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Uzbekistan leader wins second term in 'not truly competitive' election

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By Josephine Joly  with AFP, AP
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Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev casts his ballot at a polling station during the presidential election in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev casts his ballot at a polling station during the presidential election in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021.   -   Copyright  Uzbekistan Presidential Press Service / AP

Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has won re-election with 90% of the vote, preliminary results showed Monday.

Official results are due to be announced before October 31, but Mirziyoyev is already set to serve a second five-year term in the tightly controlled Central Asian nation.

Turnout for the vote is said to have been 80%.

Mirziyoev, 64, was facing four relatively low-visibility candidates plucked from government-loyal parties in what was a largely uncontested race.

Three opposition parties were not allowed to register or have candidates in the race, and a would-be independent challenger, academic Khidirnazar Allakulov, was effectively excluded from the race after failing to register a party that could nominate him.

An international monitoring mission led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on Monday that despite some movement in the ongoing reforms, the election was "not truly competitive" and denounced "a lack of genuine pluralism".

"Despite recent welcome reforms... Uzbekistan's presidential election was not truly competitive, while significant procedural irregularities were noted on election day," the mission said in a statement.

Before official election results were announced, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the Uzbek leader to congratulate him on "a convincing victory", the Kremlin press service said on October 25.

It was Uzbekistan's sixth presidential election since the country of some 35 million people gained its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.

The former Prime Minister came to power in 2016 after the death of his mentor, dictator Islam Karimov, who ruled Uzbekistan for 27 years.

Since succeeding Karimov, Mirziyoyev has been hailed for opening up the Central Asian country, winding down the repressive regime of his predecessor, and launching a radical and extensive reform programme called "New Uzbekistan".

But like Karimov, the new leader has sidestepped political reforms that would allow any alternative to his rule.

As his first term nears its end, Mirziyoev is now struggling to counter impressions that his government is sliding back toward the authoritarian habits of his predecessor.

The Uzbek leader has come under criticism for cracking down on his critics and activists ahead of the vote, and some of his relatives have been accused of using his political clout to amass wealth.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have also overshadowed some of his initial economic achievements, leading to higher unemployment and sharp rises in the cost of living.

Western interest in the election has been keen as many governments support Mirziyoyev's reforms to open his country economically.

Uzbekistan has kept the West engaged by readmitting foreign media outlets and international organisations banned under Karimov.

The country bordering Afghanistan is also considered a key player in stopping things from spreading in their direction.

Watch an interview with political analyst Alex Melikishvili on the election in the video player, above.