A foregone conclusion: on the Uzbekistan referendum to rewrite the Constitution and the country’s future  

Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev must now make good on his promises after an emphatic win 

May 04, 2023 12:10 am | Updated 03:47 pm IST

Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev won overwhelming voter approval (90%) in Sunday’s referendum to rewrite the Constitution, which the 65-year-old leader claims would not only improve governance and quality of life in the former Soviet republic but could also allow him to extend his rule beyond his current term. Mr. Mirziyoyev, a former loyal Prime Minister of dictator Islam Karimov, has gradually opened up the country for social and economic reforms ever since becoming the President in 2016 after his boss’s death. He cracked down on forced labour in cotton fields, released political prisoners, relaxed media censorship and promoted women’s rights, while his policies aimed at encouraging entrepreneurship and attracting foreign investments are transforming what was once a closed economy to becoming the fastest growing in Central Asia. The new charter, which describes Uzbekistan as “ sovereign, democratic, legal, social and secular”, promises a new media code and criminalises domestic abuse. It promises to ban the death penalty, guarantees prisoner rights and offers better social protection, including housing to lower income people.

But it would also reset the President’s terms to zero, allowing him to contest in two more elections under the new Constitution, which has increased the presidential term from five years to seven. Mr. Mirziyoyev is currently serving his second five-year term, which would expire in 2026. Two more seven-year terms would mean that he could remain in power until 2040, the year he would turn 82. The Election Commission had made detailed arrangements to showcase the voting process as free and fair. International journalists and monitors were invited, allowed to visit polling stations and speak to voters and officials on the day of voting. But still, everyone knew what the results would be as there was no campaign against the President’s proposals. While the big media houses were largely aligned with the government, social media activists and press freedom advocates were under pressure not to campaign against the reforms. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which had sent election observers, stated the voting was not truly representative. Yet, Mr. Mirziyoyev’s reign is markedly different from that of his dictatorial predecessor. Mr. Mirziyoyev’s social and economic reforms, while making sure that his political powers are not threatened, are not enough. If he is serious about his promise of building a new Uzbekistan, he should also launch political reforms, respecting the right to dissent and allowing the opposition to operate free from fear of government pressure and intimidation.

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.