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2019 parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan: Popular support for gradual reforms

On December 22, citizens of Uzbekistan participated in the first legislative elections since President Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev launched a policy of reforms and openness of Uzbekistan after his election in September 2016. The participation rate amounted to almost 70% and more than 13.9 million people fulfilled their electoral duty. The conduct of the elections on Uzbek territory was followed by over 140,000 local observers and more than 800 representatives of nine international organizations (CIS, OCS, OSCE, OCI …) from more than 70 different countries, among which, USA, Russia, EU member countries, Asian countries and African countries.

The Legislative Chamber is the lower house of the Parliament of Uzbekistan which has two chambers. It is made up of 150 seats, 135 of which are filled for five years by first past the post, in two rounds in as many electoral districts.The Liberal Democratic Party (Uzlidep), the main party in favor of the president, who won 53 seats, ahead of the National Democratic Renaissance Party (36 seats), followed by three other parties, the Social Democratic Party (24), the People’s Democratic Party (22), and the Uzbek Ecological Movement (15), will have deputies as during the previous legislature.

The election took place in a climate of greater pluralism compared to previous elections because the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, had authorized and even encouraged the candidates for the legislative elections to try to differentiate themselves. The days preceding the election,  public political debates were organized throughout the territory.

The message voters sent is the choice of political stability and the will to continue in the same direction. From the start of his mandate, President Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev had announced that his priority was to pursue reforms in a resolute and consistent manner. This approach is popular because Uzbekistan has steadily modernized, however without shock therapy. It is a balanced, slow and gradual process that satisfies a large part of the population. These reforms gradually cover all spheres of society and there will be no turning back in the face of increasing demands of the citizens. This transformation is taking place over its entire territory, which any outside observer would be able to easily see if they make the effort to visit the country to see its developments.

Uzbekistan’s political system, however, should not be only assessed through the eyes of Western European-style democracy. The Uzbek model was formed based on the current challenges specific to Uzbekistan, its historical specificities and its geography. Uzbekistan is a country in Asia, where the concept of group and its cohesion is considered as important as individual development. Western individualism is therefore not the alpha and the omega of politics in Uzbekistan. That is the reason why the political parties in Uzbekistan support all of the president’s reforms intended to gradually transform the country, but with increasingly subtle nuances.

Along with the gradual and inexorable transformation of Uzbek society, contradictory demands and interpretations of the reforms under way will also inevitably emerge, hence the need for leaders to maintain a strategic course, and control of developments so as not to squander the progress through societal fragmentation as it has been observed in countries that have tested shock therapies.

This vote also expressed the citizens’ will to persevere on the road to construction, in an original way, of the Uzbek nation-state since its independence. Uzbekistan has many ethnic and religious minorities which reflect its turbulent history and its territory as a land of passage for the people. The new president has thus placed as a second priority, the maintenance of good relations between citizens of ethnic origin and of various religious denominations, at a time when conflicts are proliferating in the world.

The progressive construction of a rule of law which integrates the different ethnic, territorial and religious components into a stable national whole must be worked out by the Uzbeks according to a necessarily slow process for its legitimation. The mistake of favoring a hastily imported, illegitimate, inappropriate and ineffective Western democracy model has been avoided. The Uzbek modernization model thus prefers thoughtful reforms adapted to the Uzbek context, rather than the shock therapy that has broken down many countries around the world.

Each country must have the right to defend its own model. The Western political regimes of the countries which regard themselves as universal models are also different from each other. The political system of Uzbekistan will never completely resemble that of a western country, in the same way as the presidential regime of the French republic will never resemble that of the parliamentary system of a northern European democracy, or of a federal state.
The vote of Uzbek citizens also expressed the satisfaction of a majority of citizens towards preserving peace in a very difficult regional environment. The conflict in Afghanistan at its borders is not over, and complicated relations between Central Asian countries and global geopolitical rivalries are converging in this pivotal region of Eurasia.

While most states pursue an alliance strategy, seeking to put themselves under the protection of a large state to ensure their security, Uzbekistan seeks to constitute itself as a regional political pole according to the principle of national independence. Uzbekistan, from its central geographical position, applies a subtle policy of balance aiming at equidistance between its immediate neighbors and the great powers which maneuver on the Eurasian continent. Uzbekistan maintains strong relations with Russia and the CIS countries and diversifies its partnerships, beyond its immediate neighbors, with China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, United States, and the European Union according to a multidirectional diplomacy.

Uzbekistan’s membership in international organizations reflects this desire for balance along the different axes, from the Euro-Atlantic and Mediterranean, and Russian-Siberian areas, towards the Arabian Peninsula, to South Asia, and pacific South-East Asia.

Uzbekistan is a member of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), The Community of Independent States (CIS), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Organization of Central Asian Cooperation (OCC) and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to ensure stability, security and prosperity through a political presence in these different forums.

Conclusion: Uzbekistan and Europe

Understanding the challenges facing Uzbekistan requires a reading grid favoring the geographical position of the country and its historical heritage, rather than an interpretation tracing Westernist reading keys.

If we look at the interests of Europeans, it is stability that is paramount for this region, which acts as a buffer zone and containment of the instabilities of Southeast  and Soutwest Asia. In the perspective of a multipolar world, Europeans would have an interest in deepening relations with a state that values ​​culture, civilizational heritage, and stability, so that an alliance can be made in the face of the destabilizations of the southern arc of crisis.

Europeans’ interest in Uzbekistan should not be solely energy, or security, as a territory useful for their own security, even if it is also important. From the perspective of a multipolar world, Europeans would generally have an interest in deepening relations with a state that values ​​culture and civilizational heritage.

The common interest, also lies in a similar view of history that values ​​cultural wealth. This long-lived civilizational heritage characterizes the heart of the Old World in the East and West. It is on this heritage that a strong national identity should be built, which however stays open to international cooperation. Faced with ideologies of interdependence, and compared to the countries which chose the headlong rush into globalization, Uzbekistan has instead made the choice of prudence and the long term in an international environment that is increasingly difficult to master.

There is no control over the fate of a people, of a nation, without a historical-territorial anchoring. Uzbekistan, a territory with a millennial heritage, has every interest to give priority to the transmission of past inheritances to future generations in parallel with its progressive modernization. The Uzbek tradition of planting a garden when a child is born is a good illustration of the need to perpetuate past legacies and bring them to future generations.

The upheavals in the south of the Mediterranean should not let Europeans forget that the eastern flank of the European Union, which includes Central Asia and Uzbekistan at its geopolitical heart, is vital for their security but also for their prosperity. The building of alliances in globalization is necessary and a more substantial rapprochement with Uzbekistan would be an asset for Europe.

It is in Europe’s interest, who is faced with the growing destabilization of its southern flank, to get closer to its eastern flank, in a big overall movement in this immense area of ​​opportunities including Uzbekistan which constitutes the pivot of Central Asia but also Russia, its Siberian hinterland, and the Caucasus.

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