Voters in Uzbekistan cast their ballots on Sunday in a snap presidential election that is widely expected to extend the incumbent's rule by seven more years.
The vote followed a constitutional referendum that extended a presidential term from five to seven years and allowed President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to run for two more terms in office.
In 2021, Mirziyoyev was elected to his second five-year term, the limit allowed by the constitution at the time. A set of constitutional amendments approved in April’s plebiscite allowed him to begin the count of terms anew and run for two more, raising the possibility that he could stay in office until 2037.
In May, the 65-year-old Mirziyoyev called for a snap election. He is set to win the vote by a landslide against three token rivals.
More than 10,700 polling stations opened in Uzbekistan at 8 a.m. local time (0300 GMT) and were scheduled to close 12 hours later. By 11 a.m., more than 33% of voters have cast their ballots, election officials reported, which is enough to deem the vote valid in accordance with Uzbek laws.
Since coming to power in 2016 after the death of longtime dictator Islam Karimov, Mirziyoyev has introduced a slew of political and economic reforms that eased some of the draconian policies of his predecessor, who made Uzbekistan into one of the region’s most repressive countries.
At the same time, Uzbekistan has remained strongly authoritarian with no significant opposition. All registered political parties are loyal to Mirziyoyev.
In April’s referendum, more than 90% of those who cast ballots voted to approve the amendments extending the presidential term. Similar constitutional amendments in recent years have been adopted in Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Like the leaders of other Central Asian nations that have close economic ties with Moscow, Mirziyoyev has engaged in a delicate balancing act after Russian troops swarmed Ukraine, steering clear of backing what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” but not condemning it either.