The Executive Director,
Development Strategy Center of Uzbekistan
Many countries are trying to implement the best practices of building a genuinely democratic state. Every state has its model. Complex steps must be taken for that purpose. Educating society, ensuring civic participation, respecting the customs and traditions of people, respecting their values and religious freedom, ensuring human rights, and respecting other countries are among many steps to be taken to build a genuinely democratic state.
Accordingly, Uzbekistan has also been implementing international best practices of good governance. Very importantly, these processes have been happening based on its longtime statehood experience, centuries-old common values and traditions of people living in Uzbekistan.
To ensure civic participation, dialogue with people is the cornerstone of reforms and changes happening in the country. As such, important decisions are made, including adopting laws and strategic documents, only after public consultations. Various channels and mechanisms are available in Uzbekistan to successfully coordinate public consultations. Uzbekistan’s president states that society should be the one that initiates reforms, and public officials must serve the people, not vice versa.
To ensure democracy, ministries and agencies must operate openly and transparently. As such, all-level public officials are now reporting to society and parliament. They have to publish their decisions on electronic platforms that anybody can observe. This also ensures the accountability of the officials.
The country has been implementing administrative reforms to bring officials closer to the people and decentralise the authority so people can solve their issues in their neighbourhoods. Besides, Uzbekistan has been decreasing state apparatus to reduce bureaucracy.
Uzbekistan has also become very active in international relations and thus comes up with essential initiatives for humankind.
Accordingly, Uzbek society wants these positive democratic changes to continue. As such, they think legal assurance at the highest level is essential. Therefore, the people initiated constitutional reforms in Uzbekistan and expressed more than 220 thousand comments and suggestions on what they would like to see in the new Constitution. Hence, 65% of the Constitution is changing now. Public discussions were conducted several times in that regard.
The main cornerstone of these reforms is ensuring human rights and interests and protecting human dignity. Therefore, norms related to human rights are increasing more than 3 times. For example, the constitutional amendments would guarantee the presumption of innocence for all suspects and accused and thus enable them to exercise the right to remain silent. Besides, this would also provide the right not to testify against themselves or family members. New amendments also foresee a possibility of preventing a person from being found guilty or punished if their confession is the only evidence brought against them.
Protecting religious freedom and freedom of expression is also an important policy priority in multinational Uzbekistan. Therefore, New Constitution foresees strengthening the guarantee of freedom of activity for all religious organisations operating by Uzbekistan’s laws. To increase transparency and openness, New Constitution also foresees more freedom of activity for the media, covering their rights to seek, receive, use and disseminate information.
In addition, strengthening the constitutional basis for forming and developing civil society institutions in the country is also prioritised. For the first time, New Constitution defines civil society institutions. It highlights their role in maintaining openness and transparency in society by providing dialogue and establishing robust public oversight.
Furthermore, strengthening the rights of access to proper education and healthcare, housing and environmental rights, employment rights and personal data protection are also envisaged in the New Constitution.
A significant example of democracy is that the parliament could have changed the Constitution according to the current Constitution. But the President of Uzbekistan suggested that the people of Uzbekistan should decide. As such, it was decided to hold a referendum in Uzbekistan on April 30th. These steps also guarantee democratic principles, i.e., the participation of citizens in governance.
Overall, by shifting the principle “state – society – person” to “person – society – state” and prioritising an individual’s interests, the New Constitution creates an essential legal basis and foundation for the population’s well-being. Moreover, it strengthens dynamic democratic processes in Uzbekistan and the country’s transformation into a socially oriented market economy and well-governed state.