by Akmal Saidov, First Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Chamber Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan
“One of the most important socio-political events of this year in Uzbekistan, which is of key importance for the further sustainable development of our country, and the entire Central Asian region as a whole, in the medium and long term, is the upcoming presidential elections in the Republic of Uzbekistan.
In recent years, within the framework of building a democratic, open to the outside world and competitive New Uzbekistan, a huge work has been carried out in the field of ensuring the fundamental rights of citizens to vote and to be elected to representative bodies.
First of all, consistent measures have been taken to strengthen the legal basis for free and fair elections held on the basis of universal, equal, direct suffrage by secret ballot openly and publicly – an integral attribute of a democratic rule of law, as well as to strengthen and develop a modern democratic electoral systems.
At the same time, the electoral legislation of Uzbekistan is being dynamically improved on the basis of national practical experience accumulated during periodically organized elections, as well as taking into account international standards, the growth of political consciousness and electoral culture of citizens, the course and needs of the ongoing democratic reforms.
The following “three steps” of development of the electoral legislation of New Uzbekistan can be distinguished.
“FIRST STEP” – FROM INDIVIDUAL ELECTORAL LAWS TO THE ELECTORAL CODE
The codification of legislation means the activity to create a systematized unified regulatory legal act, carried out through a deep and comprehensive revision of the current legislation, discarding outdated regulatory material, the development of new legal provisions, and the comprehensive development of the national legal system. In particular, in foreign countries, the procedure for the preparation and conduct of elections is regulated by the adoption of ordinary laws, constitutional laws or electoral codes. At the same time, more than 30 countries of the world apply a model of legal regulation of elections in the format of the Electoral Code.
The new Uzbekistan also chose the path of codification of electoral legislation. In 2019, the Electoral Code was adopted, replacing 5 previously disparate electoral laws that were in force. The Electoral Code was developed with the participation of all political forces and parties of the country, civil society institutions, on the basis of a nationwide discussion. At the same time, the recommendations of the OSCE ODIHR and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, foreign observers, missions of international organizations such as the SCO, CIS, OIC and others on the previous elections in Uzbekistan were taken into account. In particular, 29 recommendations of the OSCE / ODIHR following the elections in Uzbekistan in 2016-2019 fully implemented in the Electoral Code of Uzbekistan, 8 – in part, others – are being studied by experts.
The adoption of the Electoral Code became the embodiment of the unswerving advancement of New Uzbekistan along the path of democratization and liberalization of society, strengthening pluralism of opinions, and a multi-party system.
“SECOND STEP” – ENSURING THE INDEPENDENCE OF ACTIVITIES of ELECTION COMMISSIONS AT ALL LEVELS
The “second step” of democratization of the electoral legislation and the country’s system is associated with the introduction in February 2021 of the relevant amendments and additions to the legislative acts of the Republic of Uzbekistan. At the same time, special attention was paid to solving, in particular, the following priority tasks:
FIRST: ensuring the active participation in elections of all citizens, the exercise of their electoral rights, regardless of their location and temporary residence.
SECOND: further strengthening the independence of the entire system of election organizers – election commissions of all levels headed by the CEC, which is a necessary and most important condition for democratic elections.
THIRD: creating more favorable legal conditions for political parties for campaigning, organizing all-party election events, including mass ones, for conducting an election campaign.
FOURTH: preventing the use of public resources during the election campaign.
Most importantly, the “second step” of democratization of the electoral system and the country’s legislation contributes to a fuller realization of the constitutional electoral rights of citizens, the expansion of their participation in elections, and serves as the basis for holding democratic elections
“THE THIRD STEP” – THE FORMATION OF LEGAL CONDITIONS FOR FAIR ELECTIONS
The modern electoral system of New Uzbekistan is the result of many years of evolution and multilateral political dialogue. In general, the electoral legislation has undergone many adjustments aimed at improving the electoral process. Moreover, the introduction of each, even a minor change, is always preceded by thorough work, an analysis of the past election campaigns and the development of proposals on the improvement of legislation on its basis.
Thus, the electoral system has developed dynamically, over a number of years, and these changes were a logical continuation of the political and legal development of the country.
A group of deputies of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis initiated the issue of amendments and additions to the Electoral Code aimed at further improving electoral legislation and electoral practice, bringing it in line with international standards and best practices in the field of truly democratic elections. This applies, in particular, to the following issues.
The first is the further distribution of powers and the strengthening of the principle of checks and balances between the constituent (the system of election commissions, headed by the Central Election Commission) and the judicial branches of government.
Taking into account the recommendations of the OSCE / ODIHR, the Election Code stipulates that the CEC will not consider applications from voters and other participants in the electoral process on the actions of election commissions and their decisions.
This eliminates the dual system of filing complaints and appeals (to the CEC and the court), as well as the possibility of making conflicting decisions and decisions. These issues will be attributed only to the competence of the courts.
At the same time, the judicial protection of citizens’ electoral rights is being significantly strengthened.
The second is the introduction of a notification procedure for mass meetings, rallies and processions organized by political parties during elections.
Third, strengthening the capacity of district election commissions to organize and conduct presidential elections.
The “third step” also envisages a number of other novelties that eliminate the technical and organizational issues identified during the previous elections. In general, they serve to democratize electoral legislation and practice, taking into account the generally recognized international principles of holding fair and truly democratic elections.
RAISING THE ELECTORAL CULTURE OF THE POPULATION IS A GUARANTEE FOR TRANSPARENCY AND FAIRNESS OF ELECTIONS
Democratic transformations in Uzbekistan, as well as an ever-increasing level of political and legal consciousness of citizens, civil institutions are the basis for further improvement of the country’s electoral system.
In May, 2021, the Parliament of Uzbekistan has ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Under article 29 of the Convention, States parties guarantee persons with disabilities political rights and the opportunity to enjoy them on an equal basis with others, and undertake, inter alia, to ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate, directly or through freely chosen representatives, in political and public life on an equal basis with others. including had the right and the opportunity to vote and be elected.
The Electoral Code embodies all the mechanisms for the exercise by persons with disabilities of their rights to participate in the public and political life of the country by voting. Thus, the premises for voting should be provided with ramps for persons with disabilities. Technological equipment in polling stations – tables, booths and ballot boxes – should be installed taking into account the needs of wheelchair voters.
During the 2019 elections to the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis, 4,158 persons with disabilities were involved in election commissions of various levels. In May 2021, a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed between the Central Election Commission and the Society of Disabled People, the Society of the Blind, the Society of the Deaf and the Association of Disabled People of Uzbekistan. To create the most convenient and comfortable conditions for voters with disabilities, election commissions will hold a number of organizational events and prepare the necessary information materials. Information about the registered candidates for the office of President of the country will be posted on the information boards of the polling stations. For example, a visually impaired voter, having placed a blank ballot paper on a stencil using Braille, will be able to feel the name of a registered candidate by touch and place any sign in the square of the corresponding slot. For deaf and hard of hearing voters, if there are applications, sign language interpreters may be invited to polling stations on election day. Pre-election TV programs will be broadcast with sign language translation and subtitles, and materials for the blind will be published in special magazines using Braille.
All these measures will certainly contribute to the free expression of the will of persons with disabilities, who today are active participants in democratic reforms in the country.
Increasing the electoral culture and activeness of voters, strengthening their confidence in the electoral institution, strengthening the conviction in society that the only modern and democratic mechanism for the formation of state power, the implementation of constitutional principles in the new conditions are elections, are the most important tasks and necessary conditions for the implementation of constitutional rights citizens to participate in the management of the affairs of society and the state.
To achieve these goals, it is necessary to implement at a qualitatively new level, in particular, the following tasks:
firstly, the development of professional skills of the organizers, as well as the strengthening and improvement of the system of legal education of voters and all other participants in the electoral process, giving this work a purposeful, public and comprehensive nature;
secondly, improving the general legal and electoral culture of various categories of participants in the electoral process, especially young people;
third, improving work with the media, increasing their knowledge of the electoral process, involving them in the process of disseminating reliable information at all stages of elections, as well as increasing media culture in society;
fourthly, the involvement of civil society institutions in ensuring democracy, legitimacy and fairness of the electoral process, their involvement in the activities of state bodies to protect the rights and interests of all participants in the electoral process, voters.
At the same time, special attention should be paid to increasing the activity and involvement of the population in making decisions of statehood of importance through a thorough study of public opinion when developing draft laws and taking measures of public importance (for example, through the regulation.gov.uz portal or Mening fikrim);
fifth, the formation and development of information and legal educational resources based on new information and communication technologies.
All these measures also contribute to providing voters with guarantees of free expression of will, strengthening a sense of patriotism and responsibility, strengthening political stability in society, and increasing the legal literacy of the population.
It should be borne in mind that the process of developing and improving the electoral system, as well as electoral legislation, is far from over. After all, world practice shows that almost every regular election campaign highlights new problems. We are at such a stage of their development when it is necessary, using the accumulated experience, to predict how these or those proposed changes will be applied.
Election organizers must be familiar with the laws and be able to work in accordance with them. This should be facilitated, among other things, by the National Action Program prepared by the Uzbek parliament to improve the electoral culture of the population. The main thing is their striving for the growth of professionalism in the conduct of elections, serving the law in accordance with its meaning and content.
In general, all these “three steps” of democratization of electoral legislation and practice in New Uzbekistan, together with the large-scale and dynamic processes of political, economic, legal, social and spiritual renewal of society and modernization of the country being carried out in the country, lead to:
first, the significant development and strengthening of a real multi-party system in the country. A healthy inter-party competition has been created in the country with equal conditions for all parties to conduct an election campaign, fair distribution of budget funds allocated for the preparation and conduct of elections, fairness of voting and legitimacy of elections. In other words, there is every reason to assert that the upcoming presidential elections will be held in a multi-party system, competition of candidates, openness, freedom of opinion and genuine choice;
secondly, expanding the role and opportunities for participation in elections of civil society institutions, volunteers, a significant increase in the level of political, public activity, civic responsibility of people, exactingness and exactingness of citizens in assessing the progress of socio-economic and political and legal reforms;
third, the creation in Uzbekistan of all the necessary legal conditions for parties and representatives of non-governmental non-profit organizations, local and foreign observers, the media for the exercise of their rights and obligations during the election campaign;
fourth, expanding the use of digital technologies in the electoral process and their legal regulation;
fifth, the coronavirus pandemic has made a difference in every aspect of human life. In a number of countries, elections were canceled or postponed. Now the elections are being held in new conditions, for the first time people are admitted to polling stations strictly wearing masks using an antiseptic. In organizing the electoral process in a pandemic, attention should be paid to the following aspects. The first is aimed at the general organization of elections. These are measures related to premises, non-contact thermometry, flow regulation, social distance, mask mode, use of sanitizers. The second concerns the requirements for voters, in particular, the mandatory wearing of a mask, the use of antiseptics, and distance. Third, the participants in the electoral process, who will be present at the polling stations permanently on election day, are members of election commissions, observers, and proxies.
Elections are indeed turning into effective mechanisms for the formation of state power, ensuring its continuity and political stability”.