Parliament as a portrait of the political system of Uzbekistan (interview with an expert)
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Since Shavkat Mirziyoyev has come to power in Uzbekistan, the reforms affecting a variety of areas are increasingly being discussed, but for the most part, no reforms can be implemented without making changes in the country’s political system. So, what are these modifications visible in?
You are, certainly, right – most reforms taking place in virtually any state directly depend on political changes, and Uzbekistan is not an exception.
For the sixth year in a row, Uzbekistan has been continuing the implementation of the systemic reforms that began after the election of Shavkat Mirziyoyev as the head of the state following the presidential elections held on December 4, 2016. Modern expert studies of the ongoing reforms mainly focus attention on their economic component, as a result of which the term “economization” of Uzbekistan’s domestic and foreign policy has even appeared.
Indeed, the government pays increased attention to the radical modernization of the country’s industry and agriculture, their transfer to the standards of a new technological era, the search for additional markets for Uzbek exporters, the influx of the foreign investment, technology and knowledge, the development of the educational system, which should become a source of a qualified personnel for the subjects of business.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes of the analytical studies and articles large-scale work in other areas remains, without which the achievement of the long-term economic success and the fundamental transformation of the foundations of the manufacturing sector will be impossible. Among these areas, one can note the ongoing measures to modify Uzbekistan domestic political system, whose role seems to be largely decisive for the reforms, since it creates a new type of value systems based on liberal freedoms and principles of governance, characteristic of many developed countries of the world.
First of all, we are speaking about the introduction of the principle of separation of powers, which is based on the distribution of power between the legislative, judicial and executive branches, despite the fact that they are independent of each other, thereby creating a system of checks and balances. Modern reforms in Uzbekistan aim to move away from the formal observance of the principle of separation of powers towards its rooting in the domestic policy and broad public consciousness. In other words, the principle of separation of powers should become an essential component of the national political culture.
–- It is an interesting feature concerning the political system and the principle of separation of powers, in particular. However, the implementation of any reforms takes time, and these terms are often difficult to determine. How do such transformations take place in Uzbekistan and what do they lead to?
–- Obviously, it is impossible to carry out such a transformation all at once, and the best course of action may be the phased introduction of this system of political institutions. At the same time, “staged implementation” is understood as a systemic process that is closely related to sociological, anthropological, political, economic, and legal studies, which should record the changes taking place in various social strata and groups, as well as difficulties in the implementation of transformational measures, and the results of which should form the basis for the transition to a new stage of reforms. All this will make it possible to get away from stagnation and formalism and ensure the dynamism of the ongoing reforms.
–- Recently, in the analytical and political circles of many Western countries, attention has been paid to the high activity of the Parliament of Uzbekistan; there has been observed an increase in its effectiveness, which was especially noticeable during the last presidential election campaign in 2021. How do you assess the development of the Parliament and, in particular, its inter-party competition?
— Over the past 6 years, there has been noticed, one might say, a sharp strengthening of the role of the Parliament (the Oliy Majlis). In particular, I would like to draw attention to the strengthening of such mechanisms as parliamentary control and inquiry, which gave the Parliament the authority to consider and approve the State budget, hear reports from the Government, the heads of economic and state administration, the local authorities, and the heads of diplomatic missions of the Republic of Uzbekistan abroad. The Parliament has also been given the opportunity to initiate the creation of various kinds of commissions to study the activities of state organizations, and the approval of the members of the Government and the ambassadors.
In the processes taking place in Uzbekistan today, the Parliament should be considered not only as a legislative power or, to some extent, a controlling body, but also as a barometer of moods in society. The experience of countries with a developed democratic system shows that the parliament and the parliamentary elections play the role of just such a barometer. The victory of one party or another, the election of new deputies, the formation of new agendas, the adoption of legislative acts by the elected deputies demonstrate the mood of the voters from various social groups. This, in turn, gives the internal political field the quality of a competitive environment, in which party representatives fight for the sympathies and votes of the electorate.
In addition, among the signs of the development of the Parliament, it should be highlighted the introduction of the practice of open debates with the participation of representatives of the competing parties of Uzbekistan during the 2021 parliamentary elections, as well as debates’ public analysis by the leading national experts on television and social networks. These debates had a significant impact on the results of the popular vote, in which the Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (UzLiDeP) won. About 80% of voters or almost 13 million people voted for it.
It is noteworthy that the decision to introduce the practice of open debate was largely influenced by the sociological surveys, which showed that modern Uzbek voters are interested not only in programs and meetings with party representatives, but also in their public television debates with competitors.
A sociological survey conducted in September 2021 by the “Izhtimoiy Fikr” (Social Opinion) Center showed that over 46% of the respondents consider open televised debates between the candidates to be the most attractive form of obtaining information about their political programs. They are also interested in the opinions of the independent experts, scientists and analysts about the elections, the candidates and their political priorities, as well as in the meetings of the candidates with voters.
The survey has shown the growing political activity of the citizens – almost 90% of the respondents claimed that they “consider it important for themselves to exercise the right to vote guaranteed by the Constitution” and “the opportunity to take part in the process of the state governing”. This is very demonstrative.
–- Are you saying this way that even such a seemingly small introduction as a televised debate had a positive result?
–- Yes, that is the way it is, the link “sociological research – open TV debates” in the 2021 parliamentary elections actually serves as an indicator that the reforms of the Uzbek political culture are gradually demonstrating the quality of dynamism, which is being expressed in the operational consideration of the transforming and evolving preferences of the voters, through the introduction of the sociological research practices effectively proven in the developed democracies.
The introduction of a culture of political competition, both in the process of the parliamentary elections and within the framework of the work within the Parliament, will certainly have positive results for Uzbekistan in the long run, as it will bring with it a new generation of politicians, who are able to publicly defend their point of view on the basis of their knowledge and competencies.
–- That is good. TV debates are really spectacular and interesting, but they mainly touch upon the issues of party competition. Still, how are things going in real conditions with real people, let us say, with business representatives?
–- Speaking about the strengthening connection between the Parliament and the society in the context of the ongoing reforms in Uzbekistan, it is necessary to highlight the connection of the legislative branch of power with the middle class and the civil society, the development of which is also the goal of the reforms.
As a result of the economic reforms in Uzbekistan, the strengthening of small and medium-sized businesses, and, in general, of the culture of entrepreneurship is noticed; this forms a stable basis for the middle class. It is predicted that by 2030 60% of the population of Uzbekistan will be the middle class.
As it is known, a rich and stable middle class is closely associated with democracy and liberal values, and this suggests that the middle class is almost always a politically active class, and one of the arenas of its political activity is the parliament.
In many ways, the middle class, delegating their candidates to parliament, traditionally influences the following or the introduction of the new priorities in determining the economic and value course of the government. In recent decades, in the West, we have observed just such a picture, when the middle class by voting approves a new agenda, for example, connected with climate measures, which strengthens the position of the environmental parties in Europe that advocate the implementation of green technologies and standards, the introduction of new taxes and tariffs on carbon dioxide emissions.
The growing Uzbek urbanized middle class is likely to exhibit similar political behavior by delegating representatives to the Oliy Majlis. Currently, their interests are represented by the center-right UzLiDeP party. However, it is possible that with the further technological and digital development of Uzbekistan, which is closely related to the environmental issues and the response to climate change, it will be competed with by the Ecological Party of Uzbekistan, which has gained in the 2021 elections only 4.1% of the vote. Competition can unfold for the votes of entrepreneurs and middle-class representatives, who make their capital in the field of "green and digital economy".
–- How, in your opinion, are going things in Uzbekistan in the field of communication between the state bodies and services with the civil society institutions and citizens directly? This is a rather sensitive issue, since public control is an integral part of a democratic state.
–- Certainly, it is difficult to imagine the development of legislative power without connection with civil society. In Uzbekistan, the process of development of civil society has received a new impetus after the start of the current reforms, and now the civil society is becoming an influential actor in the country’s domestic political, social, economic, cultural and charitable processes. Its opinion can no longer be ignored by the representatives of the legislative and executive power.
This can be seen from the fact that many deputies from the parties that have recently entered the Oliy Majlis are in close contact with representatives and institutions of the civil society, promptly responding, for example, to the problems of protecting the safety of cultural objects and the ecological environment, as well as, women’s rights, revealing the facts of corruption and abuse of power. It is quite obvious that as the political system of Uzbekistan is further reformed, the connection between political parties and civil society will be strengthened, since the representatives of civil society themselves are a part of the community of voters and a factor that influences the formation of the political preferences of the electorate.
–- Thank you for the interview. And in conclusion, I would like to hear your personal opinion on the political transformations and reforms taking place in Uzbekistan.
–- Summing up, it can be said that the modification of the political system of Uzbekistan, including the legislative branch of government, is a process fundamental to the success of the ongoing reforms. Improving the efficiency of the parliament’s work serves as the basis that is designed to serve as a barometer of public moods, to form a new type of political culture and values in the country and to consolidate various sections of society around the idea of reforms, which will be embodied in the development of relevant successive legislative acts.