Uzbekistan has approved a package of constitutional amendments in a referendum, preliminary data showed on Monday, which will allow President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to run for two more seven-year terms when his current one ends in 2026.
The reform will also reset his term count, potentially enabling him to stay in power until 2040.
According to the Central Election Commission, 90.21% of voters supported the amendments, with a turnout of 85.03%. The commission said the referendum was “free and fair” and met international standards.
The amendments will also introduce changes to the political system, such as creating a bicameral parliament, strengthening the role of political parties, and establishing a constitutional court. The government said the reform would improve governance, democracy, human rights, and quality of life in the Central Asian country of 35 million people.
However, critics and activists said the reform was a power grab by Mirziyoyev, who has ruled Uzbekistan since 2016 following the death of his authoritarian predecessor Islam Karimov. They said the reform would undermine the separation of powers, weaken the checks and balances, and entrench Mirziyoyev’s personal rule.
They also accused the authorities of stifling dissent, censoring media, and manipulating public opinion ahead of the referendum. Several opposition figures and activists were detained or harassed before and during the vote.
Mirziyoyev has portrayed himself as a reformer who has opened up Uzbekistan’s economy, improved ties with its neighbors and the West, and curbed the powers of security services. He has also taken some steps to address human rights issues, such as abolishing forced labor in cotton fields and criminalizing domestic violence.
But he has also faced criticism for not allowing genuine political pluralism, suppressing civil society, and cracking down on protests. In 2022, at least 21 people were killed during demonstrations in the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan over water shortages and environmental degradation.
Uzbekistan is a strategic partner of the US and Russia in the region, which borders Afghanistan and hosts several US military bases