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Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s Reforms: A Turning Point in Uzbekistan’s History

The name Shavkat Mirziyoyev has become synonymous with reform and change in Uzbekistan. As the country’s president since 2016, Mirziyoyev has undertaken sweeping reforms across all sectors aimed at transforming the former Soviet Republic into a modern and open society. His bold vision and reformist agenda are steering Uzbekistan towards a new era of prosperity and integration with the world.

Mirziyoyev inherited a largely closed and isolated nation from his predecessor, Islam Karimov, who ruled with an iron fist for over 25 years. Karimov’s authoritarian policies stunted Uzbekistan’s economic and social development. The repressive environment forced many Uzbeks, including entrepreneurs and intellectuals, to flee abroad. With the Karimov era characterized by restrictive state control over the economy, widespread corruption, and ruthless suppression of dissent, Uzbekistan desperately needed reforms to catch up with the modern world.

When Mirziyoyev assumed power, few expected significant policy changes from the man who had served as prime minister under Karimov for 13 years. However, Mirziyoyev proved to be a pragmatic reformist leader, not an ideological hardliner. He understood that reforms were critical for Uzbekistan to come out of international isolation, attract foreign investment, generate employment opportunities, improve living standards, and dismantle the remnants of the Soviet-style command economy.

Sweeping Economic Reforms

A key focus area of Mirziyoyev’s extensive reform agenda is economic liberalization and modernization. He has taken bold steps to eliminate state monopoly and over-regulation, moving towards a more open and market-oriented economy.

Some major highlights of his economic reforms:

  • Privatization of state assets: Thousands of state-owned enterprises across diverse sectors like energy, construction, transport and telecom have been sold to private investors. This is spurring greater competition and efficiency.
  • Improving business environment: Barriers for private enterprises have been removed by simplifying regulations & procedures. A consistent effort is on to tackle corruption and improve governance. Uzbekistan’s global rankings in ease of doing business and economic competitiveness have significantly improved.
  • Boosting foreign investment: Restrictions on convertibility of the national currency were lifted. Investment deals worth billions have been recently struck with global majors like BP, Lukoil, and Rio Tinto.
  • Promoting new industries: Priority sectors like automobile manufacturing, petrochemicals, renewables, and information technology are being developed with production clusters and special economic zones. This is aimed at diversifying the economy away from agriculture & commodities.
  • Liberalizing agriculture: Mirziyoyev abolished state production quotas and encouraged private farms and entrepreneurship in this vital sector. Consequently, Uzbekistan has now become a leading regional exporter of fruits and vegetables.
  • Fair taxation: Massive reductions were announced in personal and corporate income taxes to boost compliance, consumption, and stimulate job-creating investments.

Improving Social Services

Alongside magnifying economic freedom, President Mirziyoyev is also driving reforms in healthcare, education, urban development, and social welfare to tangibly enhance people’s quality of life.

Some important social reforms by Mirziyoyev are:

  • Large investments in public health and medical infrastructure upgrades across Uzbekistan’s regions.
  • School curriculum modernization with greater emphasis on languages, technologies, critical thinking and problem-solving.
  • Over 50 new higher education institutions established and partnerships forged with leading global universities. Scholarship programs significantly expanded.
  • Public transit systems modernized with improved infrastructure and services in the rapidly growing cities.
  • Generous increases announced in state pensions and allowances for mothers, disabled citizens and other vulnerable sections.

Enabling Social Progress

Mirziyoyev understands that economic and social reforms can genuinely succeed only when citizens enjoy greater civic liberties and human rights protections. He has taken unprecedented steps, as per local context, to enable social progress and more inclusive development in Uzbekistan.

Some key measures in this direction are:

  • Relaxing past draconian restrictions on religious practices like growing beards or wearing hijabs. Banning torture in prisons and rehabilitating thousands of people previously blacklisted by Karimov’s security services.
  • Granting much greater media freedom and access to previously blocked websites & information sources. According to Reporters Without Borders, Uzbekistan has climbed from 165 in 2016 to 156 in 2022 in the World Press Freedom Index.
  • Establishing a formal institution, the Public Services Agency, and virtual channels to enable citizens to report grievances and complaints directly to the government. The feedback is used to tackle issues in public service delivery.
  • Promoting genuine political competition by allowing opposition parties to participate in elections and in Parliament.
  • Welcoming back dissidents and persecuted groups like the Tajik-minority Luli community, signaling a clear departure from past suppression of minorities.

Foreign Policy Reforms

In foreign affairs, President Mirziyoyev is steering Uzbekistan out of the isolationism practiced for long. He has normalized ties and resolved long-standing disputes with all Central Asian neighbors. Uzbekistan has also opened up to greater engagement with the U.S., EU, Russia, China, and other powers by pragmatically balancing different partnerships.

Some major foreign policy reforms include:

  • Settling protracted border conflicts with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan through compromises. This has led to flourishing trade and cultural exchanges within the region.
  • Drastic visa relaxation, which earlier required torturous bureaucratic approvals, for many countries.
  • Actively supporting post-war reconstruction and peace-building efforts in neighboring Afghanistan. Ties with Pakistan have also significantly strengthened.
  • Deepening cooperation in security issues with Russia while also expandingenergy, investment, and defense partnerships with the U.S. and China. Joining the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union trade bloc in 2025.
  • Returning to greater engagement with international financial institutions like IMF and development agencies to gain technical expertise for reforms.

Clearly, Uzbekistan in the Mirziyoyev-era is a drastically changed country from the one he inherited. The reform process still has challenges with institutional capacity issues, resistance from vested interests, and balancing diverse policy priorities. However, the transformations he has activated across political, economic and social spheres have set Uzbekistan firmly on an upward trajectory.

Mirziyoyev’s reforms represent a historic opportunity for Central Asia’s most populous nation to realize its immense human and economic potential. His forward-looking leadership and reform agenda are putting Uzbekistan on the path to emerged as a modern, prosperous, and inclusive nation integrated with the global economy. For the country and its over 34 million citizens, this turning point will shape their future for decades to come.

FAQs

Who is Shavkat Mirziyoyev?

Shavkat Mirziyoyev is the President of Uzbekistan. He assumed power in 2016 after the death of long-time authoritarian leader Islam Karimov. Mirziyoyev previously served as Prime Minister under Karimov from 2003-2016.

What reforms has Mirziyoyev introduced in Uzbekistan?

President Mirziyoyev has initiated extensive economic, social, and foreign policy reforms aimed at liberalizing Uzbekistan’s closed society and economy. His reforms include privatizing state assets, improving the business climate, expanding social services, granting greater media freedom and civil liberties, normalizing foreign relations, amongst others.

How are Mirziyoyev’s economic reforms transforming Uzbekistan?

Key highlights of Mirziyoyev’s economic reforms are cutting state monopoly, inviting foreign investment, easing business regulations, promoting private entrepreneurship, liberalizing agriculture, and fair taxation. These measures are shifting Uzbekistan from a restrictive command economy to an open market-oriented system.

What major improvements have happened in social services under Mirziyoyev?

Mirziyoyev has greatly increased healthcare and education spending. School curriculum and higher education systems are being upgraded. Public transit systems in cities are improving. State pensions and welfare for vulnerable groups have also risen.

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