Uzbek Political Parties Fall Out

Uzbek Political Parties Fall Out

Two of Uzbekistan’s official political parties are engaged in an unusually public row, but analysts say it does not reflect the emergence of genuine debate in this authoritarian state.

Newspapers in Uzbekistan, especially those controlled by the two parties, reported the dispute between the People's Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, PDPU, and the Liberal Democratic Party.

The Liberal Democrats are the more recent creation, and claim to represent business interests. They accused the PDPU of obstructing a bill on private banking and finance, saying it favoured state regulation whereas they wanted commercial freedom. The PDPU, they said, was trying to “make political mileage out of sensitive social justice issues”.

The PDPU hit back, accusing the Liberal Democrats of going too far on the enterprise culture and free-market economics.

The PDPU is the successor to the Soviet-era Communist Party in Uzbekistan, and was the only party for several years after independence in 1991, until President Islam Karimov decided to set more parties up. Opposition parties, meanwhile, were hounded out of existence.

Karimov was head of the PDPU, but switched his affections to the Liberal Democratic Party, set up in 2003.

Svetlana Artykova, a member of the Senate or upper house of parliament, said disputes like this showed that Uzbekistan was becoming more democratic.

"The parties are engaged in all major developments, and they have evolved effective policies. So they argue among themselves, just as happens in parliaments all over the developed world,” she said. “I don’t see anything unusual about it.”

Others, however, say that the Uzbek parliament exists only to applaud and rubber-stamp Karimov’s decisions, and they doubt this apparent outbreak of lively discussion will go anywhere.

“Everyone understands this is for show," a commentator in Syrdarya said, arguing that the public uninterested in this kind of infighting.

A political analyst in Tashkent, Bahodir Safoev, added, “This performance is primarily aimed at a western audience, to show that our parliament is the scene of fierce political battles. In addition, these parties need to remind people of their existence from time to time, since they play no effective part in political life.”

A media-watcher in Tashkent said the spat might be a reflection of real rivalries between the two parties.

The Liberal Democrats started out as a strong party representing the wealthier sections of society, and crucially, backed by the president.

“But it hasn’t had any real economic successes,” the analyst said. “Nor is its policy platform clear to most people, since they are uninvolved in business.”

By contrast, the PDPU with its communist legacy can claim to be stronger on social welfare issues.

“The president alone has the last word, and everyone knows that,” the media-watcher said, noting that Karimov is “betting on the Liberal Democrats”.

A Liberal Democrat who asked to remain anonymous said Uzbekistan was going down the same path as Kazakstan or Russian, where elite parties are allowed to argue with one another but not to stand up to the president.

This article was produced as part of News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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