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Electoral Victory for Authoritarianism & State Terrorism in Uzbekistan

Despite all this sanctimonious posturing by the Bush gangsters regarding the pro-democratic policing of Asian elections, little if anything has been said by the White House about the outrageously fraudulent parliamentary elections held in Uzbekistan last week.
L'Etat, c'est moi
L'Etat, c'est moi
Electoral Victory for Authoritarianism & State Terrorism in Uzbekistan

by Akbar Aslanbek

An election was held in Iraq in mid-October 2002 with only one candidate's name on the ballot, that of Saddam Hussein. According to the Iraq government's spokesperson at the time, the referendum was fair and accurate, and well over 90% of the population endorsed President Saddam Hussein for another seven years of dictatorial rule. The White House was quick to denounce the election as a ridiculous farce: "Obviously, it's not a very serious day, not a very serious vote and nobody places any credibility on it," President Bush's official mouthpiece told the international press. In November 2004, when Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich declared victory over opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko amid persistent reports about wide-spread electoral fraud, the Bush administration accused Ukrainian President Leonid D. Kuchma of fixing elections; in a personal letter sent to Kuchma, Bush ominously threatened "to review our relations with Ukraine" if Kuchma could not ensure an election that "is democratic and free of fraud and manipulation." Yet, despite all this sanctimonious posturing by the Bush gangsters regarding the pro-democratic policing of Asian elections, little if anything has been said by the White House about the outrageously fraudulent parliamentary elections held in Uzbekistan last week.

The December 26th elections were a trumpeted as a referendum of the authoritarian rule of President Islam Karimov. In addition to electing one hundred and twenty deputies of the Oliy Majlis (the lower house of the parliament), voters supposedly also approved extending Karimov's term as president for another two years and granted him the position of senator-for-life, as well as granting him lifetime immunity from criminal prosecution. According to Uzbekistan government sources, over 85% of registered voters made it to the polls on the 26th.

One needn't look very hard to see how Uzbekistan's parliamentary elections were at least as crooked and bogus as Iraq's in 2002 or Ukraine's in 2004. Only five political parties were officially permitted by the Ministry of Justice to field candidates for the parliamentary jobs, all of which identified themselves as unswervingly loyal to Karimov during the campaign (two of them the People's Democratic Party and the Liberal-Democratic Party are run by Karimov's political machine, which has been in place and working hand-in-glove with the most powerful Samarkand organized crime syndicates since Karimov was first selected to be the stalinoid First Secretary of the Uzbek Communist Party's Central Committee during the Soviet era). Opposition political parties that tried to criticize the Karimov regime were refused the right to register as legal political parties and were otherwise forbidden to participate in campaign activities. In some cases, opposition party leadership was intimidated and even arrested. State-run news coverage has obviously and overwhelmingly favored the pro-presidential parties for the last twelve months; meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice vigorously scrutinizes and blocks access to the websites that are critical of the Karimov government and that report uncensored news about Uzbekistan and Central Asia.

Ballot boxes in Uzbekistan are made of transparent plastic; a plainclothes policeman sits beside the ballot box, usually on stool, in order to safeguard against "irregularities" and to hustle voters immediately out of the polling stations via emergency exits. Voters were given access to detailed informational leaflets on the candidates for the first time only twenty-four hours before voting booths opened. Unknown to voters until they arrived at the polling stations was the removal of the "none of the above" option on the ballot, a choice that they had been told would be available to them prior to election day. Opinion polls conducted by international observers on the eve of the election indicated that many citizens of Uzbekistan, particularly the poor ones, intended to boycott the election all together because (in the words of one non-voter) "all candidates for deputies belong to the team that has driven the people to poverty," but the much-publicized prospect of being allowed to vote against all the candidates motivated many to turn out for the elections. One frustrated voter said that the only reason he went to vote was because he feared that a boycott "would benefit the political forces I certainly disliked from their last five years in the parliament." He was disappointed, however, to find that the protest vote option had been eliminated from the ballot. Another voter, a woman from the city of Andijan in the Ferghana Valley, told a reporter on the condition of anonymity that "people were happy about the election because ahead of the vote there was more gas supplies and no electricity outage, just as in [Soviet] times."

Nearly two hundred and thirty observers representing a variety of international governmental and non-governmental civil and human rights groups from Europe and Asia were on hand to monitor the election. According to these observers, Uzbekistan's elections failed to meet the minimum internationally-recognized standards for fair, democratic elections. Monitoring operations were based in the capital city of Tashkent, and teams were sent out to polling stations in Nukos, Bukhara, Karshi, Samarkand and Fergana, where they met with and questioned candidates, government officials, electoral authorities, and representatives of the media. "Authorities failed to ensure a pluralistic, competitive and transparent election," said Ambassador Lyubomir Kopaj, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Limited Election Observation Mission. Kopaj also complained that foreign observers were kept out of a number of important meetings of the Uzbek Central Election Commission and were refused "direct access to absolutely all relevant documents" regarding the parties allowed to participate in the parliamentary election.

After the US presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 (and with Iraq's elections at the end of this month), the world is already aware of how little regard the Bush-Cheney regime has for direct, democratic self-determination these serial killers and war profiteers mouth the words "democracy" and "freedom" only so long as it can cynical serve their immediate political needs. Consequently, it's really no surprise that the US has unapologetically betrayed the cause of democracy in Uzbekistan Karimov, after all, has been feted as a staunch ally in the White House's perpetual wars against Islamic civilizations and cultures since the unilateral US assault on and invasion of Afghanistan in the autumn of 2001. Karimov has also been generous enough to offer the services of his professional caste of interrogators for the use of US intelligence and has tortured untold numbers of enemy combatants for excruciating sessions of "extraordinary rendition" (the repulsive bureaucratic euphemism for outsourced human-rights atrocities and which in Uzbek prisons include beatings, rape, electric shock, drownings, asphyxiation, burning and prolonged, painful suspension by the ankles). Close to $1 billion in US aid has been funneled to Karimov's torturocracy since 1992, more than $500 million of which has come from Bush in 2002. For his commitments of military aid to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Karimov was publicly cheered when he visited the US Congress in March 2002.

Upset by what he saw happen in September 2000 in Serbia to Slobodan Milosevic, to Eduard Shevardnadze's government in Georgia in November 2003, and to Yanukovich in Ukraine a year later, Karimov has been escalating State terrorism against the Uzbek people and making war on political and religious dissent. A new era of icy isolationism has come to country; new minefields sown by Uzbekistan along the Turkmenistan and Tajikistan borders have led to deaths of farmers and traders living in the frontier areas. The government is carefully controlling those who travel outside of the country (through the intimidation of family members left behind) and by forcefully keeping foreign visitors out, especially reporters: Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistan-based journalist covering militant Islam in Central Asia who has written about Uzbekistan for the last sixteen years, has been repeatedly denied a travel visa. He says that "an iron curtain is falling on Uzbekistan. Contact with the outside world for Uzbek citizens is becoming as difficult as it is for those in Turkmenistan. Outsiders are not welcome in Tashkent, whether journalists, investors or aid workers. Yet, despite the sharp deterioration of human rights conditions, Uzbekistan remains a close ally of the Bush administration in its war on terrorism."

What makes the regime such an attractive asset to the Bush mafia is Karimov's violent fear and poisonous hatred of Islamic social movements, a mania that he endlessly dresses up in the language of security and public safety. "I'm prepared to tear the heads off of 200 people, to sacrifice their lives, in order to save peace and calm in the Republic," Karimov proudly assured the people in the spring of 1999. "If my child chose such a path [of Islamic fundamentalism], I would tear off his head myself." There were two major outbursts of political violence in Uzbekistan against the government and its security forces this year, one in late March and another in late July, attacks that were blamed on the extremist Hizb ut-Tahrir group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and al-Qaeda. Karimov's government has been manipulating the Islamic terror threat both domestically and internationally by cracking down on opposition groups at home and raking in military aid from Washington DC. Police in Uzbekistan have specially powers to hunt down elements determined "anti-State" or "excessively pious."

But many recognize that state terrorism is the most helpful in creating incubating conditions for Islamic social unrest. Britain's former diplomat to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, was kicked out of the country and removed from his post for publicly criticizing Great Britain's tolerant attitude to Karimov's murderously totalitarian government. In November, Murray predicted more uprisings to come, saying that that "despair caused by the deepening poverty and lack of religious and political freedoms, worsened by the lack of any democratic means to express that despair, is what creates the violence." According to a leader of the banned Erk Party, a growing number of Uzbeks are beginning to regard the growing American military presence in their country region as a symbol of support for a wickedly oppressive regime that most of the population deeply detests. Rather than achieving its strategic objective of carefully containing the growth of Islamic radicalism in Asia, Washington is helping it to spread by identifying it with militant anti-Americanism, which is certainly becoming the case more and more in Uzbekistan. As Alain Deletroze, vice president of the International Crisis Group recently explained, "Interest in Islam is reviving in Uzbekistan, and the process is frequently accompanied by a growth of fundamentalist moods. The authorities of Uzbekistan fight it so viciously that it merely advances these moods and creates 'martyrs of the faith.' The economic situation in Uzbekistan is so disastrous that I would not even venture a guess on how much longer the people is going to tolerate it." Added to the mix is a growing power struggle between Rustam Inoyatov, the chief of the National Security Service secret police, and Zakir Almatov, the head of the Ministry of the Interior's police and security forces, as rumors circulate in Tashkent about Karimov's failing health. The spurious parliamentary elections of December 26th, as well as another four years of US Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld's enthusiastic championing of authoritarianism in Uzbekistan, promises to push the situation in that country even closer to crisis and catastrophe.

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