Uzbek Muslims See Little Hope After Rote Election

Uzbek Muslims See Little Hope After Rote Election

Thursday, 14 January, 2010
The results of Uzbekistan’s parliamentary election have caused little surprise, given that it came down to a competition among four pro-government parties. Practicing Muslims, who are viewed with suspicion by the state, say they felt alienated by an electoral process in which they had no real stake.

The main election to the lower house of parliament was held on December 27 using proportional representation for the first time, but 39 of the 135 seats up for grabs were not filled as the results were not conclusive. A further 15 seats were reserved for the Environmental Movement of Uzbekistan.

Two days after a second round on January 10, the national electoral commission declared the Liberal Democratic Party, which held most seats in the last parliament, had won with 53 members elected. The People’s Democratic Party, the original pro-government party created out of the Soviet Communist Party in the early Nineties, came second with 31 seats, the Milliy Tiklanish Democratic Party got 19 and the Adolat Social Democratic Party 15.

The authorities claims that parliament with its various political parties is representative of society in Uzbekistan. Muslim believers say they feel disenfranchised as none of the secular parties will lobby on their behalf.

A straw poll of people who identify themselves as Muslims revealed that they either did not go to the polls, or voted for anyone indiscriminately to avoid getting into trouble with the authorities, who were keen to ensure a high turnout.

“I just dropped my ballot paper into the box without even reading it,” said Jaloliddin, 29, from the capital Tashkent. “The heads of the mahalla [neighourhood] committee came to me and pressed me to go to the polls. I don’t want to have problems with the security service”.

Hokimjon, 63, from Namangan, a city in the Fergana valley which is a centre of religious sentiment, said, “I didn’t vote. Why should I? None of the members of parliament supports the interests of Muslims; we’ve never had a representative in parliament.”

Pulatjon, 35, from Andijan, also in the Fergana valley, also abstained from voting as he did not believe it would change anything.

Another man added, “Even farmers are represented. But what benefit can a farmer bring to religious people?”

Abdughaffar, a 47-year-old Tashkent resident, contrasted the situation in Uzbekistan with that in other Muslim-majority secular states where parliamentarians are not afraid to put their beliefs on show when lobbying for legislation.

“I’ve heard that in Kyrgyzstan for example, members of parliament visit their voters during religious holidays, provide iftar [charity meals], and lobby for Muslim interests and Hajj pilgrimage quotas,” he said. “That’s impossible in our country”.

Uzbekistan has a strong Muslim tradition, but the government views with suspicion anything it sees as over-zealous observance, and regularly arrests and imprisons people on charges of supporting radical ideas, in particular the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Hizb-ut Tahrir group, both of which are outlawed.

Local human rights groups believe there are about 8,000 people in prison because of their faith. The Tashkent-based Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders says many of these inmates were jailed on fabricated charges and have suffered torture.

“Persecution has led them to lose faith that the authorities’ policies might improve, said the rights group’s head Surat Ikramov. “Those who observe all the tenets of Islam do not go and vote, as there is no choice for them.”

Dilorom Iskhakova, the local head of the Birdamlik opposition movement, adds that in any case, many have been stripped of their voting rights.

“Most Uzbek believers have either been convicted themselves or have have relatives in jail for breaking Article 159 of the Criminal Code [offences against the constitutional system],” she said. “Many ex-convicts don’t have the right to vote, and their relatives are not invited to come to the polls – they are blacklisted, deprived even of a formal chance to take part.”

(NBCA is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service has resumed, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)
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