Uzbeki people go to the polls on April 30th, op-ed by Ambassador Dilyor Khakimov

Uzbeki people go to the polls on April 30th, op-ed by Ambassador Dilyor Khakimov

The countdown has begun: on April 30th the people of Uzbekistan will go to the polls to decide on the fate of a new Constitution. We will be witnesses to an unprecedented event in my country’s history, and one that will have profound repercussions on the progress of political reform in Central Asia and beyond.

But why a referendum? Because the people of Uzbekistan, like their counterparts in many other developing democracies, deserve better than the politics of the past. Our April 30 referendum puts the decision to the people themselves.

As the former President of Poland, Alexander Kwasniewski, stated during a visit to Tashkent this week to participate in an international conference addressing the essence and significance of the coming political reforms, “A constitution is a pillar of a rule-of-law state, it must therefore be stable. Free media must inform society and hold government to account, while independent judges and courts will make democracy stronger and build trust of the people in the state.”

Ambassador Dilyor Khakimov with EU Today publisher Gary Cartwright

All of these prerequisite conditions will soon be fulfilled, thanks to the leadership of President Shavkat Miriyoyev, who made a decision to change the approach and put the citizens first. He thus embarked upon a national dialogue process, which sought input, feedback, and affirmations from tens of thousands of Uzbek citizens and culminated in the drafting of a revised Constitution. Consequently, in barely more than a week, the citizens of Uzbekistan will go to the polls to decide on the most important additions and updates to Uzbekistan’s Constitution in over three decades.

In preparation, the pre-referendum activity has reached new heights and generated excitement in the public square. Political parties and NGOs have held hundreds of events that sparked a nationwide debate about the merits of the proposed changes, including fundamental alterations to the respective roles and responsibilities of the Uzbek state and its citizenry.

It is inspiring to see these town hall meetings blossom nationwide, but also in the way that they reflect the diversity of the population. While educational institutions will host academic discussion fora on the substance and intent of the proposed reforms, this is not simply an exercise for the elites. Activists are also taking the case directly to the people in gatherings held in parks, farms, neighborhoods, and other public places. It is truly people-centered.

In addition, coverage of pre-referendum activity has blanketed the airwaves and steered social media dialogue. The draft constitution has been dowloaded more than 5 million times! This is an exciting time for young people especially, and they have volunteered en masse to add to the buzz, having been enlisted to distribute millions of printed materials advocating for participation in the referendum.

Parties have also risen to the challenge. Knowing that a constitutional referendum is a new concept, they have mobilized their members and supporters to engage in a voter education drive to explain what is at stake. They have also compiled a list of observers who will monitor the voting at polling stations on April 30, and have developed a curriculum and schedule of trainings for them.

Would anyone have believed, even a few years ago, that Uzbekistan would be the vanguard of political change in Central Asia? Yet this is our political reality, thanks to a draft is 65% renewed, based on a foundational reversal of political roles: whereas before the state came first, now the citizen’s rights take priority – in healthcare, criminal justice, environment, education, and practically every sphere of society.

Starting with the national dialogue and ending with the referendum, Uzbekistan has embarked on the first phase of extraordinary journey, which has redefined our political life for the better. I am hoping not only for high turnout, but for an overwhelming popular affirmation of the reforms in the April 30 referendum. The result will leave a lasting impact as we strive to more accountable government, and will raise expectations for political reforms among our Central Asian neighbors and, I hope, the world at large.

The author is the Ambassador of Uzbekistan to the Benelux Countries, and Missions to the EU and NATO.


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