To varying degrees, the post-Soviet states of Central Asia are governed by autocrats. These ruling elites have little to no interest in democratic governance, monopolising politics helping those in power to stay in power – in some cases, for life. Last month, Turkmenistan’s president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was re-elected with 97% of the vote. In neighbouring Uzbekistan, acting president Shavkat Mirziyoyev won elections held in December 2016 with 89% of the vote. In cementing his position, Mirziyoyev slammed the door on hopes for a more pluralist approach to politics than his late predecessor, Islam Karimov who has ruled the state since it had started to exist. These political systems concentrate lawmaking and executive powers in the office of the president. From Tajikistan to Turkmenistan, political parties represented in parliaments are pro-regime and far from providing political alternatives. Any form of meaningful opposition has been extinguished by a policy of intimidation by powerful state security apparatuses. Consequently, the public mostly remains passive, and with no democratic structures, elections are a sham.
After 25 years of independence, it’s clear that Central Asian states do not take their commitments to these agreements seriously
This makes one wonder why the international community still sends missions to these countries to observe the implementation of democratic standards for elections.
As elections are central to state sovereignty, observation missions are only allowed upon formal invitation of the host government. In cases such as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the results of elections are more or less clear even as observers’ presence in the country is being negotiated. Can election observers keep their full independence and integrity in states with such sham elections?