The past week in the life of our Uzbek parliament has been full of significant events for long-term development and strengthening of constitutional and legal foundations, as well as large-scale and rapid democratic transformations in the country to build New Uzbekistan and form the third Renaissance.
As a result, on May 16, separate meetings of the Oliy Majlis's (Parliament) two largest factions – UzLiDeP and National Revival (Milliy Tiklanish) Democratic Party – were conducted, followed by a joint meeting on May 17 dedicated to the implementation of constitutional reforms in our country and submission of this issue to the Councils (Kengashes) of the Oliy Majlis.
The Councils of the Senate and the Legislative Chamber of the Parliament held a meeting jointly on May 20.
The Constitutional Commission was established to develop proposals for constitutional amendments and additions, as well as to implement organisational measures; its composition and tasks were established. This Constitutional Commission was comprised of deputies, senators from all regions, representatives from various social strata, civil society institutions, leading lawyers, political scientists, and other experts (46 people in total).
What is the reason for such a decision of our parliament? Why is a constitutional reform needed, what are its leitmotifs? How and on the basis of what principles will the commission's activities be organized? This is by no means a complete list of questions posed on the Internet and social networks.
First of all, we should recognise that our President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is the main ideological inspirer for constitutional reform in Uzbekistan, and the general population is the main initiator.
Firstly, during the presidential elections of Uzbekistan in October 2021, at the meetings of all candidates with representatives of the electorate, an important proposal was put forward, demanded by life itself and dictated by the logic of democratic transformations in our country. This is the implementation of constitutional reform.
The first proposal to consider constitutional amendments and additions was made by voters during a meeting with UzLiDeP presidential candidate Shavkat Mirziyoyev in the Karakalpakstan district of Bozatau. In light of an ecological disaster not only on a regional but also on a global scale – the drying up of the Aral Sea – the relevance and immense importance of reflecting environmental human rights in the country's Basic Law, the rights of current and future generations of the country’s citizens to a favourable environment, which are not reflected in the current Constitution are highlighted.
Consequently, in seven more regions, during the meetings of Shavkat Mirziyoyev with voters of the regions, initiatives were put forward to further strengthen the constitutional and legal foundations for the protection of private property, including land and subsoil, ensuring human dignity, human rights, freedoms and legitimate interests, interethnic and interfaith harmony in the country, enhancing the role and status of the most important national democratic institution – the mahalla – carefully conveying traditional values to future generations, the institution of the family, developing state youth and gender policies, innovative economy and knowledge economy, expanding investment in the economy and social sphere.
Most importantly, these questions were raised by voters: teachers, business owners, farmers, representatives of civil society organisations, national cultural centres, and ordinary citizens. This, in turn, indicates, on the one hand, widespread support for the president's policy of democratic reforms, implemented within the framework of the New Uzbekistan Development Strategy for 2022-2026, and, on the other hand, voters' interest in their effectiveness in further deepening and achieving the election program's goals and objectives.
Similarly, during the meeting of candidates from:
• National Revival Democratic Party (“Milliy Tiklanish”) – proposals were put forward to define the constitutional identity of our country, strengthen and protect national traditions and values;
• Justice Social Democratic Party (“Adolat”) – strengthening the constitutional foundations of the independence of the judiciary, the fairness of laws and judicial decisions, the implementation of the principles of the supremacy of the Constitution and laws, human rights, the fight against corruption;
• People's Democratic Party of Uzbekistan – expansion of constitutional and social protection of vulnerable segments of the population, especially persons with disabilities, construction of a socially-oriented state;
• Ecological Party of Uzbekistan – the country's transition to a "green economy", improving the situation in environmentally unfavourable regions.
It is important to note that this is the voters' decision, as stated during elections and meetings with presidential candidates.
Second, based on an in-depth study of voter preferences, President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev emphasized the need for constitutional reform:
• during his inaugural address on November 6 last year. The country's leader then tasked the scientific, academic, and educational communities with analysing the national and international experience of constitutional development, and requested deputies and senators to carefully evaluate the matter, investigate it, and offer specific ideas;
• in congratulating the nation on the occasion of the 29th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the head of state outlined priority areas for constitutional reform based on the wishes of voters, the needs of ongoing dynamic democratic reforms.
Furthermore, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev included a whole section devoted to the need for constitutional reform in the second revised and expanded edition of his first fundamental author's monograph “New Uzbekistan Development Strategy” based on a generalisation of all the proposals made during the election campaign. The book outlines Uzbekistan's top priorities for constitutional reform.
Third, political parties, primarily UzLiDeP and National Revival Democratic Party (“Milliy Tiklanish”), conducted a thorough study of their electorate's opinions and wishes regarding the upcoming constitutional reforms.
Over 1.5 million members of these parties and their multi-million electorate not only supported, but also highlighted the need to modernize the Constitution as a necessary condition for achieving the goals of the New Uzbekistan Development Strategy, ensuring sustainable development, and establishing the legal foundations for even more accelerated and dynamic reform across all socio-economic, political, legal, cultural, and humanitarian spheres.
Constitutional reforms: current world trends
It should be noted that there are currently over 500 active constitutions on the “constitutional map of the world”, of which approximately 200 are constitutions of independent states and more than 300 are subjects of federations.
At the same time, the Code of Laws of the Sumerian king Ur-Nammu (The Code of Ur-Nammu) is considered the world's oldest written constitution – the age of clay tablets exceeds 4,000 years.
Simultaneously, the Constitution is not a dogma, but rather a plan of action for sustainable development. The possibility to amend or change a constitution is a fundamental feature of all constitutions. It is impossible to create a constitutional text that will always serve society at various stages of historical development.
Thus, the last decade of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century will be remembered as a period of rising to a new level of constitutional reforms, profound qualitative shifts in the constitutional world-view, and the constitutional structure of the world community's members. Over the last 30 years, more than 100 countries have successfully implemented constitutional reforms, with 57 adopting new constitutions.
Mexico, New Zealand, Brazil, Switzerland, Austria, Israel, Chile, Colombia, Georgia, and India are the top ten countries in terms of the frequency with which constitutional changes and amendments have been adopted.
Furthermore, the majority of constitutional reforms are implemented as part of the modernization of society and the state, or as part of the prevention and neutralisation of the consequences of political, economic, and social crises.
There are almost no original versions of constitutions left in the world today. Even the oldest in the current understanding of the US constitution, 27 fundamental changes were made, Norway – over 200 times (with only about a third of the Basic Law remaining in its original form), and the Netherlands – 24 times (however, in 1983 its text was carefully modernized, affecting almost all positions).
In modern conditions of globalization all over the world there is an intensive search for their own models of constitutional development. At the same time, the Constitution remains one of the key factors in ensuring the political and social stability of the state. The following are the constitutional principles:
firstly, the expansion of fundamental human rights and freedoms (the Constitution of the individual);
secondly, securing the protection of collective rights, the rights of society as a whole, that is, the regulation of civil society institutions, the implementation of social partnership and public control (the Constitution of society);
thirdly, the organization of the system of state authorities and administration; representative democracy combined with forms of direct democracy (elections, referendums, popular discussion); separation of powers, including the principle of checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches, as well as the independence of the judiciary; responsibility and accountability of officials (State Constitution).
Constitutional reform is a legal requirement for both current and future sustainable development. It can be an essential tool for promoting good governance by changing constitutional rules to strengthen checks and balances between branches of government, as well as greater accountability, transparency, participation, and predictability. Changes aimed at improving the quality and efficiency of governance contribute to the political system's stability, which benefits the economy by providing a stable environment for investment and development.
The study of constitutional changes around the world reveals a distinguishing feature: the need to adapt the state's Basic Law to the requirements of modernity and its ability to respond to emerging challenges.
The following are the main tendencies in modern constitutional development:
• the complexity of constitutional reforms. They cover the political, economic, social, cultural and humanitarian spheres, as well as the interconnections and interdependencies of constitutional reforms and modernization processes;
• expanding and strengthening the sphere of constitutional regulation, reforming the mechanism of public administration and changing the form of government;
• the development of the constitutional space, the strengthening of legal sovereignty and the definition of the constitutional identity of the state;
• strengthening the judicial protection of human rights and freedoms, expanding the powers of constitutional justice, granting citizens the right to direct access to the Constitutional Court;
• globalization of constitutional law-making, consolidation of universally recognized principles and norms of international law in the national constitutions of the states of the world;
• ecologization of the constitutional development of the state and society, implementation of the principle of accessibility of quality medical care;
• consolidation and development of digital rights, institutionalization of the information society, legal regulation of cybersecurity.
Uzbekistan is in the process of reforming its Constitution
Uzbekistan has a long history of implementing constitutional reforms. In particular, 32 amendments and additions to 21 articles of the Constitution were made 7 times as part of the implementation of the tasks of the Action Strategy in five priority areas of development of the Republic of Uzbekistan in 2017-2021.
They concerned, in particular, the activities of the parliament, government and the President, strengthening the independence and development of the judiciary, the system of checks and balances between the branches of government, the democratization of the electoral system and mahalla.
Particular emphasis was placed on a fundamental change in the constitutional structure, political, legal, socioeconomic, cultural, and spiritual spheres, constitutional provision of fundamental interrelated and interdependent democratic political, economic, social, and legal reforms aimed at building a New Uzbekistan, and the establishment of a free and fair civil society.
Simultaneously, the era of globalization, digitalization, climate change, and rapidly changing life poses an increasing number of urgent, extremely important, and urgent tasks for the country's further modernization, strengthening peace, stability, and national independence.
Thereby, Uzbekistan's constitutional development is consistent with the global trend of constitutional reform.
Priority directions of constitutional reforms
Tasks that are even more important are outlined in President Shavkat Mirziyoyev's fundamental book, "New Uzbekistan Development Strategy," raising democratic reforms to a fundamentally different level. It directs society's legal system, legal knowledge and enforcement, and political and legal culture toward universal human values and sustainable development principles. It is planned to define constitutional standards and rules that will apply to the New Uzbekistan.
First and foremost, this is about fully implementing the primary principle “in the sake of human honour and dignity”. Furthermore, human dignity entails the provision of a peaceful and secure life, citizens' fundamental rights and freedoms, the gradual creation of decent living conditions and modern infrastructure, qualified medical care, quality education, social protection, and a healthy ecological environment for all country citizens.
The following areas of constitutional reform have been identified as priorities:
The first is a change in the previously operating paradigm “state – society – person” to a new one: “person – society – state”, fixing it in constitutional legislation and constitutional practice;
The second is the provision of human interests in the process of economic reforms. This is the most important condition for building a people's state;
The third is constitutional consolidation of the role and status of civil society institutions, the principle "Society is the initiator of reforms";
The fourth is the definition of the constitutional foundations for the development of the institution of the family, the careful communication to future generations of traditional human values, the strengthening of inter-ethnic harmony in the country;
The fifth is the reflection in the Constitution of the state youth policy, comprehensive support for youth – the creators of New Uzbekistan, their rights, interests and obligations;
The sixth is fixing as a constitutional norm the principle "New Uzbekistan is a social state", taking into account the fact that today Uzbekistan is confidently moving along the path of building a social state and a just society;
The seventh is increasing the effectiveness of the current system of human rights protection, preventing child labour, reliable protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, representatives of the older generation;
The eighth is the inclusion of special environmental provisions in the Constitution, as well as legal rules linked to global climate change;
The ninth is consolidation at the constitutional level of the development of kindergartens, schools, higher education and science, which are interrelated components of the basis of the third Renaissance.
The words of the outstanding statesman and political figure Winston Churchill, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often” have a deep important importance for our President. Indeed, in order to have a Constitution that fulfills the needs of the time, we must take measures and make reforms that are consistent with the current quickly changing reality.
Constitutional Commission: Main Tasks and Principles
The Councils (Kengashes) of the Chambers of the Oliy Majlis determined the following as the main tasks of the Constitutional Commission:
• collection, generalization, formation of proposals and development of an appropriate draft law “On amendments and additions to the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan”;
• requesting documents, expert and other opinions, statistical data and other information from state bodies and other organizations, officials;
• receiving recommendations from research organizations, scientists and experts on proposals for amendments and additions to the Constitution, as well as expert opinions;
• involvement of representatives of state bodies and other organizations in the work of the Constitutional Commission as experts;
• if necessary, the development of proposals for the introduction of amendments and additions to other legislative acts based on the proposals received, which will be submitted to interested state bodies and other organizations for consideration in the prescribed manner;
• sending appeals received from individuals and legal entities about violations of their constitutional rights and freedoms to the appropriate departments for consideration;
The most important principles of the work of the Constitutional Commission are:
Firstly, actions must be transparent and accountable. Simultaneously, all conditions will be in place for a public discussion of the most pressing constitutional reform tasks in society, including the participation of international experts and civil society representatives.
A special role in this will belong to the work of the Press Service of the Constitutional Commission, which will provide in a simple and understandable language for an ordinary citizen the need, priorities and main directions of constitutional reforms and novels.
Furthermore, the organization of scientific constitutional forums will continue, based on the positive experience of organizing two earlier international conferences dedicated to diverse tasks of the impending constitutional amendments. All of this demonstrates New Uzbekistan's openness to both its citizens and the international world in general.
Secondly, collegiality. This is ensured by the fact that all members of the Constitutional Commission have a single vote and equal decision-making rights.
Thirdly, the President's idea of "the people are the creators of the law" is being implemented through widespread participation of civil society institutions, academic, research, and analytical centers in the Constitutional Commission's activities.
The National Centre of the Republic of Uzbekistan for Human Rights, the NGO “Center for Sustainable Development” and the Institute of State and Law of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan conduct scientific research on the topic “Constitutional reforms: the experience of the countries of the world”. The research is carried out in pursuance of the tasks determined by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to study foreign and international experience in constitutional development.
In conclusion, the constitutional reforms will undoubtedly serve to implement the tasks of further improving the well-being of the population and the prosperity of the country, strengthening its economic power and competitiveness in the world.
Akmal Saidov, Chairperson of the Constitutional Commission for the Formation of Proposals for Constitutional Amendments and Additions and Implementation of Organizational Measures