The World Today for October 22, 2021


Fait Accompli


When voters in Uzbekistan head to the polls to elect a new president on Oct. 24, they will almost certainly pick incumbent President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In office since the death of his predecessor in 2016, Mirziyoyev describes himself as a reformer. But, as the expected fait accompli of the election suggests, he is likely more focused on maintaining his power over the former Soviet republic in Central Asia.

Opposition candidates, for example, have been kept off the ballot because they failed to register their parties with the government and other reasons that elicit skepticism.

“Uzbekistan could have shown its genuine commitment to meaningful reforms by allowing presidential candidates who don’t share the government’s views to participate in upcoming elections – but it did not,” said Human Rights Watch Europe and Central Asia Director Hugh Williamson.

Officials have also cracked down on media outlets that criticize the president. Earlier this year, insulting the president online became a criminal offense. Charges against bloggers have already been filed.

The suppression of civil rights extends beyond politics. Mirziyoyev released thousands of political prisoners and people jailed on charges affiliated with their religion when he first took power. But today Uzbekistan is still thought to be holding around 2,200 people on crimes associated with their faith, Eurasianet wrote.

Many of those imprisoned face terms of more than 15 years because they were members of groups deemed suspicious but officials have never presented evidence of wrongdoing, the Diplomat added.

A similar heavy-handed approach to construction in the capital of Tashkent has sparked protests against rampant development in the city, openDemocracy explained.

Meanwhile, Mirziyoyev has failed to crack down on corruption and the politically powerful people that corruption empowers. The Guardian, for example, highlighted how Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the country’s late authoritarian ruler, Islam Karimov, received a $220 million bribe from a Swedish multinational telecommunications company.

Perhaps the president is trying to make things better. The test of whether Mirziyoyev is actually a reformer or not, however, will come at the end of his second term, wrote Voice of America. If he stands down, as the country’s constitution mandates, he’ll signal respect for the law. If he changes the constitution or ignores the law and runs for a third term, he will win the unofficial title of strongman.

Sooner or later, Mirziyoyev will have to choose because until now, voters really can’t.

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