Tashkent, April 30 (BNA) Uzbekistan will vote on constitutional amendments, Sunday, promising its citizens more social protection in exchange for resetting the number of terms of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to zero, which may allow him to remain in power until 2040.
Reuters reported that Mirziyoyev, 65, has been hailed at home and abroad as a liberal reformer for abandoning the previous leadership’s isolationist policies and police-state approach.
And while Tashkent’s Western partners are unlikely to agree to an attempt to expand presidential powers, Uzbekistan is taking a bit of a risk given that the West is seeking support from all of the former Soviet states.
Although the current formula and proposed new version of the constitution limits successive presidential terms to two terms, officials said that if the amended constitution is adopted, Mirziyoyev’s number of terms will be reset to zero.
The reform also extends the presidential term to seven years from five, which in theory could allow Mirziyoyev to remain at the helm of the country of 35 million until 2040.
Meanwhile, the set of amendments declared Uzbekistan a “social state” with increased welfare obligations and permitted 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, the concept of habeas corpus, or protection from unlawful and indefinite imprisonment.
“Our lives are getting better, and I hope it continues under this president,” said the 62-year-old deputy, who declined to give her last name. He added, “I do not mind and I agree to extend (presidency) 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 with stronger wording, but the general idea of reform – and expansion of presidential powers in particular – has met no opposition.
Another voter, Abdurashid Kadyrov, 65, said, “What I see is that the new changes will strengthen our rights and openness (of the state).”
Patriotic music was played at several polling stations on Sunday, some decked out with flowers and some handing out referendum-themed baseball caps and T-shirts to first-time voters.
The referendum will be declared valid if more than half of Uzbekistan’s 19.7 million voters participate. Preliminary results of the vote are expected to be announced on Monday.