Uzbekistan’s weekend constitutional referendum on April 30 resulted in a 90.21% vote in favour, preliminary data showed on May 1. Turnout registered at 73.17% seven hours after the opening of polling stations.
Although the new constitution controversially brings in changes to the presidential tenure, which could allow 65-year-old incumbent Shavkat Mirziyoyev to stay in office right through to 2040, even though he is already in the middle of his second term, its text, for the ordinary population could—as bne IntelliNews columnist Bruce Pannier wrote in mid-April—well be worth the paper it is written on.
Voters have with the referendum vote approved changes to 65% of the country’s 30-year-old constitution.
As well as removing the two-term limit on Mirziyoyev, the ‘yes’ vote brings in amendments to benefit the individual citizen driven by the concept that as, constitutional head and deputy chairman of the lower house of Uzbekistan’s parliament Akmal Saidov put it, “society is the initiator of reforms.”
One benefit concerns divisive home demolitions that have been occurring in Uzbekistan for decades. Often those whose homes have been destroyed have obtained little if any compensation for their losses and demolitions have occurred without proper legal approval.
Article 47 of the new constitution states, “No one may be deprived of his home except by a court decision” and an “owner, deprived of his or her home, is provided with preliminary and equivalent compensation for the cost of housing and the losses incurred...”
The new constitution ushering in Mirziyoyev’s “New Uzbekistan” also takes a small step in protecting women’s rights in the workplace, with Article 42 stating: “It is prohibited to refuse to hire women, dismiss them from work, or reduce their wages for reasons related to pregnancy or the presence of a child.”
Article 52 urges new recognised for teachers, saying teachers are “recognised as the basis for the development of society and the state”. It determines that the “state takes care of protecting the honour and dignity of teachers, their social and material well-being, and professional growth.”
Calls for greater rights for persons with a disability are, meanwhile, acknowledged in Article 50, which says, “For children with special educational needs, educational institutions provide inclusive education and upbringing.”
Article 27 deals with habeas corpus, specifying a person can only be detained for 48 hours without a court order.
Article 28 gives suspects the right to remain silent and the right to refuse to testify against themselves or close relatives. It also states, “A person cannot be found guilty or punished if his or her confession of guilt is the only evidence against them.”
The formal prohibition of the death penalty is outlined in Article 25 and Article 31, on personal rights and freedoms, specifies the right of privacy in correspondence, telephone conversations and mail, adding a right to privacy for “electronic and other communications”. Article 33, on the other hand, makes it clear that “the state creates conditions for providing access to the worldwide information network Internet.”
Olivier Ferrando, a researcher at the Catholic University of Lyon in France, told AFP that the constitutional reform was a “flagship measure” for Mirziyoyev in his attempt at “emancipation” from the legacy of his predecessor Islam Karimov.
Karimov died in 2016 after a quarter-century of rule with an iron fist.
“Many analysts see, understandably, an effort by Mirziyoyev to stay in power but it would be a shame to dismiss this text as just an authoritarian turn,” Ferrando added.
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