Deputy Speaker of Uzbekistan’s Oliy Majlis (Supreme Assembly) Sadyk Safayev has commented to EADaily on his country’s current domestic and foreign policies and its chances for good future. Safayev has held different high government positions: he has been Foreign Minister and Ambassador to Germany and the United States.
Islam Karimov launched a reform that envisaged transfer of certain powers from the president to the parliament. What has so far been done and what is yet to be done towards this end?
The key goal of the reform is to politically modernize the country, this implying measures to guarantee division of powers as well as mechanisms of checks and balances. During the first years of Karimov’s rule, Uzbekistan had a very strong executive branch as those times were really crucial for the country. But in the 2000s, Karimov realized that it was time to go from a strong state to strong society. This process implies four directions in need for decentralization.
The first direction stipulates decentralization among the branches of government and transfer of some of the powers the executive branch has enjoyed so far. The second direction is decentralization on different levels, which means that the government should become closer to consumers of public services, to ordinary citizens. Today, 85% of the budget funds meant for social needs – education, health care, etc. – are provided by local governments. The third direction stipulates that civil society and NGOs should have a bigger role in the country. After becoming independent, Uzbekistan had just three NGOs. Today, it has over 8,000 NGOs. And the fourth direction is that the state should have yield the control of the economy to the private sector.
In Uzbekistan, as many as 10,000,000 people work in SMEs. This is 4,000,000 more than some 10 years ago. Private business accounts for 55% of our GDP against 30% a decade ago. We are witnessing a stable growth. In agriculture, 100% are private farms.
And what about the parliament?
Today, our parliament is much more influential than it was some 10 years ago. It is efficient and has all powers for monitoring the activities of the executive branch. Last year, our Senate was authorized to control the work of the Prosecutor’s Office. We are not going to interfere in their inquiries but we will see to it that they respect human rights. We have a special commission for this purpose.
Can you provide examples because international organizations keep blaming Uzbekistan for violating human rights?
We have lots of examples. This system is working. We have a law obliging local prosecutor’s offices to report to local parliaments. Our Senate has the authority to appoint ambassadors. We also are authorized to appoint the chairmen of the Central Bank, the Audit Chamber and some committees.
We also have a big role in the appointment of the prime minister. The party having a majority of seats in the parliament, jointly with the president, nominates a candidate for the prime minister and the parliament approves or rejects the candidacy.
Today, our political parties have real motives for fighting for power. Today, elections are no longer a show. They actively involve mass media. Yes, we are still far from the highest standards or ideal democracy but we know that there is no ideal democracy in the world. But, instead, we have awareness of the need to modernize our state.
When did you become aware of this need?
When we realized that we needed to modernize our economy. Here is the key. At some stage, we realized that we needed laws that would protect the rights of proprietors and would pave the way for an efficient socially-oriented state, a state where the government serves the people and not vice versa. We are doing this not just to please some international organizations. We simply realize that unless we reform our state, we may face serious problems.
What will be the new president’s first steps? In what direction will Uzbekistan move in the near future?
On the one hand, the hardships of the last months have shown that our statehood is viable. Few experts expected such a smooth transit of power. We have survived that test and now we need to move forward.
The first steps will concern economic development and freedom of business. We must prevent any interference and arbitrary rule in business. We also need a specific roadmap for fighting corruption. Corruption is trading in power. And one of the key weapons against it is transparency.
What changes do you expect in the foreign policy?
Uzbekistan is a self-sufficient state and it has no need for revising its foreign policy. During the first years, we were hesitant and did know who to follow – the United States, China, Russia, Turkey or Iran… Today, we are strong enough not to follow anybody.
On the other hand, we are open to anybody. This is the key achievement of our foreign policy. But it would be wrong to say that we don’t need any changes. Today, we need to intensify our dialogue with neighbors so as to find solutions to some pending problems. Historically, Central Asia was one single region. According to Alexander von Humboldt, Central Asia is a single system of mountains, rivers and roads, with strict division of labor between nomadic and settled populations. And today it is a mistake to think that any of the Central Asian nations can develop alone.
We have serious problems concerning water resources, energy and the environment and we can hardly solve them alone. Uzbekistan is ready for a dialogue, but here we need practical steps. First of all, we need an integrated system of control over transport flows. We need to turn Central Asia into a logistical crossroads as developed transport can give us access to global markets.
We also need to cooperate on Afghanistan. For Uzbekistan, this country and, particularly, the Trans-Afghan Transport Corridor, is the shortest way to seaports.
If only the situation in Afghanistan becomes stable…
Yes, here we are dealing with a very interesting dialectic. On the one hand, we can sit and wait for stability in Afghanistan but, on the other hand, we can launch infrastructure projects that may boost stability there. Afghanistan must regain its role of a regional transport hub and this may help it to become stable.
For Uzbekistan, one of the key priorities is its relations with Russia. Since 2004, the sides have been strategic partners. So, here we need more mutual confidence, more direct regional contacts. One of the mechanisms that can help us in the matter is inter-parliamentary diplomacy. In 2006, we signed a memorandum on cooperation with the Russian Federation Council and formed several commission. I think 2017 will be groundbreaking for this process.
What should you beware of?
There must be no turning back here. We must continue developing education and economy, providing more freedom to business, ensuring more transparency. This is a guarantee of worthy future for Uzbekistan.