Voters in Uzbekistan are casting ballots Sunday in the tightly controlled, ex-Soviet nation’s first presidential election since the death of Islam Karimov, the authoritarian leader who ruled for 27 years. Acting President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who spent 13 years as Karimov’s prime minister, is expected to easily win a five-year term in the Central Asia country. Karimov led Uzbekistan since before the Soviet collapse, first as its communist boss and then as president. During his long tenure, he ruthlessly crushed all opposition, silenced the media and was repeatedly denounced by international human rights groups for abuses that included killings and torture. Karimov also never cultivated a successor. His September death raised concerns that the predominantly Sunni Muslim nation of 32 million might see fierce infighting over its leadership that could allow radical Islamists to rise to power or exploit the situation. But the 59-year old Mirziyoyev shifted into the acting president’s job quickly and without any visible tensions, highlighting apparent consensus between regional clans.
In Sunday’s election, Mirziyoyev faces three nominal rivals. Two of them, Hotamjon Ketmonov and Narimon Umarov challenged Karimov in past elections, each receiving about 3 percent of the vote.
However, neither candidate has campaigned as a vocal critic of Mirziyoyev, while the fourth contender, Sarvar Otamuratov, has been just as pliant.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the main trans-Atlantic security and rights group, deployed an observer team to monitor the election. It has described the campaign as “strictly regulated” and “moderately visible.”