The Communist Party of Uzbekistan, renamed in 1991 the People's Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (PDPU), became the ruling party under Karimov's leadership. Later, the presidency became the dominant institution, and the PDPU lost its central role. In 1996, Karimov gave up his membership in the party.
The crushing of opposition
In the immediate post-independence period, there was still some room for opposition politics. In 1991, Erk chairman Muhammad Salih was allowed to stand against Karimov in the first presidential election, winning 14% of the vote. Birlik was refused official registration, but was able to continue public activity. Karimov's own vice-president, Shakrulla Mirsaidov, adopted a critical stance.
The crackdown began in 1992. Mirsaidov and his associates were removed. Opposition figures were beaten up by anonymous assailants, imprisoned, or just disappeared. By late 1993, Birlik and Erk were banned and their leaders fled into exile.
Almost all media state-owned
Almost all media are state-owned. State censorship, though banned by the 1992 constitution, continued to operate until 2002. Independent publications have been outlawed since 1993. Journalists investigating sensitive subjects are harassed and arrested.
In 1994, the Supreme Soviet was replaced by a new rubber-stamp 250-seat parliament. Deputies were elected on a competitive basis, although all competing candidates had to support the government.
Illusion of human rights
In 1995 the OSCE was allowed to establish a regional office in Tashkent and even to sponsor a human rights seminar in which opposition activists took part.
In 1997 Karimov, alarmed by the rise of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan, returned to a more repressive policy.
1999 parliamentary elections
Parliamentary elections held in 1999 were termed by the OSCE as “far from democratic.”
Civil society institutions
At the same time, a façade of concern for human rights was created. A government supporter was appointed to a new position of human rights ombudsman, and a National Human Rights Center was opened, likewise staffed by loyalists. In 1997, the Foreign Minister concluded an agreement with the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to implement programs "to promote democracy and civil society."
Open opposition disappeared in 1998 when the Democratic Opposition Coordinating Council shut down.
2000 presidential election
Karimov was re-elected with 92% of the vote. The other handpicked candidate, PDPU leader Abdulkhafiz Jalolov, received 4%.
In 2002 the president's term of office was extended from 5 to 7 years.
The referendum also approved creation of a new parliament of two chambers: a 100-member upper chamber (Senate) representing the regions (and filled by representatives appointed by regional councils and the president) and a 120-member lower house (Majilis).
A temporary swing toward liberalization occurred in 2002. While arrests and harassment of opposition activists continued, Birlik was allowed to resume public activity under police supervision. Erk was permitted to hold a congress in Tashkent in 2003.
2004-05 parliamentary elections
Two rounds of parliamentary elections were held in 2004 and 2005. All seats were won by pro-presidential parties and unaffiliated candidates.
A limited OSCE monitoring team found very minor improvements over previous elections, concluding that the elections fell far short of OSCE and international standards. Among other problems, the observers noted that the platforms of the competing parties were virtually identical, thereby not offering the voters any real choice. In addition, the two main opposition parties, Erk and Birlik, had not been allowed to register and run in the elections.
2007 presidential election
Although there were questions regarding Karimov’s constitutional eligibility to run, he was reelected as the Liberal Democratic Party’s candidate with 81% of the vote, according to the Central Election Commission, with 91.6% of the voters participating. Asliddin Rustamov of the Uzbekistan People’s Democratic Party received 3.17%, Dilorom Toshumuhamedova of the Justice Social Democratic Party received 2.94%, and Akmal Saidov, nominated by a citizens’ group, received 2.85% of the vote.
OSCE/ODIHR’s Limited Observation Mission reported that the election took place in a tightly controlled political environment that failed to meet OSCE election commitments. While there were four candidates (including the first woman to run for president in Uzbekistan, and a candidate nominated by an initiative group of voters), there was an absence of a real choice as all candidates running supported the positions of the incumbent president Karimov. Legal and administrative obstacles had prevented opposition candidates from running. Moreover, recommendations for improving the electoral framework that had been made after the 2004 elections were not implemented.
Civil society and opposition parties marginalized
A new party, the Sunshine Coalition, emerged in 2005, claiming to represent a united opposition and offering alternative policies to Karimov. However, shortly after announcing the group’s intentions, its leaders, Sanjar Umarov and Nodira Hidoyatova, were arrested and charged with embezzlement and money laundering. Umarov was convicted in 2006 of heading a criminal group laundering money through offshore companies, tax avoidance, and hiding foreign currency. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison (reduced to 10 years under an amnesty agreement) and over US$8 million in fines. In 2009 Umarov was granted amnesty and received asylum in the U.S.
Western and local NGOs have come under increased pressure in recent years. In 2005 the government mandated a process of re-registration of NGOs, which led to a significant reduction in the number in the country. The government also requires all external funding to be channeled through a commission instead of paid directly to local NGOs.
International organizations have been accused of violating Uzbek national legislation as a pretext to being forced to shut down. Human Rights Watch was closed by a court decision in 2011.
2009/2010 parliamentary elections
Elections for the Majlis began in 2009. The only candidates allowed to run were from the four registered parties supporting the president/government: the Adolat Social-Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, the Milliy Tiklanish Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, the People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, and the Liberal-Democratic Party of Uzbekistan. A new Ecological Movement was granted 15 seats in the Majlis by law. A quota of 30% for women members was also set by law. A second round was held in 2010 in those districts in which candidates did not receive 50% of the vote.
Summing up the results, the Central Elections Commission said the Liberal Democratic Party received 53 seats, People’s Democratic Party 32 seats, Milliy Tiklanish 31 seats, and Adolat 19 seats. Some 33 deputies who were elected were women; 47 deputies (31.3%) were elected for the second time. ODIHR deployed an election assessment, rather than a monitoring mission.
Parliamentary elections are due at the end of 2014, and presidential elections are to be held 90 days later.
Karimov's monopoly of power (and the roles played by his two daughters)
Government power is concentrated in Karimov's hands. All ministers and provincial governors, and in practice even the president of the Karakalpak Autonomous Republic, are appointed by him. Officials have been moved to new positions or fired to ensure that opposition groups cannot form. Local government is entrusted to the traditional neighborhood institution of the mahalla, which provides an effective means of social control. The main source of opposition resides within the regime itself, in the form of regional groups, sometimes called “clans,” the most prominent of which are the Tashkent, Samarkand, and Fergana groups.
The president’s 40-year old daughter, Gulnora Karimova, has been prominent in business, politics, culture and as a representative of Uzbekistan to Spain and the UN institutions in Geneva. She was implicated in a bribery scandal when a company owned by her allegedly received a $320 million bribe from a Swedish-Finnish telecommunications firm to gain access to the Uzbekistan cellular market. (The Swiss public prosecutor included her in its investigations in March 2014.) Gulnora also headed the Fund Forum, whose fifty programs had an extensive impact on Uzbekistan's social and cultural life. She also had a personal website and was an active participant in the Twitter social networking universe. After an apparent fallout with her father and family (and his top security man, Rustam Innoyatov), her businesses and tv stations were closed, her charity shut down, and supporters were arrested. As of March 2014, she was reportedly under house arrest.
The president’s other daughter, 35-year old Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva has been active in government-established charitable associations. She became Uzbekistan's Ambassador to UNESCO in 2008. She also has her own personal website.
Infighting within Karimov family
Gulnora Karimova criticizes other members of Karimov family
Gulnora Karimova asserted that accusations against her were the result of other members of the family trying to turn her father against her, according to an interview in the December 2013 British newspaper Guardian. She also claimed that senior members of the Uzbek National Security Service were involved, and also asserted that the latter were engaged in extensive illegal practices in advancing their interests in the Uzbek economy.