Uzbekistan is to hold snap presidential elections on July 9, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has said, citing the need to pursue wide-ranging reforms as a reason for bringing the vote forward by more than three years.
The announcement on May 8 appears at first glance to confirm suspicions that changes to the constitution approved in a carefully choreographed referendum held last month were in large part engineered to enable Mirziyoyev, 65, to extend his time in office. Under the new rules, he will be allowed to seek election to another seven-year terms, instead of having to step aside at the end of his current and last permitted five-year term in 2026.
While speaking to the heads of the two chambers of parliament, political party leaders and ministers, however, Mirziyoyev volunteered an alternative range of explanations for calling early elections that he is guaranteed to win in Uzbekistan’s competition-free political system.
Changes to the constitution have radically reformatted how the institutions operate, making a new presidential mandate necessary, he argued.
“Our Basic Law (the constitution) stipulates that the people are the only source of state power. From this point of view, in the updated system of state power, a mandate should be given only to a leader whom our people trust,” the president said, without specifying if he was alluding to himself.
Reverting to the topic of last month’s referendum on the constitution, Mirziyoyev hailed how the vote, which was saw 90 percent of electors back the amendments, was conducted.
“By means of this historic choice, our people once again demonstrated their great faith in our reforms started six years ago,” he said.
Independent observers have indicated, though, that they feel that result was mostly achieved through coercion and trickery rather than genuine public engagement.
A preliminary report on the vote prepared by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, or ODIHR, noted that the referendum took place “in an environment short of genuine political pluralism and competition.”
Vote monitors remarked on “various serious violations” during voting and counting and “an exclusively positive tone” in the referendum coverage by local media.
And while it is true that the constitutional changes have adjusted the balance of power between the various branches of government, critics maintain this has mostly been done to strengthen the president’s hand.
“Previously, the constitution granted parliament the power to approve presidential nominees for prime minister, cabinet ministers, the prosecutor general and the national security service chairman, among others,” the head of Berlin-based Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, Umida Niyazova, wrote in an op-ed for Nikkei Asia. “Under the amendments, parliament can now only endorse the president's choices. In other words, the president no longer needs a parliamentary vote to appoint powerful officials of his choice.”
At this point, vote-fatigue may be wearing the public down.
A cartoon that circulated shortly after Mirziyoyev’s election announcement shows four men chatting over their cups of tea. One looks at his phone and breaks the news: "There's going to be an election in July." The man across from him responds in surprise: “Gosh, who did I vote for last week then?"