OSCE Criticizes Uzbek Campaign

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Europe's main rights watchdog chided Uzbekistan on Tuesday over its upcoming presidential election and said it would not send a full team of observers due to visa delays.

President Islam Karimov, in power since 1989, is widely expected to be re-elected in the Dec. 23 vote. No opposition parties have been able to register legally, and official media never criticize the president.

"The political process in the Republic of Uzbekistan does not seem conducive to meaningful and effective competition," the election monitoring arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement.

"This is partly because of the de facto suppression of most opposition forces and independent civil society, as well as lack of critical media," it said.

The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said it would not send a full-scale mission to the vote because its monitors could not gets visas on time. It said it would send a limited observation mission instead.

The ODIHR decided not to observe the State Duma elections last month after not getting Russian visas on time.

Rights campaigners have accused Karimov of cracking down on basic freedoms, but the Uzbek leader has denied widespread human rights violations.

Uzbekistan has never held an election judged free and fair. Karimov has pledged to bring more democracy if re-elected.

The three other presidential hopefuls are from pro-presidential parties and have never publicly criticized Karimov. They are Dilorom Tashmukhamedova from the Adolat party, Asliddin Rustamov from People's Democratic party, and Akmal Saidov, a parliament deputy.

The ODIHR said it had sent an assessment mission to Uzbekistan that met Uzbek officials.

"The [mission] also met some representatives of civil society who alleged that regional governors as well as other election officials will make sure that the incumbent candidate is re-elected," it said.

"They expressed their concern that everything will be calm on election day, but that there would be no transparent and accountable tabulation of the votes."