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Uzbekistan holds parliamentary vote without real opposition

MOSCOW – Voters in the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan are choosing a new parliament in an election that presents no genuine opposition.

The vote is the first parliamentary election since the death of longtime strongman leader Ismail Karimov three years ago. But the five parties in Sunday's election all were Karimov loyalists and they also support the agenda of his successor.

Since becoming president in 2016, Shavkat Mirziyoyev has implemented reforms including relaxing the censorship of critical news websites and releasing some political prisoners. But human rights groups say thousands of people in Uzbekistan remain imprisoned on false charges and cite problems with forced labor.

At an election-day news conference, the head of the country's elections commission Mirzo-Ulugbek Abdusalomov said new political forces should form and register political parties.

“We believe that opposition parties should be created in our country, because it's hard to encourage pluralism in society without opposition,” he said.

According to Temur Umarov, a Central Asia analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, “there should not be any illusions about this parliamentary election.”

"These are not unprecedented free and fair elections. They (the government) put it this way: It is just the first time for us, give us please some time to learn," Umarov said.