On its official website, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) published recently the Final Report of the Election Observation Mission (EOM) on the Presidential Elections in the Republic of Uzbekistan that took place on 24 October 2021. In this regard, an OSCE/ODIHR delegation is expected in Uzbekistan with a visit to officially present the Report and discuss its aspects.
Recommendations, visit and presentation
For the first time in the history of national elections, the 2021 presidential election in Uzbekistan was observed by a delegation of the OSCE/ODIHR, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly as well as the European Parliament. On the voting day, the ODIHR EOM was joined by delegations from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the European Parliament, thus forming the International Election Observation Mission that comprised 365 observers from 44 countries.
In this regard, one should note that it was for the first time that both the representative delegation of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, consisting of about 100 lawmakers from 27 nations as well as the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the Secretary General, and the delegation of the European Parliament observed the election of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
In accordance with the methodology of the OSCE/ODIHR, the Office’s work on the results of election observation is carried out directly in the post-election period. The ODIHR’s post-election cooperation with the OSCE participating State comprises three key areas, namely, the publication and submission of the final report and the continuation of further work based on the proposed recommendations.
On 22 April 2022, the OSCE/ODIHR circulated the ODIHR EOM Final Report on the 2021 Presidential Election in the Republic of Uzbekistan.
The submission of the final report is an effective mechanism for moving from monitoring to assisting the participating States in furthering the work on the implementation of recommendations.
By sending a final report to a participating State, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights expresses its willingness to visit that country to present its report on the spot and discuss its recommendations.
Typically, the ODIHR delegation submitting the final report is led by the head of a relevant election observation mission, a senior member, or the Office director. Such a trip to the country takes place 3-9 months following the elections.
During the visit, the final report is formally presented before for a number of officials in charge, and the sides discuss its conclusions and recommendations. In addition, bilateral, parliamentary meetings, briefings and roundtables deliberations are likely to follow the presentation.
Such visits provide an opportunity to effectively communicate with officials, clarify issues and discuss possible ways to work together to implement ODIHR recommendations. They include the preparation of comments on national legislation, expert opinions on the regulatory framework for elections, the organization of expert meetings and roundtable discussions, and technical consultations.
Improvement and development
The final report is an important basis for further dialogue and effective interaction with the OSCE/ODIHR in the field of elections.
One of the main parts of the report are recommendations aimed at improving the legal framework and practice of future elections. They are intended for consideration by the bodies responsible for the organization of elections, public authorities, as well as political parties, the media, civil society and other interested parties.
As a rule, recommendations include suggestions on what changes can be made based on commitments before OSCE and other international commitments and standards. Some of them may be aimed at amending existing legislation, others – at improving the practice of conducting elections.
In this context, it is important to underline that the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has monitored virtually all nationwide election campaigns that have taken place in Uzbekistan since 1999.
Our country steadily adheres to the policy of openness to international contacts, including in matters related to the improvement of the electoral legislation and electoral practice. In this connection, it is absolutely natural that during all these years we have been actively cooperating with the ODIHR and inviting its missions to observe the elections.
In terms of effective interaction, special attention is paid to the broader and fuller provision of the electoral right of citizens through the further democratization of the national electoral system, harmonization of electoral legislation and practice with generally recognized international democratic standards in this field.
Based on the results of monitoring every election process, suitable recommendations reflected in final reports are being introduced into the national electoral legislation and practice, and the national legal framework for holding elections is being perfected.
In recent years, Uzbekistan has gradually implemented a number of ODIHR recommendations on election observation. Quite suggestive of this are such indicators as the systematization of laws and other regulatory normative acts in the field of elections with their codification into a single Electoral Code, the introduction of information and communication technologies in the electoral process and a number of other innovations that took place in 2018-2019.
Under the coordination of Uzbekistan’s Central Election Commission (CEC), with the participation of interested ministries and other government agencies as well as civil society institutions, efforts have been undertaken progressively to advance the electoral legislation and practice built on ODIHR’s 2019 Parliamentary Elections Final Report.
In its report, the Office expressed willingness to assist Uzbekistan in refining the electoral process and presented a total of 32 recommendations.
A number of organizational and practical steps were taken to analyze the recommendations outlined in the final report, summarize them in a timely manner, and apply them into the electoral legislation and practice of Uzbekistan, as well as ensure the implementation of suitable recommendations into the national legislation.
In his Address to the Oliy Majlis in late 2020, the President of Uzbekistan stressed the need, with regard to the presidential election coming up in 2021, to organize the impending elections on the basis of national legislation and generally recognized international democratic principles as the priority tasks before the Central Election Commission.
The Address insisted in particular that efforts to integrate acceptable recommendations voiced by international observers during the preceding elections into the national legislation and practice be continued. These priorities are detailed in the State Program for 2021.
Since early 2021, two important laws have been adopted to bring the national electoral legislation even more closer to international electoral standards, apply the recommendations of the final report, and improve the electoral legislation.
Thus, in accordance with the 8 February 2021 Law “On Amendments and Addenda to Certain Legislative Acts of the Republic of Uzbekistan in Connection with the Improvement of Electoral Legislation”, significant alterations and additions were introduced into the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan, into the Constitutional Law “On the Results of Referendum and the Basic Principles of the Organization of Government”, into the Law “On Financing Political Parties” and into the Electoral Code, while in accordance with the 31 May 2021 Law “On Amendments and Addenda to the Electoral Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan”, modifications and supplements were made to eleven articles of the Electoral Code.
Furthermore, a number of other legislative acts were adopted that are directly related to the implementation of the recommendations set out in the Final Report.
In particular, on 15 October 2020, the Law “On the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” was passed, which entered into force in January 2021. The Law “On Amendments and Addenda to the Criminal and the Criminal Procedure Codes of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Administrative Liability” adopted 25 December 2020 modified, respectively, the Criminal, Criminal Procedure Codes and that of Administrative Liability, providing for the liberalization of criminal punishment for insults and defamation (repeal of custodial punishment), while on 7 June 2021, a law was passed to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (New York, December 13, 2006).
Important in the proper execution of ODIHR recommendations has been the development by the CEC of a number of legal acts, including those in a new edition, in regards to the preparation and conduct of presidential elections. These provisions and instructions take into account a number of recommendations of the final report.
Thus, out of 32 recommendations of the OSCE/ODIHR final report on the results of monitoring the parliamentary elections, 21 recommendations were accepted.
High effects of the systemic work
The Presidential Decree “On the New Strategy for the Development of Uzbekistan for 2022-2026” and the State Program “The Year of Ensuring Human Interests and Development of the Mahalla” provide for the implementation of measures to further refine the electoral legislation and practice. These efforts include the upgrading of the Unified Electronic List of Voters and the Information System for Management of the Electoral Process, as well as the elevation of the authority of the electoral system.
Currently, the CEC houses a working group composed of representatives of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Cadastre Agency, the State Center for Personalization and other interested ministries and departments, whereas the second group comprising CEC staff are tasked with studying the practice of organizing the activities of elective bodies in foreign nations. Building on the outcomes, proposals are to be devised to perfect the electoral legislation, and corresponding regulatory acts will be developed.
Thus, election campaigns and their assessment by ODIHR election observation missions as well as other international and foreign experts have a significant impact on the formation and development of a democratic electoral system in our country.
In particular, according to the conclusions of the Final Report on the results of observation in the 2021 voting, the election took place against the backdrop of reforms in the social, political and economic spheres initiated by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev under his 2017-2021 Development Strategy, referred to in the wider political discourse as “New Uzbekistan”. It is acknowledged that in recent years Uzbekistan has made significant progress in the process of preparing and holding elections, fundamentally reforming the electoral legislation, which contributed to the implementation of the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations.
The activities of the CEC in preparing and holding elections are highly appreciated in the Final Report, which stresses that, despite the problems associated with COVID-19, the Commission organized its activities in a professional, high-quality and efficient manner within the time frame stipulated by law.
The openness of the election process, the efforts undertaken to deliver conditions favorable for persons with disabilities and a number of other aspects of the organization and conduct of elections are given positive evaluation.
The document also offers some remarks related to the electoral process. Meanwhile, according to the CEC, some shortcomings may not be such due to the peculiarities of legislative regulation and practice, regional, national and cultural prerequisites.
The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights presented 24 recommendations in its Final Report and expressed its readiness to fully support Uzbekistan in perfecting the electoral process.
In this regard, an interdepartmental working group was set up to analyze the Final Report in detail, study its recommendations and develop proposals for their realization. The working group comprised all participants in the electoral process, experts and specialists, representatives of political parties, civil society institutions, scholars and practitioners.
International experts from the United Nations Development Program, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), and the OSCE Project Coordinator Office in Uzbekistan were also involved in the study of the final document. They provided assistance in conducting a comparative analysis of the report with universal documents of the UN, the OSCE and other acts of international law that define the standards for democratic and free elections, as well as with comparison with international practice.
During the pending visit of the OSCE/ODIHR delegation, the sides are expected to conduct comprehensive review of the recommendations outlined in the Final Report. Joint efforts will be continued to further develop the electoral legislation and raise the effectiveness of the electoral practice in Uzbekistan.
In conclusion, one can note that extensive work has been carried out in Uzbekistan to effectively use the essential opportunities to implement the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations. This, in turn, will contribute to the democratic development of our country through the introduction of best practices that meet international standards in the field of elections.
The author is a Permanent Member of the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Uzbekistan