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Stable Regions and Responsible States in the Asian Century

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In recent years, due to the rapid economic growth of many Asian countries, as well as the tectonic changes taking place in world politics, economists and political scientists are increasingly talking about the advent of an "Asian Century," in which Asia will become the new centre of the world.Indeed, the continent now has a growing share in global trade, capital, people, knowledge, transport, culture and resources. Not only the largest cities in Asia, but also the developing ones are in the field of view of international investors, writes Rustam Khuramov, Head of Department at ISRS under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

According to the UN, Asia is already home to more than half of the world's population (61%, which is 10 times more than in Europe, and 12 times more than in North America.), and of the 30 largest cities in the world, 21 are located in Asia.

Moreover, Asia's economic performance is projected to exceed the combined GDP of Europe and America by 2030. In this context, the information reflected in the report “Asia's future is now”, which was published by the American McKinsey Global Institute in 2019, is of interest. As noted in the document, by 2040, Asian countries will account for 40% of the global consumer market, producing more than 50% of global GDP.

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Share of global GDP at purchasing power parity, %
Source: https://www.ft.com/content/520cb6f6-2958-11e9-a5ab-ff8ef2b976c7

According to Parag Khanna, one of Esquire magazine's “75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century,” and author of global bestsellers, “while Western countries continue to be confident about their superiority, Asia is overtaking them on all fronts.”

According to him, today Asian countries make a major contribution to global economic growth. Asian countries own most of the world's foreign exchange reserves, the largest banks, industrial and technology companies. Asia produces, exports, imports, and consumes more goods than any other continent.

In the pre-pandemic period, 74% of the tourist trips observed in Asian countries were made by Asians themselves. More than 60 % of Asian trade was carried out within the continent and most of the foreign direct investment is also intraregional3, which undoubtedly plays an important role in the economic integration of these countries.

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Meanwhile, Asian countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Uzbekistan registered the highest growth rates in the world in 2018-2019.

In this context, as P. Khanna notes, while the world was Europeanized in the 19th century, it was Americanized in the 20th century. Now, in the 21st century, the world is irreversibly Asianized. At the same time, many experts believe that the rise of Asia will differ from the rise of Europe in that the priority for its countries is not the policy of power, but economic development.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that the coronavirus crisis of 2020 corrected global development trends and became a unique stress test for the global economy. Many analysts have called the pandemic a turning point in world history. The Corona crisis, just like other global crises, carries with it unforeseen serious consequences.

At the same time, leading scholars in the field of international relations - Francis Fukuyama and Stephen Walt believe that the example of the fact that Asian countries coped with the crisis better than others shows a further shift of power to the East5. In this context, Parag Khanna notes that if there is a political system that won during the pandemic period, it is the Asian democratic technocracy. According to him, “these societies are at the forefront of what he calls the “new Asian values” of technocratic governance, mixed capitalism, and social conservatism, which are much more likely to become a global set of norms.”

In view of the above, we can conclude that the advent of the “Asian era” is an irreversible result, it is a fact, the manifestation of which is inevitable. However, it should be emphasized that the Asian continent, consisting of 48 countries and five subregions (including West Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia), is very diverse in terms of economic, political systems and demography.

GDP per capita also varies across Asia; for example, $1,071 in Nepal, more than $65,000 in Singapore. At the same time, the continent has its own unique political challenges. In this sense, the transition to the Asian era is not an easy process.

Nevertheless, in our opinion, the real emergence of the “Asian Age” depends mainly on the following 4 fundamental principles:

First, for the development of Asia, multilateralism and equality must prevail in the continent. Many experts attribute the development of Asia mainly to the rapid growth of the Chinese economy over the past 20 years and the fact that today it is the second largest economy in the world. But Asia does not represent only China. The Asian century should not mean the hegemony of one state on the continent. Otherwise, it will increase geopolitical tensions and competition in Asia. The world's imminent entry into the Asian era is not only due to its largest economy, but also due to growth in smaller and medium-sized countries.

The objective growth of countries in the Asian continent can only be achieved on the basis of equality. India and Japan are also the world's leading economies and the driving forces of Asia. Over the past 30 to 40 years, many other Asian countries, such as South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia, have caught up with developed Western countries in terms of living standards.

Second, there are many unresolved issues in the domestic and foreign policies of Asian countries, including those related to intraregional dialogue, which require peaceful and rational solutions. The main problems of the continent are the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, the Kashmir problem, the unresolved territorial dispute in the South China Sea, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the internal political crisis in Myanmar and many others. These problems represent a tinderbox in Asia and could explode at any moment.

Therefore, Asian countries must resolve these issues peacefully, responsibly, in accordance with international law, and most importantly, with an eye toward a common future. Otherwise, the Asian century predicted by experts will become a mirage.

Third, development is not a spontaneous process. Important conditions, such as infrastructure, a stable energy supply and a green economy are necessary. According to Asian Development Bank, developing Asian countries must invest a colossal $26 trillion, or $1.7 trillion a year between 2016 and 2030 to meet their infrastructure demand.

Asian countries currently invest about $881 billion in infrastructure. The continent's baseline needs, excluding costs associated with climate change mitigation and adaptation are $22.6 trillion or $1.5 trillion per year.

Asia's failure to make the necessary investments in infrastructure will significantly limit the ability to sustain economic growth, eradicate poverty, and combat climate change.

Fourth, one of the most important principles is the stability of Asia's regions and the countries that take responsibility for promoting cooperative development in those subregions.

Every region of Asia today has its own economic and political problems. The continent also has some “failed states” with weak government system and economic issues.  However, there are also countries that are addressing these regional problems through their active, open and constructive foreign policy and set an example for creating a positive political environment in their regions. At the same time, their large-scale domestic economic reforms contribute to the sustainable development of the entire area, becoming the driving force of its economic growth. Such a good example of this phenomenon is Uzbekistan, recognized by experts as the new “rising star” or the “new tiger” of Asia. According to experts, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who was elected president in 2016, has awakened a “sleeping giant” in Central Asia with his comprehensive reforms.’

It should be noted that the proactive, constructive, pragmatic and open foreign policy pursued by Uzbekistan in recent years has created a new atmosphere and given impetus to a renewed political dynamism in the Central Asian region, which is now recognized not only by the world's leading politicians, but also by international experts.

According to the Journal of International Affairs of Georgetown University, the foreign policy trends in Uzbekistan shaped by President Mirziyoyev and aimed at “reviving Central Asia” and “making Uzbekistan a responsible state in the world community” have coincided with tectonic changes in global geopolitics, associated with a shift of power from West to East.

At the same time, today all the countries of Central Asia are working together for the development of the region, with a sense of responsibility, especially to their citizens. Economic life in the region has greatly revived in recent years. Central Asian countries are establishing joint production cooperatives and developing a common visa system to attract more tourists.

In the 30-year history of independence, the countries of the region have experienced various difficulties, from economic crisis to civil war. A cool wind in intraregional relations had been felt for a while. But today there is a unified consensus between them, which is to move forward together and solve problems through compromise and on the basis of a long-term vision.

The peoples of the region feel the positive changes taking place in Central Asia. A simple example: five years ago, there were almost no cars with Tajik or Kyrgyz license plates on the streets of Tashkent. Nowadays every tenth car has a license plate of a neighboring country. There are also many cultural events.

In Tashkent, the Days of Culture of the Kazakh, Tajik, Turkmen and Kyrgyz are of great interest, and this has become a regular event. Currently, the Central Asian states are working to prepare and sign a treaty on good neighborliness and cooperation for the development of Central Asia in the XXI century, which will further increase the common responsibility for development in the region.

The improvement of the political atmosphere in Central Asia and the fact that the region is becoming a predictable subject of international relations make it economically and investment attractive. For example, the total GDP of the region's countries increased from $ 253 billion in 2016 to $ 302.8 billion in 2019. At the same time, intraregional trade showed impressive indicators. The total volume of foreign trade in the region in 2016-2019 increased by 56 percent, reaching $ 168.2 billion. In 2016-2019, FDI inflows to the region increased by 40 percent, amounting to $ 37.6 billion. As a result, the share of investments in Central Asia from the total volume in the world increased from 1.6 percent to 2.5 percent.

At the same time, according to analysts of the international company Boston Consulting Group (BCG), over the next ten years, the region can attract up to $ 170 billion of foreign investment, including $ 40-70 billion in non - primary industries.9

This economic upswing in the region will not only affect local sustainable development, but will also create more jobs for the world's youngest region with an average age of 28.6, as well as expand access to education and medicine.

Indeed, today Central Asia is undergoing a transformation, with the countries of the region getting closer and closer to each other. This process takes place simultaneously with the process of transformation of the world.

In other words, every subregion of Asia should have states with a sense of responsibility similar to the Central Asian countries that contribute through their activities to overall intra-regional economic growth, peace and stability.

The sense of responsibility of the Central Asian countries to the region can be seen in their initiatives to establish peace in Afghanistan and its economic and social reconstruction.

For example, in recent years, Shavkat Mirziyoyev has radically changed the way Uzbekistan views Afghanistan. Tashkent began to look at Afghanistan not as a source of regional problems, threats and challenges, but as a unique strategic opportunity that could give a fundamentally new impetus to the development of broad trans-regional ties throughout the Eurasian space.

Uzbekistan has not only become an important participant in the peace process in Afghanistan, but has also taken the position of one of its sponsors. At the same time, the Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan, held in March 2018, played a decisive role in the “reset” of peace efforts in the Afghan direction.

This forum, initiated personally by the President of Uzbekistan, once again drew the attention of the world community to Afghanistan.

It was after this conference that direct negotiations between the American side and the Taliban were launched, which resulted in the signing of the Agreement between the United States and the Taliban in Doha. And in the future, it allowed entering into an intra-Afghan dialogue.

In addition, Central Asian countries also contribute significantly to Afghanistan's socio-economic reconstruction by involving Kabul in Central Asia's economic processes. Today, thousands of young Afghans are studying in the countries of the region, where they teach sciences in areas important to Afghanistan and train personnel in certain professions.

Central Asian states also supply electricity to Afghanistan, which is important for the development of the Afghan economy.

For example, since 2002, Tashkent has been regularly supplying electricity to Afghanistan and covers 56% of Afghanistan's electricity imports. The volume of electricity supplies from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan from 2002 to 2019 increased from 62 million kW / h to almost 2.6 billion kW / h, that is, more than 40 times. Construction of a new Surkhan – Puli-Khumri transmission line project has begun in Uzbekistan today.

The transmission line will increase the supply of electricity from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan by 70% – up to 6 billion kW.h per year. The uninterrupted flow of electricity will ensure the life of the social infrastructure of the IRA - these are schools, kindergartens, hospitals, as well as the activities of international organizations providing humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people.

At the same time, Uzbekistan has embarked on efforts to restore connectivity between Central and South Asia and revitalize the centuries-old economic relationship between the two regions in line with today's needs.

In this process, an important aspect is the establishment of peace in Afghanistan. Recognized by international analysts as the project of the century, the railway project “Mazar-i-Sharif - Kabul – Peshawar” promoted by Uzbekistan is of strategic importance for the economies of the two regions. According to the Project Syndicate observers, the Trans-Afghan railway will be able to transport up to 20 million tons of cargo per year.10 Full implementation of the transport and infrastructure potential of peaceful Afghanistan will reduce the time for transporting goods from Uzbekistan to Pakistan from 35 to 3-5 days.

One of the main beneficiaries of building transport connectivity will be Afghanistan, which can become a link between the two regions.

For Kabul, the implementation of this corridor will have a multiplier socio-economic effect, expressed in the country's integration into the system of trans-regional interconnectedness.

A powerful impetus to the discussion of all these issues and their practical implementation will be given by the initiative put forward by Uzbek President Mirziyoyev to hold in July 2021 an international conference on “Central and South Asia: Regional Interconnectedness. Challenges and Opportunities”. The conference will serve as an important platform for developing fundamental proposals for peace in Afghanistan and a new level of historical cooperation between the two regions. The successful launch of the North-South Transport Corridor by India and Iran, through which transport goods have been moving since 2000, including through Afghanistan and Central Asian countries, demonstrates that trans-regional connectivity can be revived.

Summarising the above, it should be noted that at a time of uncertainties in today's system of international relations and different forecasting assumptions, there is an increasing need for states to be responsible for ensuring peace and sustainable development in their regions. The transition to the Asian century also depends on this factor. To date, as a result of the joint efforts of the countries of the region, Central Asia's subjectivity on the international stage has increased. Their initiatives on global and regional issues are carefully listened to by the international community. A step towards the Asian century is being made.

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan's efforts to support young people and promote public health

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At the initiative of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the year 2021 has been declared in the country as 'The Year of Support of the Youth and Strengthening of Public Health' with large-scale reforms and noble deeds being implemented across the country.

It is worth mentioning that various ministries and agencies of Uzbekistan are taking active part in such initiatives along with the general public of the country.

One of such noble projects has recently been implemented by the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Uzbekistan. In order to support the initiative of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan – the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the Uzbek MoD has provided a practical assistance to Ms. Maftuna Usarova, an Uzbek citizen who was diagnosed with an extremely rare disease – the Takayasu syndrome several years ago.

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Maftuna Usarova

Since 2018, Maftuna has undergone several treatment courses in a number of hospitals in Uzbekistan, including the Central Military Clinical Hospital of the Ministry of Defense, and her condition has improved significantly. However, to continue the treatment process without interruption and consolidate the progress achieved, Maftuna needed treatment with the use of state-of-the-art technologies which are available only in a few countries of the world.

With a view to efficiently executing the tasks defined by the Commander-in-Chief, the MoD ensured that Maftuna was admitted in Asklepios Klinik Altona Hospital in Germany to receive treatment that she needed.

The Asklepios Klinik Altona is Europe’s largest medical concern, covering all areas of medical specializations and having more than 100 medical institutions at its disposal. In Hamburg alone, there are six clinics with almost 13,000 medical staff including 1,800 doctors.

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Thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of Defense of Uzbekistan, Maftuna Usarova underwent a two-week treatment course in August 2021 at Asklepios Klinik Altona and was able to significantly improve her condition. At the same time, the treating doctors expressed their readiness to provide an appropriate medical recommendations as necessary even after the Maftuna’s discharge and return to Uzbekistan.

The staff of the Embassies of the Republic of Uzbekistan in Belgium and Germany were closely involved in this noble project. In particular, diplomatic missions provided support to ensure that the patient enjoyed the highest quality services.

In conclusion, one might say that large-scale reforms initiated by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev are giving their results with thousands of people now enjoying high quality medical services.  

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Uzbekistan presidential elections are likely to be an acid test for the country’s future course

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As Uzbekistan is on the verge of the upcoming presidential elections set for 24 October, the international community is concerned about the country’s further political course. And for a good reason, writes Olga Malik.

The changes brought by current president Shavkat Mirziyoyev demonstrate a real break with the country’s past. Published in 2017, the Mirziyoyev’s Development Strategy for 2017-2021, aimed to “modernize and liberalize all spheres of life” e.g. state and society; rule of law and the judicial system; economic development; social policy and security; foreign policy, nationalities and religion policies. The proposed steps included the lifting of foreign currency con­trols, tariff reduc­tions, the liberalization of the visa regime and many more.

Such rapid changes were in a big contrast with the conservatism of Islam Karimov, the country’s former President and quickly became the point of interest for European countries and the United States. Earlier last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken during the meeting with Uzbekistan Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov stressed the “Uzbekistan’s progress on its reform agenda, including when it comes to combatting trafficking in persons, protecting religious freedom and expanding space for civil society”. However, he also called for “the importance of promoting the protection of fundamental freedoms, including the need to have a free and competitive electoral process”, alluding to the country’s authoritarian political regime. The country’s authorities as well as the ministries confirm they get loads of recommendations every year from Western partners on how to assure and maintain a more autonomous civil society system.

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Yet, such “overcare” for the Uzbekistan’s democracy and liberty coming from the outside might provoke a reverse effect considering the national pride and independent spirit. For instance, the push for integration of such social values as support of sexual minorities and gay marriages common for European and Western countries may lead to the split in the society as such standards still remain aloof to the Uzbek mentality. The Uzbekistan’s path for liberalization is largely dependent on the national leader’s views while the outside soft power methods will only work when the local people are still given enough of freedom to draw the country’s further compass. The upcoming elections will likely be an acid test for the country’s future.

By Olga Malik

For EU Reporter

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Electoral process transformation in Uzbekistan: Achievements and challenges during 30 years of independence

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"Uzbekistan is a country with rich history and dynamically developing present, with its priority to move towards an open democratic society. Human and civil rights and freedoms where the voice of every citizen is heard are the priorities for a democratic society. A democratic society exists when power is formed legitimately through universal suffrage and free elections. Democratic society and democracy are more often exercised as a political and social phenomenon; its legal foundations are enshrined in normative legal acts," writes Dr. Gulnoza Ismailova, member of the Central Election Commission of Uzbekistan.

"The preamble to the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan affirms its commitment to the ideals of democracy and social justice. Article 7 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan states: "The people are the sole source of state power. This norm reflects the essence of building statehood in the Republic of Uzbekistan. The people and their will are the core of democracy.

"Recognizing the priority of the generally accepted norms of international law Uzbekistan has implemented international standards into its legislation. The Constitution of our country has implemented this provision, reflecting in Article 32: All citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan shall have the right to participate in the management and administration of public and state affairs, both directly and through representation. They may exercise this right by way of self-government, referendums and democratic formation of state bodies, as well as development and improvement of public control over activities of state bodies.

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"In modern democracies, elections are the foundation of the principle of democracy, it is the main form of expression of the will of citizens and a form of realization of popular sovereignty. Participation in elections makes it possible to exercise the right to participate in the management of the affairs of society and the state, as well as to control the formation and activities of bodies of both representative and executive power. Paragraph 6 of the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document establishes that the will of the people, freely and fairly expressed through periodic and genuine elections, is the basis of the authority and legitimacy of the government. The participating States will accordingly respect the right of their citizens to take part in the governing of their country, either directly or through representatives freely chosen by them through fair electoral processes. Article 117 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan guarantees the right to vote, equality, and freedom of expression.

"On the verge of celebrating the 30th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Uzbekistan, looking back, we can note its bright breakthrough in the field of transparency and openness over the past five years. Uzbekistan has acquired a new image in the international arena. By the 2019 elections held under the slogan 'New Uzbekistan – New elections' is real evidence for that.

"First of all, it should be noted that the elections-2019 were of historical importance, which testified to the irreversibility of the path of adopted reforms. For the first time, the elections were held under the guidance of the Electoral Code, adopted on June 25, 2019, which regulates relations related to the preparation and conduct of elections and establishes guarantees that ensure the free expression of the will of citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The adoption of the Electoral Code served to unify 5 laws and many regulatory documents. The Electoral Code has been fully brought into line with international standards.

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"Secondly, the 2019 elections were held in the context of strengthening democratic principles in the life of society, openness and transparency, significant liberalization of the socio-political environment, and the increased role and status of the media. The principle of transparency and openness is one of the fundamental principles of elections. This principle is enshrined in many international agreements and documents. Its main features are the promulgation of decisions related to the conduct of elections, the obligation of the electoral body (election commission) to publish its decisions on the results of the elections, as well as the ability to carry out public and international observation of the elections.

"Following the statistics, about 60,000 observers of political parties, more than 10,000 observers of citizens' self-government bodies (Mahalla), 1,155 representatives of local and foreign media took part in the monitoring process. In addition, along with local observers, first-time accreditation was granted to a full-fledged OSCE / ODIHR observer mission, and a total of 825 international observers were registered.

"For an objective assessment, we may refer for an example to the Final Report presented by the OSCE / ODIHR Mission, which says that the elections were held against the backdrop of improved legislation and increased tolerance for independent opinions. The report assessed the work of the CEC of the Republic of Uzbekistan positively, saying it "made great efforts for better preparation for the parliamentary elections." It is amazing to see the results of the work done.

"In the year of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of state independence, our country continues cardinal transformations aimed at creating a New Uzbekistan, where human rights, freedoms, and legitimate interests are of the highest value. Among the most important directions in the country are democratic transformations aimed at liberalizing social and political life, and freedom of the media.

"These days, preparatory work is in full swing for an important political event – the election of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan. All processes are conducted openly, transparently, and based on the national electoral legislation and the time frames specified therein. The time for electoral action is both political and legal time. The following changes and additions have been made to the Electoral Code recently this year:

"Primarily, this year, for the first time, presidential elections will be held on the first Sunday of the third decade of October, under the amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan introduced by the law dated by February 8 this year. This major political campaign was launched on July 23 this year.

"Second, a procedure for the inclusion in the voter list of the citizens of Uzbekistan who live abroad has been introduced. They can vote regardless they are registered in the consular register of diplomatic missions or not, and a legal basis for voters abroad when using portable ballot boxes at the place of residence or work has been created. This practice was first implemented in the 2019 parliamentary elections.

"Third, this election campaign operates and is formed on the principles based on publicity; for the first time, an estimate of expenses for the preparation and conduct of elections of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan was openly presented. The exact procedure for paying wages and compensation to members of election commissions, calculating their salaries has been established. To ensure transparency in the use of funds allocated for pre-election campaigning in accordance with the Law on the Financing of Political Parties, a procedure is being introduced for announcing an interim report and a final financial report after the elections, as well as announcing the results of an audit of parties' activities by the Accounting Chamber.

"Fourth, to prevent the receipt of repeated complaints against the election commissions, and their adoption of conflicting decisions, the practice has been introduced that only courts consider complaints about the actions and decisions of election commissions.

"In 2019, during the elections, the Electoral Management Information System (EMIS) and the Unified Electronic Voter List (EECI) were successfully introduced into the national electoral system. The regulation of this system based on the Electoral Code guarantees the implementation of unified voter registration and the principle 'one voter – one vote'. To date, more than 21 million voters have been included in the EESI.

"The organization of presidential elections in New Uzbekistan is a logical continuation of the ongoing large-scale democratic reforms in the country. And they will become a vivid confirmation of the implementation of the tasks defined in the Action Strategy for the five priority areas of development of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

"The participation of representatives of international organizations and foreign observers in holding the presidential elections is important as the campaign is based on democratic principles of openness and publicity. In recent years, their number and participation have significantly increased in Uzbekistan, compared to previous elections.

"Thousands of representatives of political parties, citizens' self-government bodies and hundreds of international observers, journalists, including international ones, will observe the process of preparation and conduct of the presidential elections, including the voting of voters.

"In May, experts from the Needs Assessment Mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) visited Uzbekistan, who positively assessed the pre-election situation and the process of preparing for the elections, the measures taken to ensure the holding of free and democratic elections in the country. As a result, they expressed an opinion on sending a full-fledged mission to observe the presidential elections.

"I believe that these elections are of historical importance, which will testify the irreversibility of the path of adopted reforms, which aimed at strengthening our democracy."

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