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Uzbek Party Reform Less Than it Seems

A new plan to base Uzbek parliamentary elections on political parties rather than individual candidates is not going to make the system any more pluralist, NBCentralAsia observers say. There are already four parties represented in the legislature, all of them government creations and none of them independent.

In early December, the Senate or upper house of parliament approved constitutional amendments increasing the number of seats in the lower chamber from 120 to 150.

When the next election takes place in 2009, 135 members will be elected by proportional representation from candidate lists drawn up by each of the legal parties. The remaining 15 seats will be given to the Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan.

Of the current 120 members of the lower house, elected in December 2004, 107 represent the four officially-sanctioned parties – the People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, PDPU, the Uzbek Liberal Democratic Party or UzLiDeP, the Adolat Social Democratic Party, and the Milli Tiklanish (“National Revival”) Democratic Party.

The remaining 13 members were nominated as candidates by “citizens’ initiative groups”. The changes effectively do away with this category of notional independents.

Shuhrat Ganiev, a lawyer based in Bukhara, believes removing the opportunity for independents is a turn for the worse.

“The authorities are very reluctant to see independent civil society representatives in parliament,” he said.

A journalist in Tashkent agreed, adding that the authorities are trying to prevent any possibility that independent candidates might come forward in next year’s ballot.

However, Bobomurod Razzakov, a member of Erk, an opposition party that enjoys no legal status in Uzbekistan, says it would be wrong the exaggerate the significance of these independents. Since they do not stray from the official time, their absence will be no great loss, he said.

Analysts say all members of parliament, regardless of which party they belong to, are regime loyalists who collectively rubber-stamp legislation without any real debate.

Elena Urlayeva, leader of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, does not think the amended election rules mean the system will become more restrictive, because it is entirely undemocratic anyway; members of parliament have always served merely to carry out the orders they are given.

Some analysts say the less sophisticated members of Uzbek society may take the new electoral system at face value, while there is a danger that the international community will do the same and offer praise for an apparent step towards democracy.

“Certainly, the facts [basing elections on proportional representation] are prima facia a component of pluralism,” said Farhad Tolilov, an academic and political scientist in Tashkent. “But this is only the exterior façade.”

(NBCentralAsia 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.)