by Dr Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan
Most recently, Presidential Election (PE) of Uzbekistan was held on October 24 in which five different political parties with different political “orientations” and “manifestations” rigorously participated and contested the prestigious slot of “Head of the State”. According to Uzbekistan Central Election Commission (UCEC) the incumbent president Shavkat Mirziyoyev secured 80.1 percent of the votes and won the election.
Moreover, voter turnout was at 80.8 percent which is “commendable” in the ongoing human saga of COVID-19. Simply, democracy won through the “free will” of people/voters and “smashed” the Western propaganda of so-called lack of people’s participation, political involvement, non-existence of true opposition and above all so-called political “cloning”.
Modern democracy does not have any “resemblance” with Coca Cola international brand with same formula, ingredients and outcome. Democracy stands for people, by the people and for the people and “Uzbekistan’s PE 2021” vividly reflected pure and simple persuasion of this universal definition of democracy.
Every country has its own unique model of democratic governance and Uzbekistan is not any exception. It has its own centuries old “governance model” which has been very “positive”, “productive”, “participatory”, “prosperous”, “people’s friendly” and based on mutual respect, service to humanity, political accommodation, provision of basic human rights and multiculturalism. Thus “trinity” of modern democracy and its “deity” has been dancing through the free will of common voters in every election in Uzbekistan.
On its part, UCEC labeled the whole process of PE 2021 “fair”, “free” and “transparent” and up to the internationally recognized democratic standards. Conversely, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)/ODIHR in its “Statement of Preliminary Findings & Conclusions (October 25, 2021) maintained that Mirziyoyev’s reform agenda had not yet resulted in a genuinely pluralistic environment which is out of the context, irrelevant, false, fictional and fake.
It claimed that there were restrictions on fundamental freedoms and the right to stand continued to run counter to OSCE commitments. It maintained that while multiple candidates contested the election, there was no meaningful engagement with each other or with voters, and candidates refrained from challenging or criticizing the incumbent.
Contrary, to aforementioned so-called big claims of OSCE/ODIHR, there has not been a “single incident” of “state interference”, “misuse of discretionary powers” and “invisible apparatus” for pre or post-election electoral process. Every political party has “equal treatment” in term of media projection, financing, campaigning, association, arranging the meetings/rallies/processions but within the prescribed SOPs of the UCEC because of the ongoing COVID-19 which debarred Western styled massive interactive sessions, meet-with-the-candidates or musical parties to attract common people.
Moreover, the OSCE/ODIHR so-called meaningful engagement does not qualify in case of Uzbekistan which has been “free” from any kind of “political violence”, “protest”, “character assassination”, media/marketing “soul burning tactics” and “mud slagging” during the electioneering as commonly and unfortunately follow in the Western democracies.
In this connection, laws of the land strictly prohibit all the political parties, its supporters and voters to stay away from these dirty tactics to attract more and more voters for extraordinary political mileage. Thus OSCE/ODIHR big claim does not have any substance but shows it’s lacking of in-depth knowledge about Uzbekistan’s law/legislation, electoral process, political traditions, culture, customs and human values.
OSCE/ODIHR purposefully highlighted that there was no distinction between the state duties and political campaign of the incumbent president which blurred the line between state and party.
There is no concept of interim set-up in most of the central Asian countries and of course even in the USA where presidential democracy exists. But incumbent presidents follow complete restrain to indulge in any kind of political appeasement to its voters through gifts, electoral grafts, administrative favors, provision of new jobs or financial support.
In this regard, the incumbent president of Uzbekistan did not announce any increase in salaries, pensions, social assistance and pledging any promise of any development scheme to its voters which has been part & parcel of most of the political/electoral campaigns/democracies of South East Asia, Africa, MENA and other parts of the world. Thus OSCE/ODIHR this specific observation does not qualify in case of Uzbekistan and replicates on its most recently held PE 2021.
On the contrary, the election campaign and electoral process of Election Day was broadcasted online using 414 video cameras installed at 207 polling stations in regions and cities of the country. The UCEC facilitated local as well regional and international media houses/journalists to live telecast their programs from thousands of polling stations on regular basis including live TV, radio comprehensive reports, video reports and interactive sessions/interviews.
Moreover, the election process was also shared around the world through intensified social networks and websites. Moreover, the voting process was widely covered by 1672 accredited local and foreign media outlets/media houses. Therefore, OSCE and European Parliament objections do not have any substance or concrete evidence.
Somehow, OSCE praised that election preparations were handled efficiently and professionally along with peaceful Election Day but some serious significant procedural irregularities were observed and important safeguards were often disregarded during voting, counting and tabulation.
The writer was also participated in this PE-2021 as International Election Observer and visited many polling stations in & outside the big cities and did not found any serious so-called regularity on part of UCEC or its staff.
Although common voters committed mistakes which should be taken as mere “human errors” and should not be connected with any kind of capacity building issues with UCEC or its staff at any level. Moreover, human error is also the part of modern democracy which may be happened even in ancient home of walled democracy Greece, mother of democracy, United Kingdom, center of globalized democracy USA, France and even in Spain. Thus connecting with some human errors with inefficiency of UCEC does not have any correlation. So these kinds of scheme of arrangements should be avoided.
OSCE claims that despite the recent improvements, the legal framework still contains a number of shortcomings and does not yet fully comply with international standards and OSCE commitments for democratic elections. Moreover, the electoral legal framework was subject to extensive reforms in recent years and amendments adopted positively addressed a number of previous ODIHR recommendations. It concluded that fundamental human rights and freedoms are constitutionally guaranteed, but continue to be restricted by subordinate legislation and not implemented in practice.
I feel sorry to comment on this so-called big claim of the OSCE because of its “double standards” really hurt me. I quote “Spanish The Catalan independence referendum of 2017”, “Scottish referendum of 2021”, “Irish irony” of the 19 century, institutionalizing of “white-man supremacy/democracy of 21th century” and perpetual exploitation of unlimited African and Asian locals by the so-called civilized Western world and last but not least, unilateral expeditions owing to so-called democratic abuses have been dominating factors of Western countries and its democracies around the world.
Furthermore, Constitution of Uzbekistan “guarantees” provision of basic human rights which has been protected since its inception. Its belief in humanity is “illustrious” not exploitative. Its rich traditions care about sagacity of humanism and do not follow any barbarian spirits or anti-human legislation to curb any weaker faction of the society. Thus OSCE this claim does not have any creditability, relevancy and rationality.
I now quote some legislative measures of Uzbekistan which clearly upholds highest levels of impartiality, openness and transparency. Its election-related legal framework consists of the 1992 Constitution, the 2019 Election Code, the 1996 Law on Political Parties (LPP), the 2004 Law on Financing of Political Parties (LFPP), the 1995 Criminal Code and the 1995 Code of Administrative Responsibilities. Its legal framework has been further updated and amended including the Constitution and the Election Code, in 2021. Thus there is no question of any discriminating legislation specifically about human rights and electoral process.
In this regard, it is mentioned that the UCEC had been holding open sessions and published its decisions in a timely manner, thus contributing to the transparency of the electoral process. Its comprehensive and inclusive voter awareness campaign in several languages throughout the country and well in advance of Election Day is commendable.
OSCE pinpointed that the traditional community structures Mahalla committees, since 2020 part of the government system, in the organization of the electoral process negatively impacts the ability of lower level commissions to function independently. I refute this objection of the OSCE because Mahalla Committees (MCs) has nothing do with free will of voters.
On the other hand it regulates “decentralization” of democracy. It is new version of Greek walled city governing system, lots of biblical prophecies, the ancient Roman Comitia Curiata, the Comitia Centuriata, the Concilium Plebis, and the Comitia Tributa and last but not least Islamic State Shura in which people remained “superior” and “supreme”.
It aims to provide social justice, basic necessities of life, protection of human survival and of course social assistance at the door steps of people which has nothing to do with “dominions of politics” because it is people’s constituency. Thus OSCE this objection does not have any “scientific validity” and “acceptance”.
OSCE objects that restrictions on the right to vote for those with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities remain, contrary to international standards. In this regard I may quote many laws of modern democracies which strictly prohibit rights of voting of insane and psychosocial disable people around the globe. The Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law, and Ethics Journal (2017) vividly reflects that most electoral democracies, including forty-three states in the United States, deny people the right to vote on the basis of intellectual disability, psychosocial disabilities or mental illness.
Moreover, its study of 2014 upheld that ninety-one democracies around the globe had restrictions on intellectual and psychosocial disabilities voting. Seventy-three states disenfranchise people by reference to certain statuses (e.g., retardation, legal incapacitation, guardianship, or detention in a psychiatric ward).
Furthermore, a 2016 study focusing on disenfranchisement of people with mental illness surveyed all 193 member states of the United Nations. Its authors found that twenty-one states maintain no suffrage restrictions for mental illness sixty-nine states disenfranchise all people "with any mental health problems.
Even International Human Rights Law Article 29(a) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is not followed in most of the European Countries especially France, Malta, Romania, and even in Singapore which entered Reservations and Declarations regarding the applicability of Article 29 to existing electoral regulations and to potential safeguards against manipulation of voters with mental impairments.
Moreover, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) still do not have any specific guideline to follow. Thus OSCE this objection does not sound well and seems to be prejudice and biased.
OSCE pinpoints that Uzbekistan is a culturally diverse country with ethnic minorities comprising up to 16.2 per cent of the population. There was no ethnic minority candidate for this election. None of the candidates focused on inter-ethnic relations in their campaigns. No cases of negative rhetoric or discrimination against national minorities during the campaign were reported or observed.
Its simple response is that Constitution of Uzbekistan strictly prohibits politics of “ethnicity”, “discrimination”, “hatred”, “bigotry”, and “prejudice”, region-specific and last but not least there is no scope for exploitative politics on the soil of Uzbekistan, the “cradle” of “human civilization”.
In this regard I may quote that “tragic disintegration” of Yugoslavia was the resultant of worship of ethnic divide ended into sever ethnic cleansing. East Timor, South Sudan, South Africa, Kenya and many other countries are the byproducts of ethnic genocide. Thus Uzbekistan is rightly stayed away from ethnic politics because it has already produced serious dints in various European Union countries with the rise of White-man supremacy.
To conclude I really appreciate professional capabilities of the Uzbekistan Central Election Commission due to which it succeeded to hold a fair, free and transparent President Election on October 24. Moreover, level of impartiality and total restrain of the State, its main organs, stakeholders and subordinated branches is commendable.
Participation of one woman in the president election is the sign of strong political diversity and empowerment of women in Uzbekistan. High turn-out is a positive indicator of political activation, awareness and social consolidation in Uzbek society and governance system.
The OSCE/ODIHR and European Parliament must understand that democracy is not the queen of happiness having which all human miseries, malpractices, and shortcoming magically gets vanished. It has been best practice of good governance which paved the way of political stability, economic sustainability, social cohesion, interfaith tolerance, ethnic harmony and above all protection and provision of basic human rights and basic necessities of life and the Republic of Uzbekistan being the largest democracy of the Central Asia also has the best governance system.
Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan, Member Board of Experts of the Center for Global and Strategic Studies (CGSS) of Pakistan and regional geopolitical analyst.