TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan voted Sunday (December 22) in the first parliamentary election since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev ushered in an era of reform after years of isolation and authoritarian rule.
All five pro-government parties competing in Uzbekistan's first elections under Mirziyoyev took seats in the country's parliament, preliminary results showed Monday (December 23).
The Central Election Commission (CEC) said turnout was 71.1%, according to provisional data.
Results based on voting in 128 out of 150 districts announced by the CEC showed the Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan leading with 43 seats in the 150-member lower house.
Milli Tiklanish, known in English as the National Revival Democratic Party, trailed with 35 seats.
The People's Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party -- also known as Adolat -- and the Ecological Party of Uzbekistan also secured seats in parliament.
In the remaining 22 districts, "candidates were not able to get enough (votes)," said Mirza-Ulugbek Abdusalomov, the chairman of the CEC.
Fresh elections would have to be held in those districts, he said.
Mirziyoyev, who took charge of Central Asia's most populous state in 2016 after the death of hardline predecessor and former patron Islam Karimov, described the vote as "historic".
Mirziyoyev has been lauded for doing away with many of Karimov's authoritarian excesses, releasing some political prisoners, battling forced labour and opening up the landlocked state to tourism and foreign investment.
But choices on the ballot in the former Soviet republic were few -- the five parties competing include four parties in the old parliament and the nearly identical successor to a defunct party.
Uzbekistan is home to 33 million people, more than 20 million of whom can vote.
'We are making history'
Britain's The Economist magazine this week named Uzbekistan as its country of the year, saying "no other country travelled so far" in 2019.
The president cast his vote in Tashkent, where he arrived with his family, including daughter Saida Mirziyoyeva.
Mirziyoyev credited parties for competing with each other in the pre-election period.
"We are making history now, and people understand that," he told journalists. "Society has changed. Its relationship to parties has changed."
The 150-member lower house, where no party has ever achieved a commanding majority, has a reputation for merely rubber-stamping government legislation.
Voting for 'justice and fairness'
In Tashkent, residents said they wanted to see more from elected officials and voiced concerns that they would not have dared express under Karimov, who ruled for almost three decades.
Abdusamat Yuldashev, 20, said he had cast a vote "for justice and fairness in our Uzbek society".
"I want our living standards to increase, our education to improve," Yuldashev told AFP, saying he had voted for Adolat.
Mamura Mirzakhmedova, a 69-year-old pensioner, said she would not vote and that there was anger over "prices rising everywhere" as inflation follows economic reforms.
Aleksandr Kim, a 60-year-old community leader, said local officials had initiated a last-minute push to persuade voters to participate but noted that many did not understand the purpose of the election.
"People do not know whom they are voting for," Kim told AFP.
The election was held under the slogan "New Uzbekistan, new elections" as authorities sought to portray them as the latest example of a newfound openness.
On Sunday, websites of several human-rights organisations that had been inaccessible to internet users in Uzbekistan in the run-up to the vote were back online.
Many features of past votes remain in place, said the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which sent an observer mission to the poll, noting "little evidence of outdoor campaign activities" in its pre-election report.
Uzbekistan is undergoing a "process of political development", said George Tsereteli, leader of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.
"Of course, there is an absence here of clear opposition parties and opposition positions, and that will probably be noted," he said.
Karimov was often criticised by international watchdogs over torture and forced labour allegations.
Mirziyoyev has continued to honour Karimov publicly but has been credited with eradicating much of the slavery in the cotton sector and lifting Uzbekistan out of isolation.
It is too early to say whether the vote held any significance in the broader context of Uzbekistan's political transformation, said Luca Anceschi, a senior lecturer in Central Asian studies at the University of Glasgow.
Popular participation in the poll "seems a crucial element of Mirziyoyev's strategy of support building", Anceschi told AFP.
As to whether parliament can evolve as an institution, he said, "The jury is out."