Uzbek leader holds early election to extend rule


TASHKENT (Reuters) -Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev holds an early election on Sunday to extend his rule for another seven years, just months after changing the constitution to lift term limits that would have required him to step aside in 2026.

Mirziyoyev, 65, has brought Uzbekistan out of near-isolation since taking power in 2016 after the death of autocrat Islam Karimov, who had ruled since the Soviet era and kept the country closed to much of the world.

“We voted for Mirziyoyev. He is doing well,” said Said Ismailov, 53, who walked out of a polling station with his wife.

“Things are moving in the right direction under his leadership. We want him to continue his efforts to change our lives for better.”

Foreign trade has been opened, foreign exchange controls have been lifted, and the political system has been liberalised somewhat. However, there are still no strong opposition parties or politicians in the country, which has never held an election viewed as competitive by international monitors.

“I didn’t go to vote and I am busy with my kids,” said a mother of two children who walked with them in a park in Tashkent and declined to give her name. “I know who is going to win and I don’t even know who the other candidates are.”

Mirziyoyev lifted a two-term limit to his presidency by holding a referendum in April on constitutional amendments that reset his term count and extended future presidential terms to seven years from five.

Like other states in Central Asia, Uzbekistan is trying to minimise collateral damage from Western sanctions imposed against its traditional trading partner Russia over the war in Ukraine.

The Russian rouble’s weakness means Tashkent is expected to see reduced foreign exchange inflows from millions of Uzbeks who work in Russia.

Once an energy exporter, Uzbekistan now consumes more oil and gas than it produces, and has been buying Russian hydrocarbons, benefiting as Moscow redirects exports away from the West.

Politically, Tashkent has maintained neutrality, calling for peace in Ukraine and pledging to abide by Western sanctions while maintaining normal ties with Moscow.

Officially running against Mirziyoyev are three candidates representing the Ecological Party, People’s Democratic Party and the Social-Democratic party of Adolat (Justice).

(Reporting by Mukhammadsharif MamatkulovWriting by Olzhas Auyezov;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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