March 30, 2023
A weekly review of news and analysis of elections in Eurasia, usually posted on Thursdays and occasionally updated throughout the week.
The entrance to the city of Türkmenbaşy, Turkmenistan, a major port on the Caspian Sea. Turkmenistan held elections on March 26 that were neither free nor fair. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Peretz Partensky (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Upcoming Eurasia Elections
Uzbekistan Constitutional Referendum: April 30, 2023
Uzbekistan is holding a referendum on April 30 to change the constitution to allow President Shavkat Mirziyoev to remain in office until 2040.
Elections in Uzbekistan are neither free nor fair, and political opposition is not able to operate in the country. Longtime dictator Islam Karimov, who oversaw the world’s worst massacre of protesters since Tiananmen and tortured dissidents (even boiling some of them to death), died in 2016. His successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has showed some openness to reform, such as a move to end forced labor during the cotton harvest (although forced labor is reportedly still going on) and the release of some – not all – political prisoners, but the country remains a consolidated autocracy. As a result, the “no” campaign in the referendum is basically nonexistent.
RFE/RL (March 29, 2023): Curb Your Enthusiasm! Uzbekistan’s Campaign To Extend Mirziyoev’s Reign Goes Into Overdrive
Georgia Parliamentary Elections: October 2024 (due – snap elections possible)
The United National Movement (UNM), Georgia’s pro-West opposition, held a leadership election in January following a bitter campaign that has left it divided heading into parliamentary elections due in 2024 (Georgia transitioned to a parliamentary system starting in 2012, so these elections will determine who runs the government).
The current government is led by Georgian Dream, a coalition founded by eccentric and Kremlin-connected oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili. It came to power during the 2012 parliamentary elections, ousting former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s UNM. The opposition has been calling for new elections since October 2020’s parliamentary polls, due to claims of fraud. International observers noted significant flaws in the elections, and observed that there were issues with public confidence in the polls.
The most recent vote Georgia, the October 2021 local elections, took place in a tense political climate, exacerbated by the arrest of Saakashvili upon his return to the country on the eve of the vote.
Despite Ivanishvili’s Kremlin ties, Georgian Dream has continued some of Georgia’s steps toward Euro-Atlantic integration, including applying for EU membership. This is because public opinion in Georgia overwhelmingly supports those things. However, it is unclear whether Georgian Dream has a genuine commitment to a Euro-Atlantic course, given its leaders’ ties to Russia. And some say that Saakashvili’s ongoing rough treatment and imprisonment are occurring on Russia’s orders.
Natia Seskuria, Foreign Policy (March 30, 2023): Georgia’s Protesters Won the Battle but Not the War: The government backed down, much to Russia’s chagrin, but it could reintroduce a reviled law
Eurasianet (March 27, 2023): Russian concern over protests in Georgia: Russian officials and propagandists had several reactions to the recent crisis in Georgia: gloating, echoing the Georgian government’s rhetoric, and casually threatening to bomb Tbilisi into the ground
Russia, Gubernatorial and Local Elections in Some Regions (including Moscow mayor): September 10, 2023, followed by presidential election due in September 2024
Russia is not a democracy and elections are neither free nor fair. That said, public opinion is not entirely irrelevant to the political calculus, and Vladimir Putin technically faces voters in 2024. As a result, his regime has become increasingly oppressive at home and aggressive abroad.
IFEX notes: “In 2022, Russia saw more than 21,000 arrests and at least 370 defendants in criminal cases for anti-war speech; more than 200,000 internet resources blocked; and 11 sentences in cases of state treason.”
Allison Quinn, Daily Beast (March 29, 2023): Whispers of Russian Shadow Army Boss Replacing Putin Draw a Response
Belarus Presidential Election: August 2025 (due)
Grigory Ioffe, Jamestown Foundation (March 29, 2023): A Closer Look at Belarus’s New Political Party and Its Leader
Voice of America (March 27, 2023): VOA Interview: Belarus Opposition Chief on Ukraine, Holding Lukashenko Accountable
RFE/RL (March 25, 2023): Defiant Belarusian Opposition Marks Freedom Day As Western Leaders Vow Continued Support
AP (March 24, 2023): U.S. sanctions Belarus election officials, President Lukashenko’s plane
Past Eurasia Elections
Turkmenistan Parliamentary and Local Elections: March 26, 2023
Turkmenistan – a highly repressive state that has never held free or fair elections and lacks a genuine political opposition – held a presidential election on March 12, 2022, nearly two yers early. The reason appears to be to cement dynastic succession, as the son of current president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, Serdar Berdimuhamedov, ran and won in a landslide. Similarly, the ruling party won the 2023 parliamentary elections as well.
AFP (March 26, 2023): Turkmenistan parliament polls close after controlled vote
Kazakhstan Snap Parliamentary Elections: March 19, 2023
In January 2022, a series of violent protests broke out in Kazakhstan, and in the aftermath, something of a political realignment took place with the sidelining of former president Nursultan Nazerbayev, who had previously exercised a great deal of influence behind the scenes.
The country held a constitutional referendum in June 2022 that President Kassym-Jomart claimed would make Kazakhstan more representative, although in reality, the changes were largely cosmetic. A series of snap elections (for president, senate, and now parliament) similarly probably will not produce real reform.
Kazakhstan is a major oil producer and has historically been one of Russia’s closest allies, but has snubbed Moscow on several occasions since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Georgi Gotev, Euractiv (March 30, 2023): Kazakh PM Smailov keeps job after snap elections
RFE/RL (March 27, 2023): As Expected, Kazakhstan’s Ruling Party Takes Majority Of Seats In Parliamentary Vote
Paolo Sorbello, The Diplomat (March 27, 2023): Hopes for Renewal Disappointed Again in Kazakhstan: Political manipulations stripped the people of the choice they were promised in Kazakhstan’s latest parliamentary election
RFE/RL (March 26, 2023): Kazakh Journalist Who Rejected Election Results Launches Hunger Strike In Jail
Eurasia Elections Coming Up in 2023
Uzbekistan Constitutional Referendum: April 30, 2023
Russia, Gubernatorial and Local Elections in Some Regions (including Moscow mayor): September 10, 2023
Armenia, Local Elections in Yerevan: September 2023 (due)
Ukraine Parliamentary Elections: October 29, 2023 (due)
Moldova Local Elections: October 2023 (due)
Belarus Local Elections: Due in 2023 (delays possible)
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