Uzbeks will elect a new leader for the first time in more than 25 years on Sunday. Just don’t expect a Trump-like upset. About 18 million people are eligible to vote for a successor to Islam Karimov, the long-time dictator who died in September after ruling Uzbekistan ever since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Karimov’s prime minister for the past 13 years, is set to step seamlessly into the shoes of his former boss and is widely expected to continue his predecessor’s autocratic rule. Mirziyoyev is likely to win a landslide following a lacklustre election campaign enlivened only by a wild (and probably false) rumour that the new regime had poisoned Gulnara Karimova, the late president’s socialite eldest daughter, and buried her in a secret grave. Mirziyoyev’s three challengers are all regime loyalists standing only to lend a democratic veneer to an election in a country that has no political opposition or free press.
“This is to show to the outside world that we have some kind of democracy in Uzbekistan,” a local businessman told the Guardian, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “It’s a show, but the outcome will be the same.”
In the capital Tashkent, signs of election hurly burly are hard to detect amid the weak winter sun and snowmelt streets. Drab campaign posters hang over main roads, each featuring a middle-aged grey-haired man in a dark suit staring out at voters with an earnest expression on his face.
The most colourful billboards are the bright blue and pink posters urging the electorate to get out and vote on Sunday, a sign that Tashkent wants a high turnout to legitimise the choice of Mirziyoyev as the next president.