“Are you coming to vote?” shouts a presenter on stage in front of hundreds of students. One month before the constitutional referendum in Uzbekistan, the authorities are busy legitimizing this reform, which is supposed to open a new era of development. And, above all, consolidate the power of the president.
If these young people from the city of Djizak (center) do not all seem convinced, the outcome of the ballot scheduled for April 30 is in any case hardly in doubt in this Central Asian country with little tasted political competition since its independence from the Soviet Union.
In these first days of spring after a harsh winter marked by major power cuts, it's time for smiles, sincere or forced in this city located 250 kilometers south of the capital Tashkent.
Several students told AFP that they were present at the request of their teachers, who distributed Uzbek flags, placards with slogans and caps to them. And there is no question of leaving: the daring ones who try to slip away are ordered to "turn around".
During this one-sided campaign, the power does not skimp on the means, appealing to singers, sportsmen and other celebrities. Objective: to overcome the ambient "indifference".
Efforts that seem to bear some fruit. Nigora, a student who refuses to give her last name, assures that "we must support the president and the Constitution. For me and for my country, this referendum is extremely important".
President of Uzbekistan Chavkat Mirzioev, in power since 2016 There is obviously no question of dwelling on the reset of President Chavkat Mirzioev's terms of office and the transition to seven years, which in theory will allow him to remain in office. power until 2040.
This does not bother Oïbek Alijonov, a 45-year-old entrepreneur who came to participate in the meeting and who "sees no other leader than the president. He is from the region. I support his policy 200%".
"I am more confident (in the future) after the changes brought by this man (Mr. Mirzioev) in the era of New Uzbekistan, I will support this man for two more terms," he continues.
Formulas that resonate with those used in Turkmenistan or Tajikistan, Central Asian neighbors with irremovable leaders.
Here, as in similar gatherings organized in stadiums, universities or military barracks, the benefits of this new Constitution are touted, which, according to the authorities, will bring development and well-being to the approximately 35 million inhabitants of the country.
For two hours, these few hundred students chanted the same slogans: "The Constitution is yours, mine, ours!", "Yes, we will come to vote".
And to ensure the show - and allow young people to breathe -, the singer Goulsanam Mamazoitova - a million subscribers on Instagram - was dispatched to provide a free concert.
But, off camera, the tone changes. Azimjon Okmourodov, a student met by AFP in Djizak after the meeting, admits "appreciating certain amendments to the judicial system".
"But I do not agree with the passage from the five-year term to the seven-year term. In the end, it will once again be the same and unique person who will lead the country for a long time", he regrets.
An opinion shared by Saera Iakhchilikova, a student who believes that "the length of the presidential term should not be changed".
"A person should not be in power until old age. Presidents should be replaced by elections."
If the country has opened up since the end of the reign of the ruthless Islam Karimov, who died in 2016 after a quarter of a century in power, all authoritarian habits have not disappeared.
Because the constitutional referendum project had started in a bloodbath.
Last July, 21 residents of the republic of Karakalpakstan, a poor territory in northern Uzbekistan, were killed in the repression of demonstrations against a constitutional amendment which would have reduced the autonomy of this region.
And since then, more than forty people have been sentenced to prison terms for their participation in these troubles.
05/04/2023 19:34:42 - Jizak (Uzbekistan) (AFP) - © 2023 AFP