In a move initiated by Uzbek President Islam Karimov, on December 5 the upper chamber of the Uzbek legislature, the senate, approved changes to the constitution that will shorten the presidential term from the current seven years to five years. The changes reversed the results of a January 2002 national referendum that lengthened the term from five to seven years. It is unclear if the new term length will take effect now or after President Karimov's current term expires in 2015.
Karimov was first elected to a five-year presidential term with 88 percent of the vote on December 29, 1991, in an election Human Rights Watch called
"seriously marred," but following a campaign that was the most open and competitive of any held in Central Asia during that period or in Uzbekistan since. A December 1995 national referendum circumvented a multicandidate election campaign and extended Karimov’s term to 2000. He was reelected
in January 2000 with 91.9 percent of the vote, having faced only token
President Karimov was reelected to a third term on December 23, 2007 with 88.1 percent
of the vote, again after running against symbolic
opposition. His supporters justified his seeking reelection by citing
the changes to the constitution that followed the 2002 referendum. They asserted that those changes nullified Karimov’s previous terms and opened the door to two more seven-year terms.
Uzbek media articles praised the recent move to a five-year presidential term as a continuation of democratic reforms that the country has made under Karimov, they drew limited attention to it. The announcement appeared as part of lengthy articles about all of the legislative measures enacted by parliament during the December 5 session, including amnesty offered in honor of the twentieth anniversary of the country's independence, the approval of the 2012 budget, job creation activities, and amendments to the criminal code (available in Russian here
and in English here
). Furthermore, neither of the main opposition parties, Erk (Freedom) and Birlik (Unity), commented on the change.
Although no domestically produced newspapers (such as O’zbekiston Ovozi or Oila va Jamiyat) commented on the change, foreign-based Uzbek-language media (such as BBC, Voice of America, and Fergana.ru) did. Unlike the official press announcement, these sources cited and included discussions
of the implications of the amendment as well as speculation
on the motives behind the changes.
that the move was likely yet another maneuver to keep
Karimov, who has led the country for twenty-two years despite a constitutional limit on the number of consecutive terms, in the top post. Others suggested
that the president may want
to step down for a variety of reasons
—because he is making a real attempt at liberalization, because of his age, or because he does not wish to be remembered as a dictator or suffer the fate of the Arab leaders toppled during the Arab Spring.
Those Uzbeks who reacted did so with curiosity or with skepticism, the latter expressed
through comments of "no comment" on articles in the Uzbek press. Most concentrated
on when the next elections would be held, wondering
if the changes apply to the current term or if elections would still be held in 2014 as originally scheduled. Uzbekistan moved the presidential election to the first quarter of 2015 in order to avoid conflicting with parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for December 2014.
There was little speculation about possible successors following the announcement, but in recent years, opinion
has centered around the first deputy prime minister, Rustam Azimov; the chairman of Uzbekistan's National Security Service, Rustam Inoyatov
; Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyayev
; and possibly even the president's daughter, Gulnara Karimova