Shortly after Uzbekistan's independence in 1991, President Karimov declared victory in the new state's seriously marred first presidential election. He extended his term in office through a plebiscite in 1995. President Karimov was re-elected for what was supposed to be his final five-year term in 2000. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) declined to send observers to that presidential vote after determining that the election environment allowed no possibility for a genuine contest. U.S. officials announced that the election "was neither free nor fair and offered Uzbekistan's voters no true choice." The State Department also noted that the only candidate ostensibly running against President Karimov announced that he himself had voted for the incumbent president.
The Uzbek government held another referendum in January 2002 to extend President Karimov's presidency to 2007 by amending Uzbekistan's constitution to allow for seven-year presidential terms.
In His Own Words
"The OSCE focuses only on establishment of democracy, the protection of human rights and the freedom of the press. I am now questioning these values." - President Karimov, after the OSCE criticized the 1999 parliamentary elections. Agence France-Presse, January 8, 2000.
"Such people must be shot in the forehead! If necessary, I'll shoot them myself…!" - President Karimov, upon the 1998 adoption of a highly restrictive religion law, warning parliament not to be soft on "Islamic extremists." Many peaceful Muslims have also been rounded up in the sweeps of "fundamentalists." BBC Monitoring report of Uzbek Radio second program, May 1, 1998.
"I'm prepared to rip off the heads of 200 people, to sacrifice their lives, in order to save peace and calm in the republic…If my child chose such a path, I myself would rip off his head." - President Karimov reacting to acts of violence in Uzbekistan in March 1999. The government originally blamed the incidents, including a bus hijacking, on "criminals" and later on "Islamic extremists." Agence France-Presse, April 2, 1999.