At least six candidates will be on the ballot when the people of Uzbekistan go to the polls on December 23. All are running for pro-government groups in a country where no real opposition is tolerated. Political observers expect President Islam Karimov, who was nominated by the Liberal Democratic Party, to retain his hold on power even though he is constitutionally barred from seeking another term. VOA's Navbahor Imamova reports that in a region known for holding on to its long time leaders, many political analysts are doubtful this election will bring any meaningful change in Uzbekistan.

Uzbek leader Islam Karimov has ruled the country for 18 years and says nothing in public about the end of his term.

Jon Greenwald, vice president of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, says that it is time for political progress in Uzbekistan.

"In the long run the system needs to have a way to allow for political change, any system does. Whether you have a democratic system of elections, whether you have a more controlled authoritarian system, there has to be some way for change to happen. Our concern with Uzbekistan is that there does not appear to be such a system," he said. 

To date, Uzbek elections have never been judged as free and fair by western election observers. Greenwald believes there is not much the international community can do to pressure the country to become more democratic.

Instead, he says the changes must come from within, "It should start with the leadership of the country which looks at its long term interests, the long term interests of its people and people within the establishment. We would hope that there could be a process of liberalization that starts that way. People themselves then can be brought in to the effort to produce reforms."

With a tightly controlled media, opposing voices to the government have been effectively silenced. As a result, Anthony Bowyer of the International Foundation for Election Systems says voters in Uzbekistan are being given few options in their candidates.

"Do we have the political space, the open space of competition in Uzbekistan? The fact that there has not been much coverage of the electoral process - given the fact that many candidates are not well known among the population. Survey results also suggest that population by and large is under informed about the political developments inside the country let alone outside of Uzbekistan's borders," he said. 

Sean Roberts, a professor of Central Asian studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. believes that while this provides short-term stability for the ruling government, down the road, the results could be disastrous.

Roberts says, "If those countries do not begin to establish political processes where you have different players in the political life of the country, there will be some kind of a power struggle when succession eventually happens."

In Uzbek political culture change is synonymous with instability. Many analysts say that this will be a factor when voters go to the polls in December.