TASHKENT — Early voting has started in Uzbekistan in a referendum on a new constitution that would allow 65-year-old President Shavkat Mirziyoev to run again and opens the way for him to retain power until 2040.
The Central Election Commission said early voting for those who will be unable to take part in the referendum on April 30 started on April 19 and will run until April 26.
The amendments changing the constitution, initiated by Mirziyoev last year and approved by lawmakers in March, are expected to be backed by a majority of voters in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic, which, according to Uzbek officials, will “nullify” Mirziyoev’s previous and current terms, allowing him to run for another two consecutive terms.
The amendments also extend the duration of a presidential term to seven years from five years. Mirziyoev’s current term ends in 2026. According to Uzbek lawmakers, the amendments will change about two-thirds of the constitution, with the number of articles in the document rising to 155 from 128.
The draft also declares Uzbekistan will be “a social state” while almost tripling the state’s obligations to citizens.
The proposed amendments originally included abolishing the country’s Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic’s right to secede.
However, Mirziyoev dropped the idea to change Karakalpakstan’s status after thousands of Karakalpaks protested in early July 2022 against the elimination of the region’s long-standing right to seek independence from Uzbekistan.
Uzbek authorities say 21 people died in Karakalpakstan when the protests were dispersed by security forces. Dozens of participants in the rallies were later handed prison terms on charges of plotting to seize power by disrupting the constitutional order, organizing mass unrest, embezzlement, and money laundering.
The referendum is the third referendum in the history of independent Uzbekistan.
Mirziyoev’s predecessor, authoritarian first President Islam Karimov, who died in 2016, held two referendums in 1995 and 2002 that allowed him to prolong his reign without elections. The length of presidential terms was also changed.
Source: Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty