How much of a sham were Uzbekistan's elections? The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) says that they require major improvements. The most significant problem was government limitation of the field which prevented Uzbeks from exercising any real choice:
Although candidates from five registered political parties and 55 candidates from initiative groups participated in the elections, the similarity of the political platforms of the registered political parties appeared to deprive voters of a genuine choice.
Three aspirant political parties were refused registration in the past twelve months by the authorities, and almost two-thirds of nominated candidates from initiative groups were not able to participate in the elections.
Muhammad Salih of the Erk Democratic Party talks of pre-election suppression of the opposition:
Another curious aspect of the Dec. 26 elections was that they were held under an artificial state of emergency. Particular attention was paid to the Ferghana Valley, Bukhara and Samarkand. Ten days before the elections, troops from the Interior Ministry, the Defense Ministry and the National Security Service began regular patrols of these regions. Security forces took full control of all city mosques and public places, supposed potential sites for terrorist attacks. Operations to detain "extremist elements" also took place. So-called suspicious persons were brought into local police stations and booked, or were simply arrested on the spot. These included political activists calling for a boycott of the elections. Arrests occurred across Uzbekistan, and human rights activists and opposition party members were followed, put under house arrest and not allowed to register at the polls, even though the main opposition parties, Erk and Birlik, had been excluded from the race.
These reports are confirmed by other opposition figures and human rights activists:
The three main opposition parties - Erk (Freedom), Birlik (Unity), and Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Peasants) - were excluded from elections. Erk and Ozod Dehqonlar boycotted the vote. Birlik decided to monitor the elections. However, party leader Vasila Inoyatova said she was not able to leave her house. "For the last two days, I have been blocked by some 'observers,'" Inoyatova charged. "There are some 'observers' in their cars [around my house]. I have no doubt that as soon as I leave my house, the government officials are going to pretend that I interfered in the election process or broke some laws. It happened before. Once we were going by car, the police stopped us and claimed we ran over someone. They can easily organize any provocation again.” Independent human rights activist Surat Ikramov said he also was carefully watched on Sunday. "I wanted to go to the polling station, but my house was blocked by several cars and observed during the last week," Ikramov said. "I telephoned some officials in the Interior Ministry. Soon, the cars disappeared. Then, I left my house to go to the polling station. They reappeared again and were watching me going to my polling station and to some others to monitor the situation. They were watching me all along the way." Uzbek officials were not available to comment.
Despite this, the Russians are happy, calling them "legitimate, free and transparent". Perhaps for Russia, but not for real democracies.