By Makhmud Istamov, Member of the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
Exactly one year has passed since the Parliamentary and Local elections held in our country on the basis of the new legislation.
In a democratic state and society, it is paramount that the will of the people is respected above all else, without deviation.
Article 7 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan stipulates that “the people are the sole source of state power” and Article 32 states that “Citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan shall have the right to participate in the management of public and state affairs, both directly and through representatives”.
These rights find their practical expression exactly in the elections. The dedication of a separate chapter in the Constitution to electoral issues has served as an important legal basis for the formation of the national electoral legislation of the country. At the same time, this constitutional provision is an important factor in the continuous improvement of electoral legislation in Uzbekistan.
From this point of view, if we focus on the changes that have taken place in the electoral legislation and practice in recent years, we can see a high degree of efficiency of the systematic reforms in the field of national elections.
Over the past six years, Uzbekistan has held two parliamentary and two presidential elections. The extensive practical and legal experience gained during these elections, as well as the recommendations made by both national and international observers, have played an important role in improving electoral legislation.
In 2014, amendments were introduced to Article 117 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the Central Election Commission was granted constitutional status and guarantees of its formation and independent activity were established.
The independence of the CEC members is guaranteed by the fact that their term of office is not limited in time and they are elected by local representative bodies and parliament.
According to the Law of 2015 and presumption of innocence it was determined that polling stations should be set up in temporary detention places to ensure that persons under investigation and whose guilt is not established by legal order participate in the elections.
The number of signatures in support of presidential candidates has also been sharply reduced, based on international electoral standards. Specifically, the required number of signatures was reduced from five to one per cent of the total number of voters.
In 2019, on the initiative of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the adoption of a single and unified Election Code, which included five existing election laws and dozens of by-laws, created an important legal basis for raising the electoral practice to a high quality level.
The adoption of the Election Code allowed to systemize the norms of electoral legislation (codification), eliminate similar norms and unify this sphere of legislation.
The draft Code was subject to international legal examination by the Venice Commission and a conclusion was obtained. The Code has implemented a number of international election standards, as well as recommendations of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR). As a result, the Election Code has been enriched with a number of improvements.
These important changes include: allowing the participation in the elections of persons who have committed misdemeanors and crimes not constituting great social danger; abolishment of 15 reserved seats for Ecological Movement in the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis; participation in the observations of elections by the representatives of non-governmental non-profit organization – citizens’ self-government bodies; allowing voters to sign in support of one or more political parties or presidential candidates.
Reforms in the electoral legislation and practice have been widely recognized not only by the participants of the electoral process, but also by the international community. This was also evident in the 2019 elections to the parliament and local Kengashes.
Specifically, the report of OSCE ODIHR’s full-fledged Election Observation Mission in connection with the 2019 parliamentary elections under the slogan “New Uzbekistan – New Elections” acknowledges a number of positive changes.
In particular, the Mission emphasizes in its report that “the elections took place under improved legislation and with greater tolerance of independent voices. There is more acceptance of free expression. The contesting parties presented their political platforms and the media hosted debates, many aired live. The Election Code incorporates several previous ODIHR recommendations and brings the legal framework closer in line with OSCE commitments and other international obligations and standards for democratic elections. The elections showed that the ongoing reforms need to continue”.
Undoubtedly, the updated electoral legislation of 2019, as well as the strengthening and widening environment of openness and transparency in our country, allowed the Central Election Commission to organize the parliamentary elections and raise it to a new, higher level.
What are the systematic changes that are being steadily implemented?
The formation of a single electronic voter list to ensure the implementation of the principle of “one voter – one vote” has become a completely new practice in the national electoral system of Uzbekistan. The list includes information on more than the 20.5 million citizens of voting age and was used during the previous elections.
Political parties and candidates have been provided with more opportunities than ever before to hold pre-election meetings. The 26 TV debates they held were all broadcast live. All this contributed, for the first time in the history of modern Uzbekistan, to elections held in a true competitive environment.
The opportunity of all our compatriots living abroad to vote is another important change. At 55 polling stations established in 38 foreign countries, 112,411 citizens exercised their constitutional right to vote. In the previous elections, only registered citizens in the diplomatic missions of our country abroad could participate in the elections.
During the preparation for the elections, about 180,000 members of election commissions were trained in practical seminars.
One of the most important innovations in the national electoral system of Uzbekistan – for the first time in the history of our country persons who have committed misdemeanors and crimes not constituting a great social danger had the honor to vote. Thus 4,308 such individuals exercised their right to vote in the previous elections.
A mechanism for a rapid response to media, social networks and citizens reports of electoral violations has been created which also allowed appropriate legal action to be taken if necessary. Through this mechanism, the results of the elections of the local representative bodies in two constituencies were declared invalid and the process of repeat elections was used for the first time in the national electoral practice.
It should be noted that this is, first of all, a clear confirmation of changes in the socio-political environment of new Uzbekistan, the principles of democracy, openness and transparency are beginning to be implemented. The whole world is watching with interest as the reforms are being steadily implemented, which require great wisdom, patriotism, a huge devotion to national traditions and ideas of modern democracy and a strong political will.
The adoption and successful implementation of the Election Code was a major step towards further strengthening and improving our national electoral legislation, which was formed during the years of independence, and relied on our nearly thirty years of experience in conducting democratic elections.
For the first time, the Central Election Commission has developed analytical information on the parliamentary elections in 2019, which, along with the achievements in the organization of elections, reflected the shortcomings and problems, the measures to be taken.
Further improvement of our national electoral legislation, to bring it in line with universally recognized international standards is a continuous and ongoing process.
The recommendations of international organizations on the improvement of the electoral system will be taken into account and implemented in compliance with the ongoing structural reforms in our country, of course, based on the national traditions and unique cultural values of our people.
At the same time, the analysis of Uzbekistan’s scores in the World Democracy Index over the past six years in the “Electoral Process and Pluralism” category raises some concerns and we hope that our international partners will pay more attention to this issue.
For six years in a row from 2014 to 2019, the score of Uzbekistan was the same – 0.08 in the World Democracy Index “Electoral Process and Pluralism”. According to the criterion of “free and fair elections” of the Transformation Index, compiled by the Bertelsmann Foundation – 2.
However, we believe that the effective reforms implemented in the electoral system of Uzbekistan in 2019 alone will significantly improve these numbers. As noted, it would be considered fair if the next international rankings reflect the adoption of a single Election Code and the analytical reports of influential international organizations published in 2020.
Of course, the ultimate goal is not to improve the numbers in the rankings. The most important thing is to firmly establish democracy, which is steadily strengthening in new Uzbekistan, and to further improve the conditions that serve to expand the electoral rights of citizens.