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Uzbek Parliamentary Polls Open Without Opposition Parties

While Ukrainians are heading to the polls, citizens of the fellow ex-Soviet republic of Uzbekistan are also voting, in this case for parliament. But opposition parties are barred from taking part in the Uzbek election.

All five parties contesting the 120 seats in Uzbekistan's lower house of parliament are seen as backers of President Islam Karimov.

Opposition groups have been denied the right to run. Uzbek Election Commission Spokesman Sherzod Kudratkhodjaev says the parties failed to meet registration requirements. He also accuses them of falsifying signatures in their bid to field candidates.

Opposition leaders say they were shut out for criticizing the president's economic policies and human rights record.

Uzbek and foreign diplomatic sources tell VOA that the fractured opposition does not have the clout or unity to mount an effective protest. They note most people see the election as a staged show of support for Mr. Karimov and that turnout will be low, especially as some opposition leaders are calling for a boycott.

The government has lowered the minimum number of voters needed to validate the result from 50 percent of those registered to 33 percent.

Mr. Kudratkhodjaev says that as long as the 33 percent threshold is reached, the government will be satisfied with whatever turnout occurs. He adds that while Uzbekistan's fledgling democracy is not perfect, it is progressing step by step. He points to a new electoral law ensuring that 30 percent of the candidates are women.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has sent a small contingent of observers to monitor the election and is slated to issue its finding on Monday. U.S. representative to the OSCE, Paul Jones, said earlier this month that he hoped elections would be free and fair, expressing regrets that no truly independent opposition is taking part.

But the United States, which keeps a military base in the landlocked Central Asian nation it considers an ally against terrorism, has so far held back on the sort of sharp criticism it made against this year's disputed Ukrainian election.

Russia has been more positive about the Uzbek vote. The head of Russia's electoral commission, Alexander Veshnyakov, visited Tashkent earlier this month, saying preparations suggest results of the Uzbek vote will have democratic merit.