"One of the most important socio-political events of this year in Uzbekistan, which is of key importance for the further sustainable development of our country, and the entire Central Asian region as a whole, in the medium and long term, is the upcoming presidential elections in the Republic of Uzbekistan," writes Akmal Saidov, First Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
In recent years, within the framework of building a democratic, open to the outside world and competitive New Uzbekistan, a huge work has been carried out in the field of ensuring the fundamental rights of citizens to vote and to be elected to representative bodies.
First of all, consistent measures have been taken to strengthen the legal basis for free and fair elections held on the basis of universal, equal, direct suffrage by secret ballot openly and publicly - an integral attribute of a democratic rule of law, as well as to strengthen and develop a modern democratic electoral systems.
At the same time, the electoral legislation of Uzbekistan is being dynamically improved on the basis of national practical experience accumulated during periodically organized elections, as well as taking into account international standards, the growth of political consciousness and electoral culture of citizens, the course and needs of the ongoing democratic reforms.
The following "three steps" of development of the electoral legislation of New Uzbekistan can be distinguished.
"FIRST STEP" - FROM INDIVIDUAL ELECTORAL LAWS TO THE ELECTORAL CODE
The codification of legislation means the activity to create a systematized unified regulatory legal act, carried out through a deep and comprehensive revision of the current legislation, discarding outdated regulatory material, the development of new legal provisions, and the comprehensive development of the national legal system. In particular, in foreign countries, the procedure for the preparation and conduct of elections is regulated by the adoption of ordinary laws, constitutional laws or electoral codes. At the same time, more than 30 countries of the world apply a model of legal regulation of elections in the format of the Electoral Code.
The new Uzbekistan also chose the path of codification of electoral legislation. In 2019, the Electoral Code was adopted, replacing 5 previously disparate electoral laws that were in force. The Electoral Code was developed with the participation of all political forces and parties of the country, civil society institutions, on the basis of a nationwide discussion. At the same time, the recommendations of the OSCE ODIHR and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, foreign observers, missions of international organizations such as the SCO, CIS, OIC and others on the previous elections in Uzbekistan were taken into account. In particular, 29 recommendations of the OSCE / ODIHR following the elections in Uzbekistan in 2016-2019 fully implemented in the Electoral Code of Uzbekistan, 8 - in part, others - are being studied by experts.
The adoption of the Electoral Code became the embodiment of the unswerving advancement of New Uzbekistan along the path of democratization and liberalization of society, strengthening pluralism of opinions, and a multi-party system.
The most important novelties of the Electoral Code were, in particular, the following:
Firstly, the main provisions of international election standards, providing for the direct election of members of at least one of the chambers of parliament, are fully implemented into the national electoral legislation. The norms for the nomination and election of deputies of the lower house of parliament from the Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan have been excluded from the legislation, while maintaining the number of deputy seats in the Legislative Chamber (150 seats);
Secondly, voters are given the opportunity to support the participation of more than one party in elections - it is stipulated that voters have the right to sign in support of one or more political parties;
Thirdly, it is legally stipulated that political parties have the right to nominate a presidential candidate, a candidate for deputies of the Legislative Chamber. At the same time, political parties are entitled to nominate members of their party or non-party members as candidates;
Fourthly, the rule limiting the participation in elections of persons held in places of imprisonment for crimes that do not pose a great public danger and less serious crimes has been excluded;
Fifth, the number of proxies of candidates from political parties has been increased (for presidential candidates - up to 15, parliament deputies - 10, regional Kengashes (Councils) of people's deputies - 5, district and city Kengashes (Councils) - 3);
Sixth, the role of observers from political parties in ensuring the transparency and democracy of elections has been strengthened. They can receive copies of documents on the election results immediately after drawing up the protocol of the election commission on the results of the vote count. A procedure has been established for immediate posting at the polling station of a copy of the protocol of the precinct election commission on the counting of votes for general review for a period of not less than 48 hours;
Seventh, the procedure for consideration by election commissions of applications from individuals and legal entities on the organization, holding of elections and summing up its results has been regulated. In addition, a candidate or observer has the right to lodge a complaint about any aspect of the electoral process (including requesting a recount or invalidating election results). It is legally stipulated that decisions of election commissions, including the CEC, can be appealed in court. The persons who filed a complaint are entitled to directly participate in its consideration;
Eighth, at the legislative level, the procedure for electing members of the Senate was determined, with the cancellation of the CEC Regulations on the procedure for their election;
Ninth, the Electoral Code clearly defines the types, forms and methods of campaigning by political parties and their candidates;
Tenthly, special attention is paid to observers, authorized representatives of parties, and the media. The Electoral Code has fixed the range of rights of the above-mentioned participants in the electoral process. The participation of these participants ensures the transparency of the electoral process. Representatives of political parties, the media, observers from citizens' self-government bodies, foreign states, and international organizations may attend meetings of the election commission. Meetings of election commissions are held openly. Decisions of election commissions are published in the media or made public in accordance with the procedure established by the Electoral Code;
Eleventh, there is a Unified Electronic Voter List of the Republic of Uzbekistan, which is a state information resource containing information about citizens-voters, addresses of their permanent and temporary residence.
In general, during the elections to representative bodies of power in 2019, the Electoral Code showed that it serves the strict observance of the constitutional electoral rights of citizens on the basis of democratic principles of justice, publicity, openness and transparency, creating the necessary conditions for voters to freely participate in elections, and political parties and their candidates - broad and equal opportunities during the election campaign.
"SECOND STEP" - ENSURING THE INDEPENDENCE OF ACTIVITIES of ELECTION COMMISSIONS AT ALL LEVELS
The “second step” of democratization of the electoral legislation and the country's system is associated with the introduction in February 2021 of the relevant amendments and additions to the legislative acts of the Republic of Uzbekistan. At the same time, special attention was paid to solving, in particular, the following priority tasks:
FIRST: ensuring the active participation in elections of all citizens, the exercise of their electoral rights, regardless of their location and temporary residence. For the first time, the procedure for including citizens of Uzbekistan living abroad in the voter list, regardless of their consular registration in diplomatic missions, as well as the legal basis for voting in portable ballot boxes at the place of residence or work of voters abroad, has been legislatively enshrined.
SECOND: further strengthening the independence of the entire system of election organizers - election commissions of all levels headed by the CEC, which is a necessary and most important condition for democratic elections. To this end, the status of members of the CEC and election commissions has been legislatively enshrined, the tasks of election commissions that are unusual for election organizers to organize meetings of candidates with voters have been excluded; the system of election commissions has been optimized - the institution of district election commissions that conduct elections to district (city) Kengashes (Councils) has been abolished. As a result of optimization, 5,739 unnecessary district election commissions are abolished, significant human resources (more than 54,000 people) are freed.
Thus, all the legal conditions have been created for the independence of election commissions from all government bodies. Today, the organizational and legal level of the elections, the legitimacy of their results, mainly depends on how accurately all the subjects of the electoral process follow the provisions of the legislation.
THIRD: creating more favorable legal conditions for political parties for campaigning, organizing all-party election events, including mass ones, for conducting an election campaign. Based on a deep study of national, foreign and international experience in ensuring democracy, fairness and fairness of elections, the constitutional terms of elections in Uzbekistan have been postponed from the first Sunday of the third decade of December to the first Sunday of the third decade of October in the year of the expiration of their constitutional term of office.
FOURTH: preventing the use of public resources during the election campaign. The OSCE / ODIHR election observation missions in various member states as priority recommendations in their final reports (for example, in the presidential elections in Georgia in 2018) indicate the need to “create a mechanism to prevent and / or effectively and timely address complaints about the abuse of administrative resources ". Taking into account the national and foreign experience in Uzbekistan, the prohibition of campaigning by civil servants (if he is not a confidant), as well as military personnel, employees of religious organizations, and judges is also legally enshrined. This is another critical step towards ensuring the impartiality, lawfulness and fairness of the elections.
Among the most important novelties of the "second step" are bringing the legislation on political parties and their financing in line with the Electoral Code, establishing a procedure for state funding of presidential and parliamentary elections, elections to local representative bodies, and reducing the time frame for appealing decisions of election commissions from 10 to 5 days.
Most importantly, the “second step” of democratization of the electoral system and the country's legislation contributes to a fuller realization of the constitutional electoral rights of citizens, the expansion of their participation in elections, and serves as the basis for holding democratic elections
"THE THIRD STEP" – THE FORMATION OF LEGAL CONDITIONS FOR FAIR ELECTIONS
The modern electoral system of New Uzbekistan is the result of many years of evolution and multilateral political dialogue. In general, the electoral legislation has undergone many adjustments aimed at improving the electoral process. Moreover, the introduction of each, even a minor change, is always preceded by thorough work, an analysis of the past election campaigns and the development of proposals on the improvement of legislation on its basis.
Thus, the electoral system has developed dynamically, over a number of years, and these changes were a logical continuation of the political and legal development of the country.
A group of deputies of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis initiated the issue of amendments and additions to the Electoral Code aimed at further improving electoral legislation and electoral practice, bringing it in line with international standards and best practices in the field of truly democratic elections. This applies, in particular, to the following issues.
The first is the further distribution of powers and the strengthening of the principle of checks and balances between the constituent (the system of election commissions, headed by the Central Election Commission) and the judicial branches of government.
The amendments and additions made provide, first of all, to strengthen the independence and responsibility of precinct election commissions for their decisions, while increasing the role of courts in considering appeals and complaints of citizens, other participants in the electoral process on the actions of election commissions and their decisions.
Taking into account the recommendations of the OSCE / ODIHR, the Election Code stipulates that the CEC will not consider applications from voters and other participants in the electoral process on the actions of election commissions and their decisions.
This eliminates the dual system of filing complaints and appeals (to the CEC and the court), as well as the possibility of making conflicting decisions and decisions. These issues will be attributed only to the competence of the courts.
At the same time, the judicial protection of citizens' electoral rights is being significantly strengthened. Today, according to the Electoral Code:
• Any citizen can report to the precinct election commission about an error or inaccuracy in the voter lists. Within 24 hours, the precinct election commission is obliged to check the appeal and either eliminate the error or inaccuracy, or give the applicant a reasoned response to reject the appeal. In this case, the actions and decisions of the precinct election commission maybe appealed to the court;
• decisions of election commissions can be appealed by bodies of political parties, their candidates, proxies, observers and voters in court;
• CEC decisions can be appealed to the Supreme Court of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
The Electoral Code provides for a clear procedure for subjects of electoral law to appeal against decisions made at all stages of preparation and conduct of elections. The Code regulates the procedure for consideration by election commissions of applications from individuals and legal entities on the organization, conduct of elections and summing up its results.
All this contributes to the realization of the fundamental right of citizens to justice (the dispute must be considered and decided by the court). The constituent authority should only solve the problems of organizing elections, creating conditions for citizens to freely express their will, and the assessment of the actions (inaction) of election commissions should be carried out by the courts.
The second is the introduction of a notification procedure for mass meetings, rallies and processions organized by political parties during elections. So, in 2019, before the parliamentary elections, political parties held more than 800 mass rallies throughout the country. At the same time, there were no obstacles and there were no appeals from the parties about any violations of their rights to hold mass events.
However, there was a gap in the legislation in this area. Therefore, in the Electoral Code, the norm is enshrined that parties will organize mass events in advance - at least three days in advance - notifying the khokimiyats of the place and time of their holding. That is, there will be not a “permissive”, but a “notification” procedure.
Third, strengthening the capacity of district election commissions to organize and conduct presidential elections. So, today, in accordance with the law, at least seventy days before the elections, the Central Election Commission forms a district election commission for elections of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, deputies of the Legislative Chamber, consisting of a chairman, deputy chairman, secretary and 6-8 other members of the commission. However, here it is necessary to take into account the specifics - for parliamentary elections within one electoral district, 70-120 precinct election commissions are formed, and during the presidential elections - about 1000 precinct election commissions. Consequently, during the presidential elections, the task of coordinating activities and providing effective assistance to precinct election commissions becomes much more difficult. In this regard, the Electoral Code has increased the number of members of precinct election commissions to 11-18 people.
The “third step” also envisages a number of other novelties that eliminate the technical and organizational issues identified during the previous elections. In general, they serve to democratize electoral legislation and practice, taking into account the generally recognized international principles of holding fair and truly democratic elections.
RAISING THE ELECTORAL CULTURE OF THE POPULATION IS A GUARANTEE FOR TRANSPARENCY AND FAIRNESS OF ELECTIONS
Democratic transformations in Uzbekistan, as well as an ever-increasing level of political and legal consciousness of citizens, civil institutions are the basis for further improvement of the country's electoral system.
In May, 2021, the Parliament of Uzbekistan has ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Under article 29 of the Convention, States parties guarantee persons with disabilities political rights and the opportunity to enjoy them on an equal basis with others, and undertake, inter alia, to ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate, directly or through freely chosen representatives, in political and public life on an equal basis with others. including had the right and the opportunity to vote and be elected.
The Electoral Code embodies all the mechanisms for the exercise by persons with disabilities of their rights to participate in the public and political life of the country by voting. Thus, the premises for voting should be provided with ramps for persons with disabilities. Technological equipment in polling stations - tables, booths and ballot boxes - should be installed taking into account the needs of wheelchair voters.
During the 2019 elections to the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis, 4,158 persons with disabilities were involved in election commissions of various levels. In May 2021, a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed between the Central Election Commission and the Society of Disabled People, the Society of the Blind, the Society of the Deaf and the Association of Disabled People of Uzbekistan. To create the most convenient and comfortable conditions for voters with disabilities, election commissions will hold a number of organizational events and prepare the necessary information materials. Information about the registered candidates for the office of President of the country will be posted on the information boards of the polling stations. For example, a visually impaired voter, having placed a blank ballot paper on a stencil using Braille, will be able to feel the name of a registered candidate by touch and place any sign in the square of the corresponding slot. For deaf and hard of hearing voters, if there are applications, sign language interpreters may be invited to polling stations on election day. Pre-election TV programs will be broadcast with sign language translation and subtitles, and materials for the blind will be published in special magazines using Braille.
All these measures will certainly contribute to the free expression of the will of persons with disabilities, who today are active participants in democratic reforms in the country.
Increasing the electoral culture and activeness of voters, strengthening their confidence in the electoral institution, strengthening the conviction in society that the only modern and democratic mechanism for the formation of state power, the implementation of constitutional principles in the new conditions are elections, are the most important tasks and necessary conditions for the implementation of constitutional rights citizens to participate in the management of the affairs of society and the state.
To achieve these goals, it is necessary to implement at a qualitatively new level, in particular, the following tasks:
firstly, the development of professional skills of the organizers, as well as the strengthening and improvement of the system of legal education of voters and all other participants in the electoral process, giving this work a purposeful, public and comprehensive nature;
secondly, improving the general legal and electoral culture of various categories of participants in the electoral process, especially young people;
third, improving work with the media, increasing their knowledge of the electoral process, involving them in the process of disseminating reliable information at all stages of elections, as well as increasing media culture in society;
fourthly, the involvement of civil society institutions in ensuring democracy, legitimacy and fairness of the electoral process, their involvement in the activities of state bodies to protect the rights and interests of all participants in the electoral process, voters.
At the same time, special attention should be paid to increasing the activity and involvement of the population in making decisions of statehood of importance through a thorough study of public opinion when developing draft laws and taking measures of public importance (for example, through the regulation.gov.uz portal or Mening fikrim);
fifth, the formation and development of information and legal educational resources based on new information and communication technologies.
All these measures also contribute to providing voters with guarantees of free expression of will, strengthening a sense of patriotism and responsibility, strengthening political stability in society, and increasing the legal literacy of the population.
It should be borne in mind that the process of developing and improving the electoral system, as well as electoral legislation, is far from over. After all, world practice shows that almost every regular election campaign highlights new problems. We are at such a stage of their development when it is necessary, using the accumulated experience, to predict how these or those proposed changes will be applied.
Election organizers must be familiar with the laws and be able to work in accordance with them. This should be facilitated, among other things, by the National Action Program prepared by the Uzbek parliament to improve the electoral culture of the population. The main thing is their striving for the growth of professionalism in the conduct of elections, serving the law in accordance with its meaning and content.
In general, all these "three steps" of democratization of electoral legislation and practice in New Uzbekistan, together with the large-scale and dynamic processes of political, economic, legal, social and spiritual renewal of society and modernization of the country being carried out in the country, lead to:
first, the significant development and strengthening of a real multi-party system in the country. A healthy inter-party competition has been created in the country with equal conditions for all parties to conduct an election campaign, fair distribution of budget funds allocated for the preparation and conduct of elections, fairness of voting and legitimacy of elections. In other words, there is every reason to assert that the upcoming presidential elections will be held in a multi-party system, competition of candidates, openness, freedom of opinion and genuine choice;
secondly, expanding the role and opportunities for participation in elections of civil society institutions, volunteers, a significant increase in the level of political, public activity, civic responsibility of people, exactingness and exactingness of citizens in assessing the progress of socio-economic and political and legal reforms;
third, the creation in Uzbekistan of all the necessary legal conditions for parties and representatives of non-governmental non-profit organizations, local and foreign observers, the media for the exercise of their rights and obligations during the election campaign;
fourth, expanding the use of digital technologies in the electoral process and their legal regulation;
fifth, the coronavirus pandemic has made a difference in every aspect of human life. In a number of countries, elections were canceled or postponed. Now the elections are being held in new conditions, for the first time people are admitted to polling stations strictly wearing masks using an antiseptic. In organizing the electoral process in a pandemic, attention should be paid to the following aspects. The first is aimed at the general organization of elections. These are measures related to premises, non-contact thermometry, flow regulation, social distance, mask mode, use of sanitizers. The second concerns the requirements for voters, in particular, the mandatory wearing of a mask, the use of antiseptics, and distance. Third, the participants in the electoral process, who will be present at the polling stations permanently on election day, are members of election commissions, observers, and proxies.
Elections are indeed turning into effective mechanisms for the formation of state power, ensuring its continuity and political stability.
Worthy of the timeless monuments of the glorious past: In 2022 Uzbekistan will see the grand opening of Silk Road Samarkand, a unique tourist complex
In 2022, Silk Road Samarkand, a multifunctional tourist complex designed to become a modern attraction not only of the city of Samarkand, but also of the entire Central Asia, will be opened for visitors. The complex will combine cultural, gastro, medical and business tourism facilities.
The new complex will house world-class hotels, specialized boutique hotels, contemporary public spaces, parks, recreation and sports areas, authentic restaurants, cafes and bars, as well as an international congress hall and sites of cultural interest. The state-of-the-art project developed by an international team of architects and engineers will allow for combining various thematic zones into a balanced architectural ensemble without parallel in the entire region of Central Asia.
The scale and significance of Silk Road Samarkand are to make it a well-deserved follow-up to the sublime monuments of the past and a driver of tourism development in the region. The name of the center was selected deliberately: the routes of the Great Silk Road passed through the territory of current-day Uzbekistan from the II century BC until the XV century, and ancient Samarkand was one of the most important stops for trade caravans.
The new complex is located in the eastern part of the city and covers an area of about 260 hectares. It centers around the affluent waterway of the Samarkand rowing canal, which in Soviet times served as a training base for the USSR national team and a venue for All-Union competitions.
The complex includes multiple various zones. To the north of the rowing canal is a Business Cluster, including a congress hall and four upscale hotels with beautified territories. The Southern Cluster includes four boutique hotels, each operating in their own medical and sanatorium area of activity, as well as an eco-village, the Eternal City historical and ethnographic complex, and some shopping areas.
The business cluster
Silk Road Samarkand has eight hotels, four each on the northern and southern banks of the rowing canal. They will provide for a total of about 1,200 rooms. To the left of the congress hall, a 22-storey five-star Samarkand Regency Hotel with 234 rooms, including executive suites and two presidential suites, will be put up. This is the first and only hotel in Central Asia being part of LHW, the world's leading hotels association.
Savitsky Plaza, a hotel named after Igor Savitsky, an honored artist of the Uzbek SSR and a collector of avant-garde art objects, is distinguished by its one-of-a-kind interior design and has 179 rooms available for the guests.
Other hotels of the highest category include Silk Road by Minyoun with 242 rooms and Stars of Ulugbek by Lia! Minyoun, named after the great astronomer and mathematician of the Timurid era, counting 174 rooms. Both buildings are managed by the leading Asian hotelier Minyoun Hospitality.
All hotels have conference rooms, meeting rooms, restaurants, bars, gyms, SPAs and swimming pools.
The Congress Hall
At the international congress hall, a multifunctional hall, presidential and VIP halls, rooms for delegations and meeting rooms, as well as banqueting room and exhibition hall will be available.
The medical cluster
The medical cluster of Marakanda Park Hotels will be situated to the south of the rowing canal. Each of the four boutique hotels specializes in a certain type of medical services: preventive medicine, detox, joint and spine treatment, and pulmonary medicine. The second floors of the hotels are allocated for health centers. In addition to medical and treatment rooms, the hotel guests will be offered the services of a cosmetician, massage, mud therapy, therapeutic showers, infrared sauna, pressure chamber. The offered programs are developed for 3, 7, 10 and 14 days of stay. The hotels of the cluster will have a total of 366 rooms.
The Eternal City
Over more than 10 hectares, the image of an ancient city has been recreated, inviting guests of the resort to experience the history and traditions of the lands and peoples of Uzbekistan. Artists, artisans and craftsmen will "settle" on the narrow streets. Visitors to the city will be offered to try national cuisine from different eras and regions of the country and watch authentic street performances. The Eternal City will provide guests with an exceptional opportunity to find themselves at the borderline of Parthian, Hellenistic and Islamic cultures, and observe the diversity of the bygone centuries' heritage with their own eyes. The author and curator of the project is the famous modern Uzbek artist Bobur Ismoilov.
The place of attraction
Resort guests will enjoy green pedestrian zones, open spaces and a well-designed environment. The entrance will be decorated in traditional motifs reminiscent of the majestic arches of Registan. Sports grounds and bike paths, the Volcano aqua zone with swimming pools and a variety of cafes and bars are sure to become a place of attraction. Bicycle rental will be available.
“Samarkand was a major stop on the Great Silk Road, a place where entire civilizations crossed. We believe that Silk Road Samarkand will become a center of international tourism, where residents of the city, tourists, travelers and businessmen from all over the world will be able to spend time with pleasure and benefit. I am sure that the opening of the complex will launch a new era in the history of tourism in Samarkand,” said Artiom V. Egikian, CEO of the managing company of Silk Road Samarkand.
The complex is easily accessible by transport: it takes 20 minutes by car to get there from the historical center of the city, 15 minutes from the international airport and 25 minutes from the train station. The project includes the construction of a road junction and a bypass bridge. You can get to the resort both by car (parking lots are available) and by special shuttles that will be launched when the center opens.
Development of the economy of Uzbekistan in the first half of 2021
Despite the ongoing pandemic in the world, the economy of Uzbekistan has reached record growth rates. According to the State Statistics Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the gross domestic product for the first six months of this year increased by 6.2%. For comparison: over the same period last year, due to the pandemic and lockdowns, the economy grew by only 1.1%, and in the first three months of 2021 - 3%, writes Ruslan Abaturov, Centre for Economic Research and Reforms.
At the same time, it should be noted that Uzbekistan’s main trade partners’ economy is stabilizing at the end of the six months and returning to the growth trajectory. Thus, Kazakhstan's GDP increased by 2.2%, against the decline for the same period last year by 1.8%. The Kyrgyz economy is gradually decreasing, in January-June, the rate of decline slowed to 1.7% against 5.6% in the first half of 2020. China maintains dynamic growth this year, where a 12.7% increase in GDP is recorded in the first half year. In Russia, GDP grew by 3.7% during January-May.
In Uzbekistan, inflation in the consumer sector continues to slow, despite serious price hikes for certain commodities such as carrots and vegetable oil. According to the results of six months, prices increased by 4.4% while in 2020 over the same period - by 4.6%. By May 2021, prices decreased by 0.2% due to seasonality. The largest increase in prices is noted for food products - by 5.7% (in the first half of 2020 - 6.2%). The rise in prices for non-food products is also slowing down - 3% against 3.6% in January-June 2020.
The inflow of investment in the first quarter of this year has shown positive dynamics. Investment in fixed assets rose by 5.9% against a decline of almost 10% in the same period last year. Investments from the budget decreased by 8.5%. Investments and loans attracted under the guarantee of the government decreased by more than 36%, and their share in the total volume of investments fell to 8.9%. The inflow of investments from non-centralized sources has noticeably increased - by 14.9%. Investments at the expense of the population and own funds of enterprises increased insignificantly - by 4.4% and 4.7%, respectively. A significant inflow of investments is due to the growth of attracted loans from commercial banks, foreign direct investment and credit funds from abroad.
The positive dynamics of production is noted in all sectors of the economy. The main drivers are industry and the service sector.
The industrial sector in January-June demonstrates high growth rates - 8.5% against a decline of 0.3% over the same period last year. The mining industry grew by 7.5% (a decline of 18% in January-June 2020), the manufacturing industry - by 8.6% (4.9%), electricity, gas and air conditioning - by 12.1% (8.4%). The production of consumer goods increased by 7.7% against the growth of 1.2% in the same period last year, with the outstripping dynamics in the production of food products.
The service sector, such as tourism, catering and accommodation, demonstrates impressive dynamics - an increase of 18.3% in the first half of the year versus an increase of 2.6% in January-June 2020. The transport sector is actively recovering after last year's decline: freight turnover increased by 14.1%, passenger turnover by 4.1%. Retail trade in the period under review increased by 9%.
A slowdown in relative to last year is noted in agriculture to 1.8% versus 2.8%, which is due to difficult weather conditions this year and lack of water. The growth rates of the construction sector also slowed down to 0.1% against 7.1% in the first half of 2020.
Foreign trade also managed to overcome the recession. In the first half of this year, sales grew 13.6% to $18 billion. In the same period last year, there was a significant decline of 18%. During the period under review, exports grew by 12% to $7.1bn and imports by 14.4% to $11bn. In the second quarter, Uzbekistan sold gold abroad against the background of positive price conditions on the world market. However, it should be noted that in the first six months the volume of exports without gold increased by 36.4% and reached $5.7bn.
In the structure of exports, the volume of food supplies to foreign countries increased by 6.3%, chemicals by 18.6%, industrial products by 74.4% (mainly textiles, non-ferrous metals), machinery and transport equipment doubled.
At the same time, there is an increase in imports of food products by 46.2%, industrial products by 29.1% (mainly metallurgical products), chemical products by 17%. Imports of machinery and equipment with the largest volume increased by 1.4%.
Thus, according to the results of the half-year, the economy of Uzbekistan is actively overcoming the consequences of the crisis and reaching the dynamics ahead of the pre-crisis indicators.
Uzbekistan is a tourist country
Since ancient times, Uzbekistan has been in the center of Great Silk Road and has a great historical, cultural and architectural heritage. Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva are the brands of the ancient culture of the East. The landscapes of mountains and deserts of Uzbekistan attract attention and admiration of the Internet community. Therefore, the tourism potential of this country can hardly be overestimated and the government is making significant efforts to develop it, writes Khasanjon Majidov, Leading Researcher at the Centre for Economic Research and Reforms.
Explosive development of tourism
At the beginning of 2016, a process of radical reform of the tourism industry was launched in Uzbekistan. More than 60 regulations were adopted related to the development of tourism industry during the 2016-2020.
The visa regime between the countries was simplified. In 2018, Uzbekistan introduced a visa-free regime for citizens of 9 countries, in 2019 for citizens of 47 countries, in 2020 - 2021 another 5 countries. As of May 10, 2021, the number of countries for citizens of which a visa-free regime is granted in the Republic of Uzbekistan is 90 countries.
In addition, citizens of about 80 countries have the opportunity to apply for an electronic visa in a simplified manner. Five new types of visas have been introduced for foreigners: "Compatriot", "Student", "Academic", "Medicine" and "Pilgrimage". According to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the simplification of the visa regime has yielded positive results. In particular, in 2019, if the average growth in the number of foreign tourists was 26%, then the growth rate among the countries where the visa-free regime was introduced reached 58%.
The government took comprehensive measures to develop tourism infrastructure. Firstly, 22 types of requirements regulating the activities of hostels related to the type of budget housing have been canceled. In particular, the procedure for mandatory certification of hotel services provided by hostels has been canceled and the practice of working with a unified register of guest houses and hostels has been introduced. Secondly, in order to increase the number of small hotels, entrepreneurs were provided with 8 standard projects of small hotels up to 50 rooms free of charge and this measure is developed based on the experience of Turkey and South Korea.
As a result, the number of placements in the country has increased dramatically. In particular, from 2016 to 2020, accommodation places increased from 750 to 1308 and the number of guest houses increased 13 times to 1386. Their number is planned to be increased to 2 thousand.
As a result of the reforms in the tourism sector from 2016 to 2019, the number of tourists increased from 2.0 million to 6.7 million. The dynamics of the increase in the number of foreign tourists in 2019 compare to 2010 amounted to a record 592% (an increase of more than 6 times). It is noteworthy that the growth in the number of tourists from different regions occurred in different ways. For example, the number of visitors from Central Asian countries increased by an average of 22-25% per year, while the annual growth among tourists from non-CIS countries was 50%. At the same time, positive results were noted in domestic tourism. Compared to 2016, the number of domestic tourists in 2019 almost doubled and amounted to 14.7 million.
Impact of the pandemic
It should be noted that due to the restrictions imposed against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic and the consequences of the global crisis, the tourism industry has suffered serious losses. In particular, the number of foreign tourists visiting Uzbekistan decreased by more than 4.5 times, to 1.5 million, and the volume of tourist services fell to $261 million in 2020.
Taking into account the current situation, the “Uzbekistan project” was developed. Safe travel guaranteed ("Uzbekistan. Safe travel guaranteed"), which is a new system of sanitary and epidemiological safety for tourists based on world standards. Certification of tourism objects and related infrastructure, tourism services based on new sanitary and hygienic requirements for all state border posts; air, railway and bus stations; objects of tangible cultural heritage, museums, theaters, etc. To mitigate the consequences of the pandemic for the tourism industry, the Safe Tourism Fund was formed at the expense of an initial contribution from the Anti-Crisis Fund, as well as payments for passing voluntary certification implemented within the framework of the “Uzbekistan. Safe travel GUARANTEED ".
Tourism players received a number of benefits and preferences to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The income tax rate was reduced by 50% of the established rates, they were exempted from paying land tax and property tax of legal entities and the social tax was set at a reduced rate of 1%. They also partially reimbursed interest expenses on previously issued loans from commercial banks for the construction of accommodation facilities and expenses for renovation, reconstruction and expansion of the material and technical base. Subsidizing accommodation facilities is provided in the amount of 10% of the cost of hotel services from June 1, 2020 to December 31, 2021. In total, 1,750 tourism entities received benefits on property tax, land and social taxes in the amount of about 60 billion soums.
Diversification of directions
In recent years, Uzbekistan has been focusing on the diversification of tourism services and the development of new types of tourism. In particular, much attention is paid to increase the flow of tourists through MICE tourism, which is organizing various tournaments, meetings, conferences and exhibitions in Uzbekistan. The traditional sports tournament "Game of Heroes" in Khorezm, the "Art of Bakhchichilik" festival in Surkhandarya, the "Muynak-2019" rally in Karakalpakstan and others have been held. The government approved the Action Plan for the development of MICE tourism in Uzbekistan.
Film tourism is an important tool for shaping the country's image, providing information to potential tourists. For the development of film tourism in Uzbekistan, a regulation has been developed on the procedure for reimbursing part of the costs ("rebate") of foreign film companies when creating audiovisual products on the territory of Uzbekistan. Moreover, foreign film companies have released films such as Basilik, Khuda Hafiz and Al Safar. Last year, foreign film companies shot 6 feature films in Uzbekistan.
Pilgrimage tourism. In order to create special convenience for those visiting Uzbekistan for the purpose of pilgrim tourism, new requirements have been introduced for hotels, a map of the country's mosques has been developed and posted in the mobile application. The first Pilgrimage Tourism Forum was held in Bukhara and 120 foreign guests from 34 countries took part.
Medical tourism. In Uzbekistan, measures are being taken to develop medical tourism and attract more tourists to medical organizations. In 2019, the number of foreign citizens visiting Uzbekistan for medical purposes exceeded 50 thousand. In fact, this number can be higher, since determining the number of tourists visiting private medical clinics is still a difficult task.
In recent years, Uzbekistan has been recognized as the best travel destination in the world by The Guardian, the fastest growing country in the eyes of Wanderlust and the best growing tourism destination according to Grand voyage. As a result of consistently implemented measures, Uzbekistan has climbed 10 positions (22 places) in the Global Muslim Tourism Index, compiled by Crescent Rating. In addition, the World Tourism Organization ranked Uzbekistan 4th in the list of the fastest growing countries in the tourism sector.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the tourism of Uzbekistan needs to transform its business models through innovation and digitalization. It is necessary to develop such market segments as agro and ethno tourism.
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