Olga Malik : Uzbekistan Presidential elections are to be an acid test for the country’s future course

As Uzbekistan is on the verge of the upcoming Presidential elections set for October 24, the international community is concerned about the country’s further political course. And for a good reason.

The changes brought by current president Shavkat Mirziyoyev demonstrate a real break with the country’s past. Published in 2017, the Mirziyoyev’s Development Strategy for 2017-2021, aimed to “modernize and liberalize all spheres of life” e.g. state and society; rule of law and the judicial system; economic development; social policy and security; foreign policy, nationalities and religion policies. The proposed steps included the lifting of foreign currency controls, tariff reductions, the liberalization of the visa regime and many more.

 

Such rapid changes were in a big contrast with the conservatism of Islam Karimov, the country’s former President and quickly became the point of interest for European countries and the United States. Earlier last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken during the meeting with Uzbekistan Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov stressed the “Uzbekistan’s progress on its reform agenda, including when it comes to combatting trafficking in persons, protecting religious freedom and expanding space for civil society”. However, he also called for “the importance of promoting the protection of fundamental freedoms, including the need to have a free and competitive electoral process”, alluding to the country’s authoritarian political regime. The country’s authorities as well as the ministries confirm they get loads of recommendations every year from Western partners on how to assure and maintain a more autonomous civil society system.

 

Yet, such “overcare” for the Uzbekistan’s democracy and liberty coming from the outside might provoke a reverse effect considering the national pride and independent spirit. For instance, the push for integration of such social values as support of sexual minorities and gay marriages common for European and Western countries may lead to the split in the society as such standards still remain aloof to the Uzbek mentality. The Uzbekistan’s path for liberalization is largely dependent on the national leader’s views while the outside soft power methods will only work when the local people are still given enough of freedom to draw the country’s further compass. The upcoming elections will likely be an acid test for the country’s future.