Impressions from Uzbekistan’s elections

When one thinks that the Soviet Union was dismantled some 23 years ago, nobody would or could imagine the evolution that we have seen up to now, and this is only the beginning.
Since its independence, Uzbekistan has gone through many reforms, and the country has grown to be the major power in Central Asia. With a population close to 31 million inhabitants (almost half of the population of the Central Asia region), it has a solid, growing economy. It is a multi-ethnic country, with a long and rich history, and has embarked on the path of parliamentary democracy. We can only admire their efforts and their eagerness to develop their country.
On 21st December this year, Uzbekistan organised parliamentary elections with view to strengthening the role of parliament and political parties. Four of my colleagues and I were invited to be observers at the elections to the Legislative Chamber (lower house) of the Oliy Majlis (Supreme Assembly) in Boukhara.
Since 2005, the country has had a bicameral parliament, and over the last three years, important amendments have been made to the legislation, in particular affecting the electoral legal framework but also in terms of granting more power to the parliament. Four parties, namely the « Adolat » (Justice) Social-Democratic Party, the Movement of Entrepreneurs and Businesspeople (the Liberal Democratic Party), the « Milliy Tiklanish » (National Revival) National Democratic Party and the People’s Democratic Party competed for 135 seats. The Legislative chamber consists of 150 members. 135 out of them were directly elected from single-member, majority constituencies on a multi-party basis. 15 deputies are indirectly elected by the Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan at its national conference, given the importance of nationwide issues related to ecology, public healthcare and environmental protection.
As part of measures to ensure openness and transparency of the elections, the Uzbekistan Central Election Commission (CEC) accredited over 300 international observers from such international organizations as the OSCE/ODIHR, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the World Association of Election Management Bodies, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation as well as foreign election commissions representatives and officials from 50 countries.
In order to « take the temperature » of the elections, I went to the local markets, so that I could experience first-hand the positive atmosphere, and also went to visit several polling stations, to observe the final preparations before the voting.
One elderly lady in particular in the market, selling flowers in Tashkent, greatly touched me. She gave me a profusion of blessings, and prayed for me and my success, and she was just one among many.
Already at this stage I was struck by the transparency of the procedure, and how well organised everything was – each voting station had a room serving as a nursery for the children of parents who had to wait in line to vote, another one was for a medical team, and everything was clean, orderly. There were seats reserved for the observers – both internationals and nationals. Everything bespoke openness, and the people in charge were more than happy to show me around. People were smiling, positive, and they all said the same thing: this election meant a lot to them, and they felt it their duty to contribute to the development of their country.
On Saturday, my colleagues and I left for Boukhara. The following morning at six, we were at one of the numerous voting stations, waiting for voters to come to cast their votes. A couple came at six thirty, and the first female voter received a huge bouquet of red flowers. At this voting station there were several international observers – from Kazakhstan, Russia and the United States. In addition, representatives from the four competing political parties were all present. The atmosphere was pleasant, serein, and at nine we went to visit another voting station. During the day we went to five different ones, and they were all very well organised, transparent, and we were always greeted warmly.
After a long and busy afternoon, we returned to the first voting station, and we found the same people sitting there. They had not left their positions since six a.m. At eight in the evening, sharp, the chairman of the voting station pronounced the closing speech, and the next step was to be undertaken: the counting of the votes. We observed the counting of the votes, and everything was as expected – clear, transparent.
The Outcome of the elections
The four parties had deployed over 35,000 representatives on election day. More than 340 local and foreign media followedthe  elections and provided extensive coverage of the process. Elections were organized in all 135 constituencies with the average number of voters for each constituency being 154,000 persons.
Each of the four above-mentioned parties had nominated candidates for all of the 135 constituencies. The CEC had registered 535 candidates, including 170 women (31.8 per cent) and representatives of national minorities. All parties nominated mostly new and young candidates (10 to 15 years younger than incumbent members of parliament, of whom 20 % were up for re-election).
The electoral authorities had registered 20,789,572 voters, of which 18,490,245 voted in the elections, representing 88.94% of the registered voters. According to the results of voting, 113 out of 135 constituencies elected deputies to the legislative chamber. Moreover, 15 members of parliament were elected at the conference of the Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan.
In 22 constituencies out of the 135, none of candidates received the required majority (more than half) of votes cast. Therefore, according to the decision of the CEC, on January 4, 2015 a new election will be held in those consituencies. They are: one constituency in the Republic of Karakalpakstan, in Andijan, Bukhara, Jizzakh, Navoi, Samarkand, Syrdarya, Khorezm and Kashkadarya provinces and Tashkent city, in two constituencies in Namangan and Tashkent provinces, in three constituencies in Ferghana province and in five constituencies in Surkhandarya province.
47 out of 113 elected members of parliament are from the Liberal Democratic Party; 28 from the Milly Tiklanish (National Revival); 21 from the People’s Democratic Party; 17 the Adolat (Justice) Party. Among the 128 newly elected MPs, 21 are women. 38 elected MPs were members of the previous legislature. Among the elected MPs, 31 are representatives of the economic sphere; 26 come from the education sector; 33 are lawyers; 21 come from industry; 7 are from the health care system; 3 have a background from civil society organizations; and the remaining 7 represent other areas.
Looking at the composition by age: MPs aged up to 29 years – 6; 30-39 year-old MPs – 39; MPs aged 40-49 years – 44; those 50 and over – 39. Among the elected MPs there are representatives of different ethnic groups: Uzbeks, Karakalpaks, Russians, Tajiks, Kazakhs, Koreans.
According to the CEC, there were no reports or complaints of interference in campaign activities, neither of violations of voting procedure nor vote-counting that might question elections results.
One should always bear in mind, that there is no single form of democracy, no single way of doing, that is better than any other. The most important thing is to start slowly but surely, to build one’s own form of democracy, based upon the country’s own values and culture, taking into account the specificity of each country. Democracy is not an export commodity, and one cannot export values, or beliefs. This is something unique to each one of us.
On a personal note, my colleagues and I feel very grateful for having had this chance to be observers in these historical elections. It gave us a unique chance to meet people, ordinary men and women, proud of their country, and who want it to develop. They had worked hard, for more than 3 months non-stop, to organise everything, and not a single detail had been neglectedThe joy of the people, their pride when they showed us around, talked about the elections, about the voting centre… it was indeed a huge pleasure, a wonderful experience.
A huge thank you to all of you who made this possible, and who shared all these positive things with my colleagues and me.