Uzbekistan’s president extends rule with new constitution

Uzbekistan’s president extends rule with new constitution

A large majority of voters backed Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s new constitution, allowing him to retain power beyond his two-term limit, but it is unclear who else benefits from the changes.

The turnout of 85 per cent exceeded the 50 per cent required for validation with open debate about the reforms held ahead of the vote last Sunday.

Mirzizyoyev has insisted that the new constitution will improve governance and quality of life in Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan has five recognised political parties, including Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan Liberal Democratic Party, with all five backing the changes.

The authorities tolerated no open debate ahead of the vote. Two anonymous journalists were quoted saying by AFP that they “received instructions to cover Uzbekistan, the referendum and the president in a positive way” with censorship strengthening as the election approached.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported that the voting was not truly representative.

“Uzbekistan’s constitutional referendum was technically well prepared and widely promoted as a move to enhance various rights and freedoms, but it took place in an environment that fell short of genuine political pluralism and competition,” the monitoring group said.

Mirziyoyev, 65, says the new constitution offers stronger protections for human rights, economic freedoms and gender equality in what he has called a “new Uzbekistan”.

But, most significantly, it resets and extends the presidential term to seven years with a two-term limit.

Mirziyoyev’s predecessor, strongman president Islam Karimov, held power for 25 years until his death in 2016.

Uzbekistan’s second president presented himself as Karimov’s modern successor after serving for 13 years as a loyal prime minister under the Soviet-era dictator.

Mirziyoyev’s second term was due to expire in 2026 but the new constitution resets his terms so he can enjoy two more terms spanning 14 years, potentially up to 2040.

Uzbekistan remains authoritarian, despite Mirziyoyev’s clampdown on forced labour in cotton harvesting, where citizens were pressed into service each summer.

After years of international isolation under Karimov, Uzbekistan hopes to join the World Trade Organization.

The new constitution bans capital punishment and supposedly protects human rights with the criminalisation of domestic violence.

Uzbekistan’s tourist potential is yet to be realised. Picture credit: Flickr

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