Uzbekistan: April 30 date set for constitution referendum
Lawmakers say that 65 percent of the current constitution has been rewritten.
Lawmakers in Uzbekistan have provisionally set an April 30 date for a long-delayed referendum on changing the constitution in ways that will enable President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to maintain his grip on power for more than a decade to come.
The lower house of the legislature approved the date on March 10 following a day of low-key discussions and the subsequent overwhelming backing of the proposed amendments. Out of a total of 137 members of parliament, 134 voted in favor of the referendum, while two cast votes of abstention and one did not vote at all. Nobody opposed.
“Today was a historic day for our nation. An important stage in the building of Uzbek statehood,” Nuriddin Ismoilov, the speaker, said after MPs cast their vote.
The upper house will need to have their say, but there is no reason to believe Senators will diverge from the rubber-stamp lower house of parliament’s decision.
What is known more or less for certain is that 65 percent of the text of the existing constitution will be changed to some or lesser extent, since that is what the lawmakers themselves have said. The public has not yet been fully apprised of what exactly those changes are, however, since it has not been shown the amendments.
One notable change that is common knowledge, though, is that the length of a presidential term is to be extended from five to seven years. Mirziyoyev is at present only entitled to serve two five-year terms – he is currently in his second term – but the extension would, according to his own proxies, reset the clock and allow him to run for two more seven-year terms. That means he could stay in office until 2040.
Mirziyoyev’s case for this tinkering, which he first gingerly floated in November 2021, at the inauguration for his second term, was that “constitutional reforms have been undertaken by many states during a period of deep-rooted change.” The emphasis, he said in another speech some weeks later, should be on fashioning a document that would have welfare at its core.
“We must change the current principle of state-society-person to a new one of person-society-state, and this must be enshrined in national legislation and in legal practice,” he said. “During the process of implementing economic reforms, the main criterion should be ensuring the interests of the person.”
But an initial draft published online last June sparked a surge of fury in the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan, where many took exception to a provision that would have deprived their territory of the wholly notional option to declare a referendum on independence. The prospect of Karakalpakstan gaining independence is a deeply remote and implausible one, but the high-handed manner in which this option was to be revoked inspired an unusually large show of mass dissent.
A heavy-handed crackdown of the protests that broke out in the Karakalpak capital, Nukus, in the first few days of July left at least 21 dead. Following that unrest, Mirziyoyev quickly backtracked on the proposed changes related to Karakalpakstan, as if to acknowledge the miscalculation on the constitution, although he at the same time blamed “harmful external forces” for the trouble.
With that draft derailed, so too were plans to hold a referendum in December.
Mirziyoyev will hope it is second time lucky.
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