Uzbekistan votes in parliamentary polls

Uzbekistan votes in parliamentary polls

Tashkent (AFP) - Uzbeks voted Sunday in parliamentary elections in the ex-Soviet Central Asian state where all four competing parties support President Islam Karimov.

More than 20 million voters registered to elect the 150-seat lower house of parliament, the Oliy Majlis, after the authorities sent out text messages urging people to vote.

Polling stations opened at 6:00 am (0100 GMT) and closed at 8:00 pm.

Turnout reached more than 88 percent, the central election commission said.

The head of the commission, Mirza-Ulugbek Abdusalamov, praised the participation and declared the elections valid.

President Karimov has transferred some powers to parliament in recent years, including a mechanism for a vote of no confidence in the government and allowing the party with the majority of seats to nominate the prime minister.

Four parties -- the Liberal Democratic Party, People's Democratic Party, the Democratic Party Milly Tiklanish (National Revival) and the Social Democratic Party "Adolat" (Justice) -- are competing to fill 135 seats.

All of them support Karimov.

The remaining 15 seats will automatically go to the country's Ecological Movement, founded in 2008 and composed of activists from pro-government environmentalist groups and health sectors.

"I don't know from which party (she is), but I voted for a paediatrician woman, I chose her because she is a doctor," said 67-year-old Mavluda, her grandson in tow, after voting in a school in a residential area in northern Tashkent.

"I chose a candidate who is from my hometown, Khorezm. But I know my vote does not matter, everything is pre-decided for us," said a man in his sixties, asking not to be named.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) deployed a small monitoring mission for the vote, citing the "limited nature of the competition".

Some 300 international observers, mostly from other organisations, observed the vote, according to the election commission.

Uzbekistan's presidential poll will be held in March.

Karimov, who has ruled the country for the past two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, won a new seven-year term in December 2007.

Uzbekistan's parliament amended the constitution to shorten the presidential term from seven to five years in 2012.

Karimov, 76, has not publicly named a successor and indicated in May that he wanted to stay on in his role.