Uzbeks back President Mirziyoyev’s reforms proposal

Election commission says more than 90 percent of voters back President Mirziyoyev’s constitutional amendments.

Voters in Uzbekistan have overwhelmingly backed constitutional changes that could allow President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to remain in power until 2040, preliminary results show.

The elections commission said on Monday that more than 90 percent of voters in the Central Asian country backed the reforms. Turnout in the former Soviet country, where rights groups said the government’s authoritarian tendencies limit space for dissent, was about 85 percent.

The constitutional amendments passed in Sunday’s referendum will extend presidential terms from five to seven years and allow Mirziyoyev to run for two more terms when his current one ends in 2026.

Mirziyoyev, 65, became president in 2016 after the death of repressive leader Islam Karimov. He has promised his citizens greater social and legal protections.

He insisted the overhaul of the constitution would improve governance and quality of life in the landlocked country of 35 million people, whose rights have long been heavily restricted.

But observers said Mirziyoyev is expected to benefit the most from the new constitution in the majority-Muslim country.

Although Tashkent’s Western partners are unlikely to approve of the extension of Mirziyoyev’s time in office, Uzbekistan risks little given the West is seeking support from former Soviet nations in its efforts to isolate Russia over the war in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, election observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said the referendum 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,” an OSCE statement said on Monday.

‘Uzbekistan will try to distance itself from Moscow’

Experts said Uzbekistan has managed to build more independent economic and political systems compared with other nations in Central Asia due to years of isolationist policies.

Central Asia – which includes Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – is surrounded by Russia, China, Afghanistan and the Caspian Sea. It is susceptible to volatility in terms of geopolitical and security changes.

“Before the war, Uzbekistan was one step closer to joining the Eurasian Economic Union, and Mirziyoyev even participated in a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation,” Temur Umarov, a fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told Al Jazeera, referring to an economic bloc and military alliance of former Soviet states.

“[But] I think that now Uzbekistan will try to distance itself from Moscow,” he said, predicting that the war in Ukraine could be a game-changer for the entire region.

“The way Central Asia thinks about Russia has changed,” Umarov said. “Before, Russia was seen as a source of stability. Now it seems that its presence in a very sensitive security dimension has become a weakness for the regional stability, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies