to nominate candidates, opposition leaders were unable to join the presidential race.
In an interview on October 18th, would-be candidate Khidirnazer Allakulov claimed that the Justice Ministry prevented his June registration attempt under the “Truth and Progress” (Hakikat va Tarakkiyot) party out of fear of competition. In October 2020, outspoken critic Mahmudjon Yoldoshev of the “People’s Interests” (Xalq Manfaatlari) party detailed a similar experience and stated that he received had death threats and attacks since the announcement of his campaign.
The Justice Ministry’s decisions have even impacted long-standing parties such as the “Freedom” (Erk) party, Uzbekistan’s “oldest opposition party,” which was barred in 2007 during former president Islam Karimov’s regime. Upon request for re-registration in 2020, the Erk party was rejected and faced threats akin to those reported by Yoldoshev.
In an in-depth assessment published earlier this year, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) insisted that this is one of several deviations by Uzbekistan from the Office’s recommendations regarding civil rights, election observation, and freedom of assembly.
Moreover, controversy surrounding the lack of real opposition in Uzbekistan’s 2021 presidential election developed amidst a series of crackdowns by Mirziyoyev’s government on the freedoms of speech and media for its citizens—insulting the president online now qualifies as a criminal offense in Uzbekistan.
Despite his outward commitment to democratic reform and domestic progress, President Mirziyoyev still falls short of international human rights standards. Calling the situation “a missed opportunity for the government to make good on its reform promises,” Human Right Watch’s Hugh Williamson noted that the best way forward is for Uzbekistan to halt its backtracking and instead focus on immediate steps aimed at the cultivation of a truly democratic society.