After years of isolation and authoritarian rule, Uzbekistan votes on December 22 in its first parliamentary election under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev who brought an era of reforms to the country. Mirziyoyev took charge as the President of Uzbekistan in 2016 after the death of hardline predecessor and former patron Islam Karimov, who had by then ruled for almost three decades. The President has been appreciated for striking off many of Karimov's authoritarian excesses, releasing some political prisoners, battling forced labour and opening up the landlocked state to tourism and foreign investment. Yet there are just parties with scanty choices for the citizens to choose from.
Speaking to the media, residents of Tashkent said they wanted to see more from their elected officials and voiced concerns they would not have dared express under Karimov. The future parliament should ease the burden of the majority-rural population who feel the sharp end of energy shortages, said, Shahzod Alikulov, a builder. He demanded gas, electricity, and roads from the rulers.
A British magazine named Uzbekistan as its country of the year, saying "no other country traveled so far" in 2019. It is the tremendous reforms brought by the 62-year-old President that makes him the top choice for voters. Uzbekistan's 150-member lower house where no party has ever achieved a commanding majority has earned a tremendous reputation since the changes. In the house, the Liberal Democratic Party is currently the largest in the legislature with 52 seats, followed by Milli Tiklanish, known in English as the National Revival Democratic Party, with 36. Other parties represented in the house include the People's Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party also known as Adolat and the Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan is home to 33 million people, over 20 million of whom can vote. The polls opened on Sunday at 8:00am (0300 GMT) and close 12 hours later. This year's election slogan is: "New Uzbekistan, new elections" as authorities seek to brand them as the latest example of a newfound openness. Yet many features of past votes remain in place told the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is sending an observer mission to the polls. There are very few campaign posters, very little evidence of outdoor campaign activities said the organisation's report. A senior lecturer in Central Asian Studies at the University of Glasgow, Luca Anceschi told the media that it was too early to say whether the vote holds any significance in the broader context of Uzbekistan's political transformation. Popular participation in the poll seems a crucial element of Mirziyoyev's strategy of support building, he added. Speaking on whether parliament can evolve as an institution, he said, that the jury is out.