MOSCOW (AP) — Uzbekistan will hold early presidential elections on Sunday, a vote that follows a constitutional referendum that extended the incumbent’s term from five to seven years.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev was elected in 2021 for a second five-year term, the limit allowed by the constitution. But reforms approved in the April plebiscite allowed him to start the term count again and run for two more, raising the possibility that he could stay in office until 2037.
Mirziyoyev, 65, is poised to win the vote by a landslide against three token rivals.
“The political landscape has remained unchanged, and none of the parliamentary political parties openly opposes the president’s policies and agenda,” the election observer arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a report. prior to the vote.
Since coming to power in 2016 after the death of dictatorial leader Islam Karimov, Mirziyoyev has introduced a series of political and economic reforms that softened some of the draconian policies of his predecessor, who made Uzbekistan one of the most repressive countries in the region.
Under Mirziyoyev, freedom of expression has expanded compared to the complete suppression of dissent during the Karimov era, and some independent media outlets and bloggers have emerged. He also relaxed strict controls on Islam in the predominantly Muslim country that Karimov imposed to counter dissenting views.
At the same time, Uzbekistan has remained strongly authoritarian without significant opposition. All registered political parties are loyal to Mirziyoyev.
In the April referendum, more than 90% of those who cast their ballots voted to approve the amendments extending the presidential term.
As part of his reforms, Mirziyoyev has abolished state regulation of cotton production and sale, ending decades of forced labor in the country’s cotton industries, a major source of export revenue. Under Karimov, more than 2 million Uzbeks were forced to work in the annual cotton harvest.
Mirziyoyev also lifted controls on foreign exchange, encouraging foreign investment, and moved to improve relations with the West that had soured under Karimov. He maintained close ties with Russia and signed a series of key agreements with China, which became Uzbekistan’s biggest trading partner as part of its Belt and Road initiative.
Like the leaders of other ex-Soviet Central Asian nations that have close economic ties to Moscow, Mirziyoyev has engaged in a delicate balancing act after Moscow sent troops to Ukraine, avoiding endorsing Russian action but not condemning it.
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