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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Incumbents Favored in Uzbek Vote

TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan votes Sunday in its first parliamentary elections since independence in 1991 and the 11.2 million voters are likely to return a legislature loyal to President Islam Karimov.

More than 630 candidates stand for 250 seats in a new parliament half the size of the old Supreme Soviet, but only two official parties, the Democratic Party -- former communists -- and the Fatherland Progress Party, will run against local nominees.

Karimov told a news conference after talks with Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko that the multiparty vote marked a step forward from Soviet-style elections in which one candidate stood unopposed for each seat.

"People will have the chance to make a choice," he said.

But chances that the Fatherland Party would act as a lively opposition party were reduced after its top candidate, banker Rustam Usmanov, was barred from elections after calling for minority ethnic Russians to be allowed to take dual citizenship.

Banned opposition groups, such as the nationalist movements Birlik and Erk, complain they are being repressed and their efforts to register for the elections were blocked by the government.

"The results are already on the table of the president before the election," a Birlik spokeswoman said.

She said Birlik had 40,000 members before it was repressed. Now 20 members are in jail, 40 in exile, 100 have lost their jobs and five have disappeared in mysterious circumstances.

Election commission chairman Kudratulla Akhmedov said he expected Sunday's vote, in which local councils will also be elected, to produce a turnout of 96 percent or more.

International observers coordinated by both the United Nations and the United States will be monitoring voting.