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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 December 2007, 09:21 GMT
Q&A: Uzbek presidential election
Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov
Islam Karimov is one of Central Asia's most autocratic leaders

Uzbekistan is holding its presidential election, and Islam Karimov, who has led the country since before its independence from the Soviet Union, is widely expected to retain the presidency.

Who is standing?

President Karimov is the main contender. He was first elected for a five-year term in 1991, but in 1995 this was extended until 2000, by a referendum that his opponents and independent analysts criticised as rigged.

He won the 2000 election, which was again criticised as neither free nor fair, as well as a 2002 referendum to extend his term until 2007.

Under the constitution, a president is only allowed two terms, but while international observers say that if Mr Karimov is re-elected, he will be starting his third term, Mr Karimov himself insists it will only be his second.

There are three other candidates: Asliddin Rustamov of the People's Democratic Party; Dilorom Toshmuhammadova of the Adolat Social Democratic Party; and Akmal Saidov.

All three are members of parliament.

Is the election likely to be free and fair?

No. Opposition parties are banned in Uzbekistan, and the parties represented in parliament are all pro-government.

In order to run in the election, potential candidates have to be nominated by a registered party or an "initiative group" of at least 300 voters, and then gather at least 815,000 signatures (5% of the population) in support of their candidacy.

Because opposition parties are not registered, and the authoritarian nature of the state discourages people from signing pro-opposition petitions, this effectively rules out any independent candidates.

In one example, human rights activist Abdullo Tojiboy Ogli was nominated by the unregistered Alliance of Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan, but the commission said he had failed to get the required number of signatures.

Could anyone except Mr Karimov win?

In theory there is no reason why one of the other registered candidates cannot beat Mr Karimov, and they are currently receiving campaign slots in the state-run media.

However, their support for the government and the lack of transparency in previous elections suggest that President Karimov will win a comfortable victory.

In the event of his not winning more than 50% of the vote in the first ballot, Mr Karimov will have to face a run-off within 40 days against the second-ranking candidate.

Are any independent observers?

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has sent a 24-person mission.

A team spokesman said the "apparent limited nature of the competition" meant that it would not carry out comprehensive observation of election-day proceedings, but rather visit a number of polling stations on election day.

The Executive Committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States has sent a mission of 80 members, led by Deputy Chairman Vladimir Garkun.

Mr Garkun said the Uzbek election law met "all international standards".

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