Log and slogan of the Erk party in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan: opposition party Erk wants to take part in presidential election

The Uzbek party Erk intends to field a candidate at the presidential election this October. The opposition party was banned in the 1990s and its leader fled the country.

A version of this article was first published on Novastan’s French website on 14 April 2021.

The opposition party Erk, whose name means “freedom” in Uzbek, intends to take part in Uzbekistan’s presidential election in October, it said in a statement on 5 April. The statement also condemned “the actions of the current government of Uzbekistan, which prevents the registration of newly created parties and uses violence against them, thereby violating their constitutional rights.”

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The party has not chosen a candidate yet. Currently in exile in Istanbul, party leader Muhammad Salih cannot participate as he is not allowed back in Uzbekistan. The party’s statement specifies that two candidates are in the running instead: party veteran Salovat Umrzoqov and Uzbek singer-turned-politician Jahongir Otajonov.

The latter announced in December 2020 that he was ending his music career because it was “against Sharia law”, as Radio Ozodlik, the Uzbek branch of the American media Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), reported at the time. The former musician also says he has been threatened since announcing his intention to run for president, an assertion supported by CCTV footage and an RFE/RL recording of three unknown men warning there is a contract out to beat him.

One of the first opposition parties

However, Erk’s participation is not confirmed as the authorities have to allow its registration. In fact, in the parliamentary elections in December 2019, Erk was refused registration and did not run. Birlik (Unity), another opposition party, suffered the same fate.

In an interview with Current Time, a channel created by RFE/RL and Voice of America, Salih said that, were the authorities to refuse Erk’s registration, it would belie President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s image as a reformer. “We would simply show that Mirziyoyev’s image, an image that’s still alive to the people, was always a lie,” he said.

Erk is not a newcomer to Uzbekistan’s political scene. The first non-governmental party to be registered in 1991, it took part in the first post-independence presidential election that same year, when Salih ran against the then president, Islam Karimov. According to RFE/RL, observers said that about 50% of voters cast their ballot for Solih in 1991, but officially he only received 12% of the vote.

Salih fled Uzbekistan in 1993, first to Azerbaijan and later to Turkey, where he currently lives, RFE/RL’s Uzbek service notes. Salih was then accused of helping plot the 1999 Tashkent bombings and the crackdown on Erk intensified. His three brothers were arrested.

Lucie Philip

Translated and edited by Valentine Baldassari

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