© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev speaks during a news conference following talks with Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan January 27, 2023. REUTERS/Vladimir Pirogov//
TASHKENT (Reuters) – Uzbekistan votes on Sunday on constitutional amendments that promise its citizens greater social protection in exchange for President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s term being reset to zero, which could allow him to run for another two terms. seven years old.
Mirziyoyev, 65, has been hailed at home and abroad as a liberal reformer for abandoning the isolationist policies and police-state approach of the previous leadership.
And while Tashkent’s Western partners are unlikely to approve of the attempt to extend presidential powers, Uzbekistan is unlikely as the West seeks the support of all ex-Soviet nations in its efforts to isolate the Russia in its war in Ukraine.
Although the current version and the proposed new version of the constitution limit successive presidential terms to two, the officials said that if the revised constitution is adopted, Mirziyoyev’s term limit would be reset to zero.
The reform also extends the presidential term from five years to seven years, which could in theory allow Mirziyoyev to remain at the helm of the country of 35 million until 2040. His current term ends in 2026.
At the same time, the package of amendments proclaims Uzbekistan a “social state” with increased social obligations and allows non-agricultural land ownership.
It also abolishes the death penalty and establishes greater personal legal protection, for example for a person’s rights when detained by the police, and the concept of habeas corpus, or protection from unlawful imprisonment and indefinite.
“Our lives have improved, and under this president that will continue, I hope,” said Nazira, a 62-year-old voter, who declined to give her last name. “I don’t mind and I approve of extending the (presidential) terms. I thank the president for what he is doing for us.”
Some Uzbek commentators have called for more democratic principles to be included in the bill, and in stronger wording, but the general idea of reform – and extension of presidential powers in particular – met with no opposition.
“What I see is that the new changes will strengthen our rights and the openness (of the state),” said another voter, Abdurashid Kadirov, 65.
Mirziyoyev voted at one of Tashkent’s polling stations, stopping to greet other voters as he entered and left.
“Every person should believe in tomorrow in their heart and support the reforms. We are doing our best to ensure that, and God willing, your faith in the reforms will remain strong,” he said.
Patriotic music was played at many polling stations on Sunday, with some decorated with flowers and others handing out baseball caps and T-shirts with the referendum logo to new voters.
The Central Election Commission declared the referendum valid after turnout exceeded 50%; it reached 81.4% at 5:00 p.m. local time. Preliminary results of the vote are expected on Monday.