Uzbek President Mirziyoyev calls snap presidential election to gain new mandate

Uzbek President Mirziyoyev calls snap presidential election to gain new mandate
Uzbek President Mirziyoyev has called a snap presidential election to gain a new mandate after his controversial changes to the constitution that extended his rule by 14 years. / bne IntelliNews
By Ben Aris in Berlin May 8, 2023

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has called a snap presidential election on July 9, to establish a fresh mandate following a controversial change to the constitution.

The president said the election was needed to give him a fresh mandate “to deal with the complex issues affecting the world today”, he said as cited by Reuters on May 8.

Mirziyoyev said that he required a renewed mandate to implement further reforms despite serving less than two years of his current term.

Mirziyoyev pushed through changes to the constitution that lengthen the presidential term from five to seven years and reset the clock to allow him to serve another two terms. Mirziyoyev took over from Uzbekistan’s first, and till then, only president, Islam Karimov, in 2016. He won re-election for his current second, and nominally last, term with a landslide victory in October 2021.

The president has won praise for opening up the country and pushing through many liberal reforms that have begun to bear fruit, as bne IntelliNews surveyed in a special report Uzbekistan Rising. Amongst the most radical changes was his decision to totally privatise the cotton sector, once the country’s main source of foreign exchange, and ban the export of raw cotton, forcing the textile sector to rapidly develop.

And the economy has responded well to the changes, putting in an average of 6% growth every year except 2021, when despite a pause in its rapid expansion, Uzbekistan remained only one of two countries in the world that still recorded positive, albeit small, economic growth. With the economy flourishing, unemployment has fallen and incomes are up.

However, Mirziyoyev has been widely criticised in the West for ignoring political reforms or undoing the state structures that were set up by his predecessor. There are no significant opposition parties or opposition candidates running in the elections against him.

However, during vox pops conducted by bne IntelliNews in the streets of Tashkent in the 2021 election, support for Mirziyoyev was almost universal thanks to the rapidly improving quality of life in the country. Respondents also reported that the government had become more proactive in dealing with local problems through the expansion of Mahalla, a form of local residents council that regularly meets the local administration to make demands and ask for government assistance to fix local problems. Most Uzbeks seem unconcerned with the lack of political plurality and told bne IntelliNews that they wanted more of the same: to allow Mirziyoyev to continue to do what he has been doing.

Despite the progress so far, the main body of reforms remains ahead. The banking, mining and other large state-owned enterprises need to be privatised and reformed, and although incomes in Uzbekistan have risen, they remain far behind those of its peer in the region, Kazakhstan.