Nearly 20 million Uzbeks must vote on Sunday to elect their president in an early poll in which the leader Chavkat Mirzioev, presenting himself as a reformer, should easily keep power in the most populous country in Asia central.
The approximately 10,800 polling stations, which must close at 8:00 p.m. (3:00 p.m. GMT), opened at 8:00 a.m. local time (03:00 GMT), after the Uzbek anthem, noted AFP journalists in Tashkent, capital of this former soviet republic.
This presidential election was convened by Mr. Mirzioev, elected in 2016 then easily renewed in 2021, in the wake of the constitutional referendum, adopted by more than 90% of the voters of this gas-rich country, in a strategic position at the heart of the Central Asia.
Having to consecrate the project of a fairer “New Uzbekistan”, the president’s mantra displayed everywhere, the April 30 ballot also validated the passage from the five-year term to the seven-year term and authorizes Chavkat Mirzioev to stand for two additional terms.
Measures that allow the 65-year-old leader to theoretically remain in power until 2037, after large victories in elections criticized by international observers for their lack of real competition.
“Fight against corruption”
There is little doubt about the outcome of the vote and all the Uzbeks met by AFP assured that they would give their vote to the outgoing leader, who faces three unknown candidates.
“I hope that Shavkat Mirzioev will be the future president, so that he accelerates the fight against corruption, that he notices the problems we have with ecology,” hopes Nodira Khidoyatova, a 57-year-old entrepreneur, encountered at the exit of a polling station, where, as everywhere, the voting booths do not have curtains and the ballots do not have envelopes.
And for voters unable to move, the ballot box is brought home, AFP observed, while state media show images of streams of people moving through polling stations, sometimes dancing and singing. .
“These are my first elections, I will vote for Chavkat Mirzioev, because I want there to be more prospects for young people and places to study,” hopes Milana Iouldacheva, 18, a resident of Krasnogorsk. A request that echoes one of the promises of the outgoing president.
Strong population growth
As for Rousibou Guibadoullina, a street vendor, she would like to “ask the presidential candidate Mirzioev that the younger generation can rest in summer holiday camps, as under the Soviet Union”, in this former mining town where a mural fresco fifties to the glory of the USSR is visible on a building in the main square.
Because in this predominantly young country with strong population growth, economic difficulties persist despite progress, with many Uzbeks having to travel to Russia to feed their families.
A 40-year-old welder living in Tashkent, Sunnat Touïtchiev expects the new president to solve the “gas problems”, after a winter marked by repeated cuts and “improve the quality of the roads”.
Internationally, Mr. Mirzioev’s stated objective is to pursue his policy of openness in order to attract foreign investment, breaking with the quarter century of isolation of Uzbekistan under Islam Karimov, of which he was the Prime Minister.
But internally, the political landscape has changed little, with only five authorized parties, all supporting presidential policy to a greater or lesser extent.
And this election is no exception, with a huge favorite facing almost unknown competitors, although the programs and posters, in Uzbek and Russian, are distributed fairly among the candidates.
A formula already tested during the elections in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia and singled out by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) describing the campaign as “discreet, reflecting the absence of opposition to the outgoing president.
And NGOs have criticized the repression of rare demonstrations against a constitutional amendment in July 2022 in the north of the country, having left 21 dead according to the official report.