Uzbek President heads for landslide election victory

TACHKENT, Uzbekistan (AP) – The Uzbeks voted on Sunday in a presidential election that the incumbent president is expected to win in the face of weak competition.

Although President Shavkat Mirziyoyev relaxed many of the policies of his dictatorial predecessor, he made little effort in political reform.

Mirziyoyev, who took office in 2016 after the death of Islam Karimov, faces four relatively inconspicuous candidates who did not even show up for televised debates, instead sending proxies who failed to s ‘engage in substantial discussions. Independent candidates were not allowed.

“The other candidates talk about abstract things like strengthening social security, but they don’t give any details. They don’t have a real program and they don’t have to because they know who will win, ”said political scientist Akhmed Rahmonov.

Despite the lack of significant competition, voter turnout was high. The election commission said by 5 p.m. (1200 GMT), three hours before the polls closed, more than 70 percent of voters had voted.

Preliminary results will be announced on Monday.

The only challenger to Mirziyoyev who received significant attention in the campaign was Alisher Qodirov, with his proposal that Uzbeks working abroad should pay taxes in Uzbekistan, a largely unpopular idea for the large part of the population who depend on the remittances from family members abroad.

Mirziyoyev openly disagreed with the proposal and some observers suggested that Qodirov, whose party is in coalition with Mirziyoyev’s in parliament, did so in order to channel the votes towards the incumbent president.

Under Mirziyoyev, freedom of expression has expanded since the suppression of the Karimov era, and some independent news media and bloggers have emerged. He also relaxed the strict controls on Islam in the Muslim-majority country that Karimov imposed to counter dissenting views.

He also lifted hard currency controls, encouraging investment from abroad, and set out to patch up foreign relations that deteriorated under Karimov.

“Mirziyoyev has improved relations with global players such as Russia, China and the West, while resolving conflicts with neighbors, including establishing peaceful interaction with Afghanistan,” said Andrey Kazantsev of the Moscow State Institute of Foreign Relations.

Uzbekistan and Afghanistan share a 144-kilometer (89-mile) border, and Uzbekistan has always feared the conflict could spill over. The former Soviet foreign minister became the first foreign affairs official to visit Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the country in August.

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Uliana Pavlova and Jim Heintz contributed to this story from Moscow.

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