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[From the Scene] Uzbeks pin hopes for 'New Uzbekistan' on constitutional referendum

The referendum extends president's term to 7 years, but Uzbeks say its for better future, economy

May 3, 2023 - 17:08 By Sanjay Kumar
Uzbek nationals vote Sunday in a nationwide referendum on constitutional reforms. (Sanjay Kumar/The Korea Herald)

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- Nargiza Kamalova, 23, believes the constitutional referendum held Sunday will build a foundation for a "New Uzbekistan," a prosperous country with a stable economy and a better social safety net.

"A referendum will help our country prosper," said Kamalova, who was on election duty on Sunday at polling station no. 747. "It will help Uzbekistan achieve a bright future."

O'tkir, 42, said he was voting for the future of his child.

"I am not only voting for myself but also for my child’s future in the new Uzbekistan," he said.

"I am watching many news stories on reforms through referendums, especially on human rights. ... It makes me very hopeful," he added.

Uzbek citizens actively go to polling station for referndum in Almazar district of Tashkent city on Sunday. (Sanjay Kumar/The Korea Herald)

Kamalova and O'tkir were among many Uzbek citizens giving overwhelming support to the proposed referendum on Uzbekistan’s new constitution on Sunday.

The Central Election Committee (CEC) said Monday that 90.21 percent of the ballots cast were in favor of the amendments. Some 9.35 percent voted to oppose it.

The country has a total of 19,722,809 registered voters, according to the committee.

The number of ballots declared invalid stood at 0.44 percent.

Chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Nizomxodjayev Zayniddin Maxamatovich addresses a press briefing on the referendum results on Monday at 11 AM at the Tashkent Press Center in Uzbekistan. (Sanjay Kumar/The Korea Herald)

The new constitution enables the president's powers to be extended from 5 to 7 years, as well as allowing the transfer of some presidential powers to the parliament and local "hokims," referring to the head of the local executive authority in Uzbek.

By winning the vote, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is likely to run for two more seven-year terms. His current term ends in 2026.

Results in three polling stations were canceled due to irregularities, according to CEC Chairman Zainiddin Nizamkhojaev on Monday.

He said, however, that the canceled polling stations did not affect the final outcome of the referendum.

Deputy Mayor of Tashkent Rakhmanov congratulates an 18-year first-time voter at a polling station in Almazar district of Tashkent city on Sunday. (Sanjay Kumar/The Korea Herald)

The referendum attracted the interest of not only Uzbek citizens in the country but also Uzbeks overseas.

A total of 307,895 Uzbek citizens registered themselves as voters in the referendum from abroad and voted in some 55 polling stations in 39 countries.

In Korea, 92 percent of the Uzbek citizens voted for the New Constitution, Charge d'Affaires Zokir Saidov told The Korea Herald on Monday, announcing the total number of voters, which reached more than 7,500.

The Uzbek Embassy in Seoul said it had established two polling sites in Seoul and Gwangju.

According to some voters, they think it would benefit Uzbekistan to adopt Korea's branding and soft power model.

Nargiza Kamalova, a 23-year-old female member of the Election Commission on duty at polling station No. 790, discusses the status of voting with The Korea Herald in Almazar district of Tashkent city on Sunday. (Sanjay Kumar/The Korea Herald)

"Korea’s soft power can be a good model in the new Uzbekistan; if the president works in this direction, the prosperity of Uzbeks will increase," said a 21-year-old student from Uzbekistan State World Languages University, on condition of anonymity.

"I supported the referendum," he told The Korea Herald.

Malika Turgunova, who was working as an election commission member at the polling station in Tashkent, said she saw young people coming to vote in large numbers. One of the young voters, Zafar, 21, said he hopes the referendum will make Uzbeks’ lives easier.

"New jobs and new sectors are needed now, and I hope the referendum will solve these problems (for the younger generation)," said Jafar.

In a plenary session of the recently concluded Tashkent International Forum, UAE Minister for Energy and Infrastructure Suhail bin Mohammed Garaj Faris Al Mazrouei and Islamic Development Bank President Muhammad Sulaiman Al Jasser suggested Uzbekistan expand the scope of investment in research, innovation, science and technology, and digitalization, as well as encouraging young students and researchers. At the forum, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev expressed his agreement and reaffirmed his commitment.

Uzbek nationals vote Sunday in a nationwide referendum on constitutional reforms. (Sanjay Kumar/The Korea Herald)

Meanwhile, experts on Central Asia said that the referendum has brought new hope to Turkic countries, emphasizing that changes will be critical for political stability.

"After reforms, Uzbekistan will keep its momentum and continue its progress," stressed a Turkish member of parliament from the Justice and Development Party, Recep Seker, who came to observe the referendum.

On the question of whether Uzbeks feel concerned over the new constitution extending the presidential term, one tour guide in Samarkand in his 40s said it was the choice of Uzbeks.

"It is for Uzbekistan to decide the president, not the West, and as long as this president works well, we support him. If we feel he is autocratic ... we will surely vote him out."

Some media outlets have been skeptical about the extension of presidential powers.