April 13, 2023

A weekly review of news and analysis of elections in Eurasia, usually posted on Thursdays and occasionally updated throughout the week.

The Ark of Bukhara in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, first built in the fifth century AD. Photo credit: Wikimedia/RK (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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.

Eurasianet (April 12, 2023): Déjà vu in Uzbekistan as referendum will keep strongman in power

Akrom Avezov, The Diplomat (April 10, 2023): Old Tricks in a New Uzbekistan: Constitutional Reform and Popular Legitimacy

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.”

Tatiana Stanovaya, Foreign Affairs (April 11, 2023): Putin’s Peril: The Kremlin’s Strongman Is Not as Secure as He Seems

Tony Barber, Financial Times (April 6, 2023): A post-Putin Russia may look like Serbia after Milošević: Nationalist grievances make stony ground for liberal democracy and good relations with the west

Meduza (April 6, 2023): ‘Unlimited potential for fraud’: Online voting is the key to Russia’s election rigging, but the next presidential election will require gerrymandering too

Moldova Local Elections: October 2023 (due)

Moldova is due to hold local elections in October 2023. After that, a presidential election is due in 2024 and parliamentary elections are due in 2025.

The last elections were snap parliamentary elections on July 11, 2021 which pro-Europe center-right president Maia Sandu had been trying to call for months because in Moldova’s parliamentary system, a legislative majority is necessary to execute on any policy agenda. Prior  to these elections, party had a clear majority in parliament (and Sandu’s allies were outnumbered by pro-Russian parties), leading to political instability. Sandu’s allies ended up winning in a landslide.

Sandu herself trounced pro-Kremlin leftist Igor Dodon, who had been the incumbent, in the November 2020 presidential election, after losing narrowly to him in 2016.

Russia has ramped up its harassment Moldova following the victories of Sandu and her allies. Moreover, Russia instigated and continues to perpetuate a frozen conflict in Transnistria, where 1,400 Russian troops are stationed – an obstacle to Moldova’s integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. Additionally, Transnistria’s rampant organized crime and corruption threaten Moldova’s stability. Russia also stokes separatism in Gagauzia, a Turkic-speaking region of Moldova.

On February 10, the pro-West government collapsed, following a warning from Ukraine’s president that Russia had a plan to destroy Moldova. However, Sandu quickly appointed a new government. The country remains on high alert for violence or other destabilization efforts by pro-Russian forces.

RFE/RL (April 14, 2023): Moldovan Court Increases Fugitive Shor’s Prison Sentence To 15 Years

Kyiv Independent (April 13, 2023): Moldova’s top pro-Kremlin politician sentenced to 15 years in prison

AP (April 13, 2023): Ukraine, Romania, Moldova Boost Ties At Security Meeting

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.

Nino Narimanishvili, JAMnews (April 10, 2023): What is the Georgian opposition’s plan to change the government?

Past Eurasia Elections

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.

Marie Dumoulin, European Council on Foreign Relations (April 13, 2023): Steppe change: How Russia’s war on Ukraine is reshaping Kazakhstan

Gaziz Abishev, Carnegie Endowment (April 12, 2023): Has Kazakhstan Become More Democratic Following Recent Elections?

RFE/RL (April 12, 2023): Kazakh Police Detain Two Opposition Figures Over Rallies Challenging Election Results

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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