The International Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe saw that “the constitutional referendum in Ukistan was well prepared and widely promoted as a step to promote various rights and freedoms, but it was conducted in an environment that did not take into account pluralism and political competition.”
Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Monday that the constitutional referendum in Uzbekistan, which would strengthen the president’s power, took place in the absence of “pluralism and competition”.
The organization said in a statement that “the constitutional referendum in Ukistan was well prepared and widely promoted as a step to promote various rights and freedoms, but it was conducted in an environment that did not take into account pluralism and political competition.”
The referendum on constitutional amendments in Uzbekistan won the support of an overwhelming majority of voters, according to an official body announced Monday, in a step that strengthens Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s authority at the head of this former Soviet republic.
In office until 2040
Uzbekistan, the largest Central Asian country in terms of population (35 million people), held a constitutional referendum on Sunday on amendments, the most prominent of which would allow the 65-year-old president to continue in office until 2040.
The president assumed power to succeed Islam Karimov, who died in 2016 after a quarter of a century in power, during which Mirziyoyev held the premiership for more than a decade. However, the current president is keen to show a more modern image and seeks to build on it through the new amendments.
According to the preliminary results published by the Electoral Commission on Monday, 90.21% of the voters supported the amendments, while the participation rate in the ballot reached 84.54%. This result was largely expected in a country that witnessed a bloody suppression of demonstrations last year, despite the president’s desire to open up.
The authorities believe that amending two-thirds of the constitution will allow the establishment of democracy and improve the standard of living of the population, who have been living for a long time under a repressive regime, but Mirziyoyev will be the biggest beneficiary.
Among the most prominent measures is the transfer of the position of president from a five-year term to a seven-year term, and not counting the two presidential terms that Mirziyoyev will fill at the end of the current year. Thus, he will theoretically be allowed to hold the position for two additional terms between 2026 and 2040.
Olivier Ferrando, a research professor at the Catholic University of Lyon (France), said earlier that this constitutional review is the president’s “main measure” as part of his “effort to finish” the legacy of his predecessor, Islam Karimov.
The President of neighboring Kazakhstan, Kasym-Jomart Tokayev, hastened to congratulate Mirziyoyev, saying that the result of the referendum reflects “the great confidence and solid support of the Uzbek people,” according to an official statement.
The current president assumed power following Karimov’s death in 2016, after ruling with an iron fist for a quarter of a century. Mirziyoyev was prime minister in his government for 13 years. He won the presidential elections twice in polls that lacked serious competition, according to international observers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Among the new amendments is the constitutionalization of prohibition of the death penalty and respect for human rights in a “new Uzbekistan” that will be more just and desired by the president. Despite economic progress and social development such as criminalizing domestic violence and ending forced labor for teachers, power remains authoritarian in Uzbekistan, according to several NGOs.
In July 2022, in the Republic of Karakalpakstan, demonstrations against a constitutional amendment limiting the autonomy of this vast impoverished region in northern Uzbekistan were bloodily suppressed. According to the authorities, 21 people were killed and more than forty were sentenced to imprisonment. This controversial proposal has since been withdrawn from circulation.
Mirziyoyev put an end to forced labor in the cotton fields in recent years, including children, in a move that was welcomed internationally, especially since Uzbekistan hopes to join the World Trade Organization.
The result of the referendum was not surprising after a one-way campaign in a country where the press remains tightly controlled. Prior to the referendum, two state media journalists confirmed to AFP that they had received “instructions to cover Uzbekistan’s affairs, the referendum and the president in a positive way.”
The two journalists, who asked not to be named, noted the tightening of censorship as the polls approached. The authorities sought to promote the new constitution by resorting to local celebrities to praise the advantages of the text and the president who wanted to push his country towards a new era of development, through major gatherings and concerts.