Sherzod Fayziyev ,
Deputy Director of the International Institute of Central Asia
The address of the President of Uzbekistan to the Parliament in December 2022 was one of the main political events of the last year, which outlined not only the most important tasks and main directions of work of all branches of power for 2023, but also defined the key priorities of further reforms and modernization of Uzbekistan for the forthcoming period.
The central place in the speech of Shavkat Mirziyoyev has been taken by the theme of building the New Uzbekistan, where the people, their honor and dignity, rights and freedoms, where free, comfortable and prosperous life of multi-ethnic people is ensured.
The priorities outlined by the head of state are ambitious. Despite the great progress that has been made over the past six years, the tasks he has set are possible only with the active participation of society and, of course, the hard and effective work of all branches and levels of government, whose potential requires further development.
As part of the practical implementation of the set goals, the need for the country to transition to a new model of the political system, which would create conditions for achieving the set goals, was noted. In this context, Shavkat Mirziyoyev called one of the priority tasks the improvement of the Basic Law, which will have to meet the modern development of society:
“In order to take the country’s development to a new stage, it is necessary to change both the system of management, and the legislation, and our society. If we do not do this, if we continue to ignore the obvious problems, we will fall behind life and progress.
We need to develop a modern Constitution, imbued with the goal of ensuring human interests, respect for his honor and dignity as the highest value, such a Basic Law, which will fully meet the objectives of building a new Uzbekistan, will serve the future generations”.
Undoubtedly, constitutional reforms aimed at improving the work of government as such were necessary to implement the adopted New Uzbekistan Development Strategy for 2022-2026 and to build a just state that truly respects the people. The priority in this case was to harmonize the Constitution with the modern realities of society.
In the framework of the events initiated in 2022 by the authorities – a broad discussion and popular debate related to the improvement of the Basic Law, a total of 220 thousand proposals for its amendment were received. The amendments made to the draft document, in fact, absorbed all the necessary and missing parts for a complete reformatting of the Constitution, which must meet the new realities and be sharpened for new tasks.
Along with a large number of changes (more than 65 percent of the Constitution), which are designed to supplement and specify the rights and freedoms of citizens, to balance the system of power and authority, to improve the conditions for the full development of citizens and society as a whole, qualitative changes were also made to Chapter IV, formulating the principles and approaches of Uzbekistan’s foreign policy.
The new version of the Constitution includes a thesis that “Uzbekistan conducts a peace-loving foreign policy aimed at the full development of bilateral and multilateral relations with states and international organizations” (Article 18).
The incorporation of this important and, at the same time, fundamental message into the Constitution was not accidental, and in many ways reflects the current state of the world, which is characterized by the rapid growth of distrust between the leading states, the militarization of international politics, and an open demonstration of force in building relations.
It is appropriate to quote Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who said at the SCO summit in Samarkand in 2021. Then the head of state noted that humanity is in a “period of historical rupture, when one era ends and another begins – even more unpredictable and unknown.
In the emerging difficult conditions, the role of regional communities united by well-established economic and humanitarian ties and, at the same time, promising plans and projects aimed at further strengthening interconnectedness is critically important.
In this context the region of Central Asia deserves special mention, which in recent years, thanks to the efforts of all five countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – has been rapidly changing, gaining stability, unity and international identity.
Undoubtedly, the decisive factor that has served as a trigger for increased cooperation in Central Asia in recent years has been Tashkent’s new foreign policy, which took shape after the election of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in 2016.
In his first address to parliament, the head of Uzbekistan outlined a hierarchy of priorities, prioritizing the strengthening of relations with Central Asian countries. This approach was further developed in Uzbekistan’s Strategy for Action 2017-2021.
This document indicated Tashkent’s intention to pursue an open and constructive policy with respect to its closest neighbors, to resolve regional issues and problems on the basis of equality, mutual consideration of interests and the search for reasonable compromises, and to create a belt of friendship and prosperity, security and stability around Uzbekistan as a country located in the heart of the region.
The changes in Tashkent’s foreign policy course have created conditions for the formation of a healthy political climate in the Central Asian region and have led to consistent and, at the same time, radical improvements in both interstate relations and multilateral formats of interaction.
The implementation of a new policy based on the principles of mutual trust and good neighborliness has promoted progress on many long-standing issues. This has made it possible to remove most of the problematic issues that for many years have been a source of conflict and hindered the projects and initiatives necessary for the development of the countries of the region.
Over the past six years, conditions for the gradual completion of the legal registration of the state borders of Uzbekistan with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have been ensured, the checkpoints for citizens at the Uzbek-Tajik and Uzbek-Kyrgyz border posts have been renewed, visas with Tajikistan have been cancelled, and transport communications – rail, air and land – which were interrupted in the mid-1990s have been launched. Corridors for the export of goods were opened.
Moreover, investment cooperation has intensified, and significant cooperation projects in trade, industry, energy, transport, agriculture, and other sectors of the economy have been launched. If we talk about trade, it has grown by more than 2.5 times. The number of joint ventures has increased by more than 5 times – from 312 to 1600.
All this has created conditions for the transformation of the region into a unified trade and investment, transport and communication platform. Projects of industrial cooperation in various sectors of the economy, starting with automotive industry and ending with agriculture, are being implemented. Contacts between regions of the states are expanding and cultural and humanitarian ties are deepening.
Today, stable Central Asia is already becoming one of the important centers of investment activity and economic growth. According to a number of experts, the combined GDP of the region’s countries in the last five years has grown by 20 percent and exceeded 370 billion U.S. dollars.
In terms of Uzbekistan alone, the trade turnover with the countries of the region has increased to $7.4 billion. The same dynamics of cooperation is observed in the neighboring countries.
The result of the general changes in Central Asia has been the consistent development of agreed positions by the states on intra-regional issues and close coordination at international platforms – the UN, CIS, SCO, OIC, ECO and other platforms.
Thanks to this transformation, in recent years, the countries of the region have also developed a common approach to building relations with the leading states and centers of power within the “Central Asia Plus” dialogue format – the European Union, India, China, Russia, the United States, South Korea, Japan, and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf (GCC).
Undoubtedly, the role of Uzbekistan in these processes is of paramount importance and is not subject to doubt, as evidenced by the numerous assessments by foreign experts and specialists.
The national referendum on altering the Constitution, held on 30 April 2023, and the support of the population for the innovations in the Basic Law, for which more than 15 million citizens voted (90.2% of those who took part in the voting), have confirmed the correctness of the chosen course in Uzbekistan.
The results of the voting testify to the broad involvement and support among the population in the continuation of systemic and fundamental changes both within the state and in Central Asia.
The constitutional reform in Uzbekistan was an important step in the development of the country and the strengthening of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The thesis on a peaceful foreign policy enshrined in the new Constitution of Uzbekistan should be regarded as a fundamental change that demonstrates not only greater responsibility and maturity of the state, but also an understanding of the prospects for cooperation with its neighbors in the region, with whom the country is united by common history, common values, culture and religion.
Properly formulated goals and no less consistent implementation will be an important factor in the sustainable development of the entire region. Deeper interconnectedness with our neighbors will make Uzbekistan stronger and the Central Asian region more stable and sustainable.