Uzbeks Elect Neighbourhood Heads

Uzbeks Elect Neighbourhood Heads

Tuesday, 2 December, 2008
Elections to the lowest tier of representative in authority in Uzbekistan inspire little public confidence because the only candidates allowed to stand have been carefully vetted by the secret police, NBCentralAsia observers say.

Chairpersons of the “mahalla” or neighbourhood committees responsible for up to 500 families, are being elected throughout November and December. The posts are filled every two-and-a-half years by secret ballot.

The polls are taking place on different dates in the 8,000 mahallas across Uzbekistan.

The mahalla is a traditional Uzbek neighbourhood, with a council of elders making decisions about the community’s day-to-day affairs and celebrations.

The institution survives, albeit in a changed form. Legislation passed in 1999 formalised the mahalla committee as the lowest tier of local government, with a chairperson to oversee it.

The job description for the official post of chairperson requires enterprise, organisational skills, an awareness of domestic current affairs, and ability to work closely with government.

Local observers add a few unspoken functions to the list, such as identifying dissidents and others felt to be “unreliable”, and informing the relevant authorities.

According to Surat Ikramov, leader of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan, “The mahalla [committee] serves as government agent, helping to monitor and control citizens.”

Local observers say that in reality, the elections do not offer mahalla residents much of a choice, since all the candidated have been pre-selected by the authorities.

“The hakimiats [district-level government bodies] appoint only their own people,” said one expert.

It is estimated that turnout is generally only about ten per cent at mahalla election, since many residents think there is little point in voting.

“I don’t believe electing new mahalla chairmen will add anything positive to our lives,” said Dinara, a 69-year-old resident of the eastern town of Fergana.

(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 is resuming, covering only Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan for the moment.)

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