TASHKENT (Reuters) – Uzbekistan plans to liberalise its electoral and media laws, the government said on Friday, in a move that could make its tightly controlled political system more open and reduce Western criticism of its record on democracy and human rights.
The resource-rich Central Asian nation of 34 million has been opening up since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took over in late 2016 following the death of veteran leader Islam Karimov, who had run Uzbekistan with an iron fist for 27 years.
In a draft decree published on Friday for public discussion, Mirziyoyev proposed constitutional amendments that would replace the current majoritarian, winner-takes-all system used in parliamentary elections with a mixed system that includes some proportional representation.
Uzbekistan is a presidential republic with key powers concentrated in the executive branch, although Mirziyoyev said last year he would seek some decentralisation and boost the role of parliament in overseeing the work of the cabinet.
Under the proposed reforms, Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic, would no longer imprison people convicted of libel and slander. Some journalists and bloggers critical of the authorities have been jailed in the past under these laws.
The reforms also involve easing campaign finance regulations by allowing private donations and moving all elections from December – one of the coldest months – to March.
It was unclear whether moving elections to March, if implemented, would slightly shorten or prolong Mirziyoyev’s current term, which is due to end in December 2021. Under the constitution, he may run for a second term.
Uzbekistan’s next parliamentary election is due in 2024.
(Reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Gareth Jones)