Uzbek Opposition Party Denied Registration As Presidential Poll Nears

By RFE/RL's Uzbek Service

TASHKENT -- An Uzbek opposition politician says his party has begun a new signature drive to get registered for an autumn presidential election after its first attempt was rejected.

Khidirnazar Allaqulov told RFE/RL that Uzbekistan's Justice Ministry last week rejected his application to register his Haqiqat va Taraqqiyot (Truth and Development) Social Democratic Party, claiming many of the signatures collected by party activists for registration were invalid.

The ministry's "letter says that 27 people who signed the papers supporting our party had deceased. The ministry also said that 2,044 individuals who signed the papers later asked the ministry to cancel their signatures, as they did not know the purpose of the signature drive," Allaqulov said.

He added that the ministry's letter was "controversial," since it said it rejected the registration yet continued to check signatures.

Ministry officials confirmed to RFE/RL that Allaqulov's application had been rejected due to an insufficient number of signatures.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev took over the country after his authoritarian predecessor Islam Karimov's death was announced on September 1, 2016.

Since then, Mirziyoev has positioned himself as a reformer, releasing political prisoners and opening his country to its neighbors and outer world, though many activists have cautioned that the reforms have not gone far enough.

Though Mirziyoev has said he is not against having opposition political groups in Uzbekistan, it has been nearly impossible for any genuine opposition party to be registered since the country gained independence in late 1991.

Many supporters of Allaqulov and his party told RFE/RL in early April that they were forced by local authorities across the country to withdraw their signatures from the new party's registration application.

Allaqulov told RFE/RL that he and his associates had started collecting new signatures for the party's registration, as legislation allows a new application one month after the initial application was rejected.

He added that to avoid pressure on his party's supporters, he and his colleagues will also collect signatures from Uzbek citizens residing abroad.

Allaqulov announced the creation of the Truth and Development Social Democratic Party and his plans to run for the presidency in June 2020.

On March 31, about 20 men attacked Allaqulov in the hall of his apartment block, demanding he "give up politics" and vacate an office in Tashkent rented by his party.

On May 4, a court in Tashkent found Allaqulov guilty of slander for accusing the group of attacking him and ordered him to pay a $470 fine.

The next presidential election will be held on October 24. Mirziyoev, who is expected to run for a second term, has not officially announced whether he plans to run.

None of the five parties represented in parliament have nominated a presidential candidate.