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Uzbekistan: from the new Constitution to the new quality of the state

photo: uza.uz
4 May 2023
Victoria MagdaVictoria Magda

Victoria Magda

CISS expert

On 1 May, in Uzbekistan the updated Constitution came into force. Shortly before, the national referendum on Constitutional changes took place with 84.5% turnout and 90.2% of voters supporting the proposed amendments. One of the novelties in the new Constitution s introduction of fundamental rules pertaining to the legal status of the state of Uzbekistan. For the first time, the Constitution fixes the unalterable provision of Uzbekistan being a sovereign, democratic state based on the rule of law and social welfare of citizens.

The first stage of democratization

Islam Karimov, the first President of Uzbekistan, was also the first one to speak about democratic transitions back in 2010. The «proprietary Uzbek model» of the country development, which, according to him, «protected the people of Uzbekistan from the heaviest economic and social disruption», needed certain reforms. It was impossible for one person to cope with difficult challenges (Karimov was ruling the country by sole authority). That is why he decided to share presidential powers by way of changing the Constitution. Islam Karimov proposed to distribute the authorities between three entities of state power: the President, the legislative and the executive branches. According to him, the Parliament, or rather, the party having won the majority of the seats in the Legislative Assembly, would be endowed with the right to propose the candidate for the Prime-Minister position or the non-confidence vote with respect to the Head of the Cabinet. Let us remind here, that the President of Uzbekistan was forming the Cabinet at his sole discretion.

Some other insignificant changes were proposed as well, e.g., the need to assure freedom of speech and information in media, changes in judicial and legal system, amendments to the Electoral Code, changes in forming the civil society institutions and non-government organizations. The President also proposed a number of changes in the economic sphere. The concept put forward by Islam Karimov was to a great extent designed for the external stakeholders. It did not play any significant role in the internal politics at that time; however, it laid the foundation for further national modernization.

A liberal at command

After Shavkat Mirziyoyev came into power, the situation in Uzbekistan changed drastically. Serious reforms pertaining to practically all the spheres of life commenced. The concept of «New Uzbekistan» put forward by the new leader is being implemented rather quickly. That makes the Constitution, according to which Uzbekistan used to live, obsolete.

Mirziyoyev announced the need for Constitutional reform immediately after winning the Presidential race in November 2021. He voiced this proposal in his inauguration speech talking about the priorities of Uzbekistan development for the next five years. According to him, in order to move on «the Constitution needs improvement determining our progress today and tomorrow». «If we turn to international practices, we will see that in many states Constitutional reforms were implemented during the period of radical changes», Shavkat Mirziyoyev emphasized. The President assured that Uzbekistan would never deviate from the path of democratic reforms. The respective preparatory work started from that day. Public reception offices were open for the citizens to send their proposals. In total, more than 220 thousand of such applications were collected. After that the authorities started presenting the Constitutional reform as the one demanded by the people. Eventually, the Constitution was updated by 65%. Only the articles about the sovereign status of the Karakalpakstan Republic remained unchanged.

A wave of separatism

When drafting the new Constitution, the Work Group cut some provisions about sovereignty of the Karakalpakstan Republic and its right of secession from Uzbekistan, because de-facto Karakalpakstan never had sovereignty, except for its own flag and state emblem. This draft of the Constitution was published on 25 June 2022 for discussion. This incurred displeasure of local elites seating on financial flows. Being afraid of changes capable of undermining their prosperity, the elites organized the «warmed-up» crowds to act against the change in  Karakalpakstan status. The situation came thick and fast. The protests developed into violent clashes with the police. Some people were killed and many were injured. Only Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who immediately arrived to Nukus, was able to stop the disturbances. He promised to keep the Constitution articles pertaining to the status of Karakalpakstan without any changes.

One way or another, the situation in Karakalpakstan casted a shadow on the Constitution draft, and the decision was made to revise it, simultaneously conducting a thorough investigation of the Nukus events. Active protesters, including their external moderators, were identified, arrested and sentenced for long terms in prison.

The story of this Republic in the North-West of Uzbekistan at the Southern shore of the Aral Sea has never been easy, and it went through several changes of its affiliation. At first, it used to be part of Kazakhstan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and was called Kara-Kalpakian Autonomous  Area. In 1936, it ascended to Uzbekistan Soviet Socialist Republic. And in 1964 it received the status of autonomy being part of Uzbekistan. On 14 December 1990, the Supreme Soviet of this autonomous republic adopted the State Sovereignty Declaration. On 9 January 1992, the autonomous territory was transformed into the Republic of Karakalpakstan, and in 1993 the 20-year treaty about its accession to Uzbekistan was signed (this treaty also provided for the right of the referendum about the secession from Uzbekistan).

The population of Karakalpakstan is about 2 million. This account for approximately 5% of population of Uzbekistan, but with account of high birth rate, Karakalpakstan may have 8 million people more in 10-20 years already. As for ethnic groups, Uzbeks, Kara-Kalpaks (close to Kazakhs in their traditions and language) and Kazakhs live here. Despite having a pretty big area (accounting for almost 40% of Uzbekistan territory) and being rich with mineral resources (oil, gas and gold), this republic has been a subsidized region back from the Soviet times. After shallowing of the Aral Sea, this region became environmentally troubled. The soils here are mostly alkaline, and agriculture is extremely difficult.

Karakalpakstan is one of the major recipients of subventions and subsidies from the national budget of Uzbekistan. The unemployment is very high, especially among younger people, despite of the fact, that five years ago Tashkent started implementing the program to improve social and economic situation in the region. Roads, airport, gas pipelines, water mains, and new industrial enterprises are currently under construction. The landscaping project is being implemented in the area of the dried-up bottom of the Aral Sea, the so-called Aralkum. In general, the Aral Sea zone Ц the major part of Karakalpakstan territory Ц has become the environmental innovations zone. However, some problems persist, and they need to be resolved.

Nukus lessons learned

Tashkent has learned its lessons from Nukus events and gave serious considerations to preparing the referendum. The media in the non-stop mode provided explanations on every article of the draft Constitution and on the need for amendments. The Commission received 220,000 proposals from individuals and organizations. That is why the members of the national Parliament proposed to change the name of the document from «amendments and supplements to the Constitution» to «re-stated Constitution». In essence, the totally new Constitution of Uzbekistan was put to referendum. The main amendment was changing the previous fundamental principle «state Ц society Ц citizen» to «citizen Ц society Ц state».

The re-stated Constitution comprised an article about Uzbekistan being a secular state. It is important because «creeping Islamization» is observed in the country. «The main threat for all the programs of modernizing our Uzbekistan is strengthening of radical fundamentalists and their coming into power», Bahtiyor Ergashev, the Director of Research Initiatives Center, emphasizes. Ц «Probably, upon adoption of the new Constitution, the authorities will be able to stand up to Islamists and to resolve the conflicts in favor of the government».

Another important statement is that Uzbekistan is a social state. To live up to this objective, serious changes in economic and social policy are required. Things are about to change in healthcare, education, pension scheme. Work on Parliament strengthening was launched: the Senate and the Legislative Chamber received new powers. It means that the country is gradually moving from the super-President model to the Presidential-Parliamentary one. The first steps were made back in 2010. According to Bahtiyor Ergashev, it will not be closing the period of amendments and supplements to the Constitution. After two or three years, new amendments will be introduced, and we approximately know which ones Ц about local governments.

The new version of the Constitution comprises the provision about UzbekistanТs committed to following the internationally excepted principles of assurance of sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. It is an evidence of Tashkent having its principled positions with respect to the functioning of the international law system.

The most debated provision of the new Constitution was Article 90 Ц the preceding two terms of Shavkat MirziyoyevТs presidency are nullified and he receives the right to run for this political office two more times, each time Ц for the term of 7 years. Thus, he may stay in presidency until 2042.

Political blackmailing by OSCE

The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) with OSCE sent its mission to Uzbekistan on 27 April to oversee the voting at the referendum, and the mission was working until 9 May. It evaluated positively the technical preparation efforts, however ODIHR expressed its dissatisfaction with the absence of competition. «The referendum took place in the conditions not meeting the criteria of political pluralism», announced Albert Jonsson, the head of the overseeing mission.  According to him, the Constitutional referendum was technically very well prepared and was promoted as a step towards expansion of civil rights and freedoms, however, it was conducted in the conditions not meeting the criteria of political pluralism and competitions.

According to Jonsson, the recent reforms brought the long-awaited changes improving certain spheres, but did not result in political pluralism yet, when different views are taken into account: «There is still a long way to go before the main rights, such as freedom of speech, of assembly and of association, will be fully observed».

The former OSCE observer, the Director of the Ethnic-National Strategy Agency Alexander Kobrinsky called the statement of ODIHR/OSCE «political blackmailing». In his opinion, the West used it to send a signal to Tashkent about the need to break the relations with Russia. «Their report was 99% written even before the referendum, in Warsaw, in English, and it was there translated into Uzbek and Russian language. Then a few episodes were added «from the spot» to assure authenticity, and now all of us are offered a few pages, which they claim to be a serious document. The main report will appear in 2-3 months. If Mirziyoyev ignores the recommendations of the West and does not start to distance himself from Moscow, the remarks about absence of competition and pluralism will be strengthened in the new version of the report. OSCE may even prepare a document about the non-recognition of voting results at the referendum in Uzbekistan. This is one of the tools for the opposition to use for increasing their pressure on the government», Kobrinsky believes.

Choosing between Russia and the West

In general, the EU observers issued favorable comments regarding the finished referendum saying that it had been conducted on a pretty high level. According to them, the authorities demonstrated adequate response to the minor violations, which were detected. Hence, the referendum is deemed to be effected. The new Constitution came into force on 1 May. Uzbekistan was recognized as a partner of Germany Ц the main country of the European Union, the government of which promised Tashkent to invest USD 9 bn into energy sector, mining industry, transportation and humanitarian projects. Berlin also promises to assist the facilitated accession of Uzbekistan to the World Trade Organization, where negotiations are close to completion, as well as to assist in signing the extended partnership and cooperation agreement with the European Union. Those were the results of Shavkat Mirziyoyev visiting Berlin on 2-3 May.

Uzbekistan does not have enough capability to implement the facilitated modernization policy independently, reckoning upon its own resources. The country just does not have the required money. There are not enough business people, which could tackle serious investment projects in industrial sector. That is why foreign investment promotion and protection is and will continue to be one of the key tasks of TashkentТs economic policy.

The pressure of the west is getting stronger not only in Uzbekistan, but in all Central Asian countries. Delegations from the US and the EU are coming to this region, they ¬ регион едут делегации —Ўј и ≈—, they threaten the national governments with secondary sanctions and with breaking the relations. And here is where the problems start. The Western countries are reluctant to sponsor economic projects. Direct investment is coming from Russia, China, UAE, Turkey. But this is not comfortable for Brussels and Washington, who introduced sanctions against Russia and claim to introduce secondary sanctions for Central Asian countries for their cooperation with the Russian Federation.

«For Uzbekistan to find the way out of the situation, when it wants and needs to continue cooperation with Russia or with China, who are the leaders of the anti-Western bloc and provide for half of the foreign trade turnover of Uzbekistan, and at the same time to keep the relations with the Western countries Ц it is a great challenge and a big problem. And there are the first victims of such sanctions war: Ahangarancement is just the early sign, and there will be many such signs, because Uzbek business traditionally wants to work with Russia and in Russia because it bring profit», Bahtiyor Ergashev believes. The analyst does not exclude that Tashkent will be probably forced to make a choice between the RF and the West, because the emerging violent global confrontation is for the long haul.

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Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies
Publications

Uzbekistan: from the new Constitution to the new quality of the state

photo: uza.uz
5 ма€ 2023
Victoria Magda

Victoria Magda

CISS expert

On 1 May, in Uzbekistan the updated Constitution came into force. Shortly before, the national referendum on Constitutional changes took place with 84.5% turnout and 90.2% of voters supporting the proposed amendments. One of the novelties in the new Constitution s introduction of fundamental rules pertaining to the legal status of the state of Uzbekistan. For the first time, the Constitution fixes the unalterable provision of Uzbekistan being a sovereign, democratic state based on the rule of law and social welfare of citizens.

The first stage of democratization

Islam Karimov, the first President of Uzbekistan, was also the first one to speak about democratic transitions back in 2010. The «proprietary Uzbek model» of the country development, which, according to him, «protected the people of Uzbekistan from the heaviest economic and social disruption», needed certain reforms. It was impossible for one person to cope with difficult challenges (Karimov was ruling the country by sole authority). That is why he decided to share presidential powers by way of changing the Constitution. Islam Karimov proposed to distribute the authorities between three entities of state power: the President, the legislative and the executive branches. According to him, the Parliament, or rather, the party having won the majority of the seats in the Legislative Assembly, would be endowed with the right to propose the candidate for the Prime-Minister position or the non-confidence vote with respect to the Head of the Cabinet. Let us remind here, that the President of Uzbekistan was forming the Cabinet at his sole discretion.

Some other insignificant changes were proposed as well, e.g., the need to assure freedom of speech and information in media, changes in judicial and legal system, amendments to the Electoral Code, changes in forming the civil society institutions and non-government organizations. The President also proposed a number of changes in the economic sphere. The concept put forward by Islam Karimov was to a great extent designed for the external stakeholders. It did not play any significant role in the internal politics at that time; however, it laid the foundation for further national modernization.

A liberal at command

After Shavkat Mirziyoyev came into power, the situation in Uzbekistan changed drastically. Serious reforms pertaining to practically all the spheres of life commenced. The concept of «New Uzbekistan» put forward by the new leader is being implemented rather quickly. That makes the Constitution, according to which Uzbekistan used to live, obsolete.

Mirziyoyev announced the need for Constitutional reform immediately after winning the Presidential race in November 2021. He voiced this proposal in his inauguration speech talking about the priorities of Uzbekistan development for the next five years. According to him, in order to move on «the Constitution needs improvement determining our progress today and tomorrow». «If we turn to international practices, we will see that in many states Constitutional reforms were implemented during the period of radical changes», Shavkat Mirziyoyev emphasized. The President assured that Uzbekistan would never deviate from the path of democratic reforms. The respective preparatory work started from that day. Public reception offices were open for the citizens to send their proposals. In total, more than 220 thousand of such applications were collected. After that the authorities started presenting the Constitutional reform as the one demanded by the people. Eventually, the Constitution was updated by 65%. Only the articles about the sovereign status of the Karakalpakstan Republic remained unchanged.

A wave of separatism

When drafting the new Constitution, the Work Group cut some provisions about sovereignty of the Karakalpakstan Republic and its right of secession from Uzbekistan, because de-facto Karakalpakstan never had sovereignty, except for its own flag and state emblem. This draft of the Constitution was published on 25 June 2022 for discussion. This incurred displeasure of local elites seating on financial flows. Being afraid of changes capable of undermining their prosperity, the elites organized the «warmed-up» crowds to act against the change in  Karakalpakstan status. The situation came thick and fast. The protests developed into violent clashes with the police. Some people were killed and many were injured. Only Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who immediately arrived to Nukus, was able to stop the disturbances. He promised to keep the Constitution articles pertaining to the status of Karakalpakstan without any changes.

One way or another, the situation in Karakalpakstan casted a shadow on the Constitution draft, and the decision was made to revise it, simultaneously conducting a thorough investigation of the Nukus events. Active protesters, including their external moderators, were identified, arrested and sentenced for long terms in prison.

The story of this Republic in the North-West of Uzbekistan at the Southern shore of the Aral Sea has never been easy, and it went through several changes of its affiliation. At first, it used to be part of Kazakhstan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and was called Kara-Kalpakian Autonomous  Area. In 1936, it ascended to Uzbekistan Soviet Socialist Republic. And in 1964 it received the status of autonomy being part of Uzbekistan. On 14 December 1990, the Supreme Soviet of this autonomous republic adopted the State Sovereignty Declaration. On 9 January 1992, the autonomous territory was transformed into the Republic of Karakalpakstan, and in 1993 the 20-year treaty about its accession to Uzbekistan was signed (this treaty also provided for the right of the referendum about the secession from Uzbekistan).

The population of Karakalpakstan is about 2 million. This account for approximately 5% of population of Uzbekistan, but with account of high birth rate, Karakalpakstan may have 8 million people more in 10-20 years already. As for ethnic groups, Uzbeks, Kara-Kalpaks (close to Kazakhs in their traditions and language) and Kazakhs live here. Despite having a pretty big area (accounting for almost 40% of Uzbekistan territory) and being rich with mineral resources (oil, gas and gold), this republic has been a subsidized region back from the Soviet times. After shallowing of the Aral Sea, this region became environmentally troubled. The soils here are mostly alkaline, and agriculture is extremely difficult.

Karakalpakstan is one of the major recipients of subventions and subsidies from the national budget of Uzbekistan. The unemployment is very high, especially among younger people, despite of the fact, that five years ago Tashkent started implementing the program to improve social and economic situation in the region. Roads, airport, gas pipelines, water mains, and new industrial enterprises are currently under construction. The landscaping project is being implemented in the area of the dried-up bottom of the Aral Sea, the so-called Aralkum. In general, the Aral Sea zone Ц the major part of Karakalpakstan territory Ц has become the environmental innovations zone. However, some problems persist, and they need to be resolved.

Nukus lessons learned

Tashkent has learned its lessons from Nukus events and gave serious considerations to preparing the referendum. The media in the non-stop mode provided explanations on every article of the draft Constitution and on the need for amendments. The Commission received 220,000 proposals from individuals and organizations. That is why the members of the national Parliament proposed to change the name of the document from «amendments and supplements to the Constitution» to «re-stated Constitution». In essence, the totally new Constitution of Uzbekistan was put to referendum. The main amendment was changing the previous fundamental principle «state Ц society Ц citizen» to «citizen Ц society Ц state».

The re-stated Constitution comprised an article about Uzbekistan being a secular state. It is important because «creeping Islamization» is observed in the country. «The main threat for all the programs of modernizing our Uzbekistan is strengthening of radical fundamentalists and their coming into power», Bahtiyor Ergashev, the Director of Research Initiatives Center, emphasizes. Ц «Probably, upon adoption of the new Constitution, the authorities will be able to stand up to Islamists and to resolve the conflicts in favor of the government».

Another important statement is that Uzbekistan is a social state. To live up to this objective, serious changes in economic and social policy are required. Things are about to change in healthcare, education, pension scheme. Work on Parliament strengthening was launched: the Senate and the Legislative Chamber received new powers. It means that the country is gradually moving from the super-President model to the Presidential-Parliamentary one. The first steps were made back in 2010. According to Bahtiyor Ergashev, it will not be closing the period of amendments and supplements to the Constitution. After two or three years, new amendments will be introduced, and we approximately know which ones Ц about local governments.

The new version of the Constitution comprises the provision about UzbekistanТs committed to following the internationally excepted principles of assurance of sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. It is an evidence of Tashkent having its principled positions with respect to the functioning of the international law system.

The most debated provision of the new Constitution was Article 90 Ц the preceding two terms of Shavkat MirziyoyevТs presidency are nullified and he receives the right to run for this political office two more times, each time Ц for the term of 7 years. Thus, he may stay in presidency until 2042.

Political blackmailing by OSCE

The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) with OSCE sent its mission to Uzbekistan on 27 April to oversee the voting at the referendum, and the mission was working until 9 May. It evaluated positively the technical preparation efforts, however ODIHR expressed its dissatisfaction with the absence of competition. «The referendum took place in the conditions not meeting the criteria of political pluralism», announced Albert Jonsson, the head of the overseeing mission.  According to him, the Constitutional referendum was technically very well prepared and was promoted as a step towards expansion of civil rights and freedoms, however, it was conducted in the conditions not meeting the criteria of political pluralism and competitions.

According to Jonsson, the recent reforms brought the long-awaited changes improving certain spheres, but did not result in political pluralism yet, when different views are taken into account: «There is still a long way to go before the main rights, such as freedom of speech, of assembly and of association, will be fully observed».

The former OSCE observer, the Director of the Ethnic-National Strategy Agency Alexander Kobrinsky called the statement of ODIHR/OSCE «political blackmailing». In his opinion, the West used it to send a signal to Tashkent about the need to break the relations with Russia. «Their report was 99% written even before the referendum, in Warsaw, in English, and it was there translated into Uzbek and Russian language. Then a few episodes were added «from the spot» to assure authenticity, and now all of us are offered a few pages, which they claim to be a serious document. The main report will appear in 2-3 months. If Mirziyoyev ignores the recommendations of the West and does not start to distance himself from Moscow, the remarks about absence of competition and pluralism will be strengthened in the new version of the report. OSCE may even prepare a document about the non-recognition of voting results at the referendum in Uzbekistan. This is one of the tools for the opposition to use for increasing their pressure on the government», Kobrinsky believes.

Choosing between Russia and the West

In general, the EU observers issued favorable comments regarding the finished referendum saying that it had been conducted on a pretty high level. According to them, the authorities demonstrated adequate response to the minor violations, which were detected. Hence, the referendum is deemed to be effected. The new Constitution came into force on 1 May. Uzbekistan was recognized as a partner of Germany Ц the main country of the European Union, the government of which promised Tashkent to invest USD 9 bn into energy sector, mining industry, transportation and humanitarian projects. Berlin also promises to assist the facilitated accession of Uzbekistan to the World Trade Organization, where negotiations are close to completion, as well as to assist in signing the extended partnership and cooperation agreement with the European Union. Those were the results of Shavkat Mirziyoyev visiting Berlin on 2-3 May.

Uzbekistan does not have enough capability to implement the facilitated modernization policy independently, reckoning upon its own resources. The country just does not have the required money. There are not enough business people, which could tackle serious investment projects in industrial sector. That is why foreign investment promotion and protection is and will continue to be one of the key tasks of TashkentТs economic policy.

The pressure of the west is getting stronger not only in Uzbekistan, but in all Central Asian countries. Delegations from the US and the EU are coming to this region, they ¬ регион едут делегации —Ўј и ≈—, they threaten the national governments with secondary sanctions and with breaking the relations. And here is where the problems start. The Western countries are reluctant to sponsor economic projects. Direct investment is coming from Russia, China, UAE, Turkey. But this is not comfortable for Brussels and Washington, who introduced sanctions against Russia and claim to introduce secondary sanctions for Central Asian countries for their cooperation with the Russian Federation.

«For Uzbekistan to find the way out of the situation, when it wants and needs to continue cooperation with Russia or with China, who are the leaders of the anti-Western bloc and provide for half of the foreign trade turnover of Uzbekistan, and at the same time to keep the relations with the Western countries Ц it is a great challenge and a big problem. And there are the first victims of such sanctions war: Ahangarancement is just the early sign, and there will be many such signs, because Uzbek business traditionally wants to work with Russia and in Russia because it bring profit», Bahtiyor Ergashev believes. The analyst does not exclude that Tashkent will be probably forced to make a choice between the RF and the West, because the emerging violent global confrontation is for the long haul.