TASHKENT (AFP) – Polls opened in Uzbekistan early Sunday for parliamentary elections in the ex-Soviet Central Asian state where all four competing parties support President Islam Karimov’s policies.
More than 20 million voters have registered to elect the 150-seat lower house of parliament, the Oliy Majlis, after the authorities sent out text messages urging people to vote.
Polling stations opened at 6am (0100 GMT) and were due to close at 8pm.
Head of the central election commission Mirza-Ulugbek Abdusalamov said the conditions had been set for “free and fair elections… that meet the highest international democratic standards.”
President Karimov has transferred some powers to parliament in recent years, including a mechanism for a vote of no confidence in the government and allowing the party with the majority of seats to nominate the prime minister.
Four parties – the Liberal Democratic Party, People’s Democratic Party, the Democratic Party Milly Tiklanish (National Revival) and the Social Democratic Party Adolat (Justice) – are competing to fill 135 seats.
The remaining 15 seats will automatically go to the country’s Ecological Movement, founded in 2008 and composed of activists from pro-government environmentalist groups and health sectors.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has deployed a small monitoring mission, citing the “limited nature of the competition”.
Sunday’s vote will mark 90 days until presidential polls are held in March.
Karimov, who has ruled the country for the past two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, won a new seven-year term in December 2007.
Uzbekistan’s parliament made constitutional changes shortening the presidential term from seven to five years in 2012.
Karimov, 76, has not publicly named a successor and indicated in May he wanted to stay on in his role.