MEMBERS OF a local electoral commission carry a ballot box after the presidential election in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, yesterday..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Eduard Yakubov, the president of the Holon Institute of Technology, was among a group of some 400 international observers in Uzbekistan on Sunday monitoring elections to choose its second-ever leader. Of those observers, he was probably the only one who also visited the graves of his parents, grandparents and some 40 relatives.
Yakubov immigrated to Israel with his family from Tashkent in 1990 as the Soviet Union fell apart and – in his words – Uzbekistan was on the verge of collapse. On Thursday, he arrived back in the country as a member of a six-person Israeli delegation to oversee elections in a country that was ruled by the autocratic Islam Karimov until his death in September 2015.
“It is very moving to me because I remember what the situation was when I left the country. There was nothing to eat, the economy was very bad, the stores were empty and there was tremendous tension. It was dangerous going into the streets. That is the reason we left, we did not think there was any hope,” he told The Jerusalem Post from Tashkent.
“Now, I come here 25 years later and you see that, finally, slowly, the economy is being built – there are many cafes, restaurants, theaters, everything is full. People have money to spend. They are dressed nicely. You see a lot of modern cars,” he said.
Yisrael Beytenu MK Robert Ilatov, who is also from Uzbekistan, and Yesh Atid MK Yoel Razbozov, are also members of the Israeli delegation.
Yakubov, a mathematician, said that, as an Israeli, he is loyal to the country and wants to see its development, but that he also wants to see the development of the land where he was born.
“There is a window of opportunity today for those who left Uzbekistan and who are now in Israel to be a bridge between the countries and help them benefit one from the other,” he said.
This is the second time Yakubov has served as an election observer in Uzbekistan, having also done so in March 2015, during the reign of Karimov.
Karimov ruled the country with an iron fist, and Yakubov said he already feels the difference in the country.
The laws governing the elections are closer to Western ideas of democracy than they were in 2015, and the Uzbeks are “learning to build a democratic model, taking into account their own traditions,” he maintained.
Four candidates ran in Sunday’s election, with the country’s long-serving prime minister and interim president, Shavkat Miriyev, widely expected to win the elections by a landslide.
Nevertheless, Yakubov does not feel that he and the other election monitors are being used as mere window dressing for an election whose results are known in advance. He said he visited a number of polling places, and was free to go wherever he wanted and ask questions of whomever he wanted.
“I am speaking to the people, and they are saying that they feel something different,” he said.”
“In my conversations with people, there are a couple of things they want from the next president. The first is they want stability. The second is they want a continuation of the peace, and no involvement in military alliances.
And the third is they want a continuation of the country’s secular character.”
Uzbekistan, a resourcerich country of some 32 million people in Central Asia, is a majority Muslim country.
That is why its relations with Israel are so significant, Yakubov said, arguing that building relationships with states where there is a moderate Islamic tradition shows the world that Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians is not one of religion.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will travel next week to two other Muslim- majority countries in the region characterized by a moderate band of Islam – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan’s giant neighbor to the north, and Azerbaijan.
Israel was among the first countries to recognize Uzbekistan after it declared independence in 1991. The two countries have strong economic ties, with Israel being one of its main trading partners. Yakubov said the potential for Israeli businesses there is great and may be enhanced significantly if the next president opens up the economy.