The Republic of Uzbekistan is the largest Central Asian state. It borders with Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan and includes the southern shoreline of the Aral Sea. Linking Eastern and Western civilization between the Ancient and Middle Ages, Uzbekistan has absorbed and enriched itself with world civilization, world religions, cultural traditions and culinary preferences. Now, with its main tourist centres such as Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, entering the UNESCO World Heritage list, the country has one of the biggest attractions and the most impressive showstopper in many ways in Central Asia.
After the demise of the First President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, on 2nd September 2016, the Central Election Committee of that country had announced the 4th of December 2016 as a date of the next poll when the populace of Uzbekistan will elect the second head of state in the modern history of this country.
As of today, four candidates were registered to run for the job. They represent four political parties who have seats at the Uzbek Parliament. They are: The Acting President – Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the leader of the party “National Revival” Sarvar Otamuratov, the chairman of the council of the Social-Democratic Party “The Justice” Narimon Umarov and the chairman of the People’s Democratic Party Khotomjon Ketmonov.
Among them – two of the nominees Nariman Umarov and Khotomjon Ketmonov also participated in the previous presidential elections together with the late President Islam Karimov and another candidate, the country’s human rights activist Akmal Saidov. These two candidates had taken less than 5 percent of votes of the electoral auditoria combined together. It was quite expected. They were not widely known to the Uzbek population and they did not demonstrate their qualification through a state administration, management of major corporations and regional parts of Uzbekistan or even on the international front. The outcome of the presidential elections of 2015 was objective and widely expected. The late President Islam Karimov won the election campaign with phenomenal results – more than 90 percent of votes.
On 8th September 2016, the Joint Session of the Uzbek Parliament had delegated the task of running of the Republic of Uzbekistan to the Prime Minister of that country Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who is widely considered as a front runner for the upcoming elections.
During the last three months Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev had earned great respect of the Uzbek population and international leaders for organizing and heading the mourning ceremony for the late Islam Karimov. For the first time in the modern history of Uzbekistan the burial ceremony was arranged in an unseen previous times large-scale, with many thousands people directly attending mentioned ceremony both in Tashkent and Samarkand cities. Mr. Karimov was buried in ancient cemetery with 2000 years of history, which called “Shakhizinda” (translates as “living kings”). Indeed, millions of ordinary citizens of Uzbekistan were very sincerely sorrowful on the demise of their leader – the First President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov. Dozens of state and government leaders of foreign countries had paid tribute to memory of Islam Karimov by laying flowers at his burial place in Samarkand.
Mr. Sh.Mirziyoyev has been the chief of economic administration of the Republic of Uzbekistan since 2003. He has unmatched experience, authority and respect among all the ministries and agencies dealing with economy, finance, agriculture, industry, infrastructure, urban development and similar areas, as well as private companies. As it is stipulated in the Constitution of Uzbekistan, all issues of foreign policy, national security and defense are related to exclusive authority of the President of Uzbekistan.
Senator Dato’ Sri Khairudin bin E.S. Abd Samad, who was the international observer to the presidential elections in 2015, had many opportunities to talk to many citizens of Uzbekistan during his visit to that country. He learned that a far majority of the Uzbek population were quite satisfied with performance and achievements of the central government in Tashkent. Mr. Khairudin makes a conclusion that that a majority of the population will cast their votes for the current acting head of state – Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
According to observations of Datuk Seri Victor Wee, president of Buddhist Gem Fellowship, who frequently visits Uzbekistan together with Malay citizens to see historic Buddhist Temples in southern Surhandarya region of Uzbekistan, recently initiated projects and reforms that are quite popular in this country. Among them a major renovation of the capital, reforms in agriculture, a large scale of housing projects in regional capitals and rural areas of the regions, as well as adjustments in cultural life.
As acknowledgment of Uzbekistan to Islam and the Islamic civilization, the country, in 2016 was elected to be chair of Organization of Islamic Cooperation and on 18-19th October this year Uzbek capital – Tashkent successfully had held the 43rd Session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers, which was attended by representatives of more than 50 countries.
The slogan of the event “Education and Enlightenment – Path to Peace and Creativity” was chosen to unify the scattered Islamic Umma in order to bring them together despite their different political views. In particular, a wide support was given to initiatives to open the “Imam Bukhari” International Research Centre in Samarkand under the auspices of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the special chair of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in the structure of the Tashkent Islamic University. This conference and its outcomes are widely considered not only by OIC countries, but also its neighbours, US, Russia and EU members as a successful foreign policy of Uzbekistan.
Initiatives of new administration of Uzbekistan to sort out and solve palpitating bilateral problems on delimitation and demarcation boundaries with neighbouring countries are widely popular not only among the Uzbek population, but entire Central Asia. These steps promote regional stability, economic interest of Uzbekistan, increase “people to people” contacts and mutual trust in international arena especially at this time of growing terrorist threats, looming migration crisis in many parts the world, violence in the Middle East and North Africa, volatility of the global economy and finance, instability in Eastern Europe, and internal fragmentation facing the EU.
And finally, I believe that Uzbekistan and Malaysia has bright prospects for future cooperation in every sphere and direction, as hubs of ASEAN and Central Asia, respectively. One area of special attention is tourism. Uzbekistan is one of the ancient centres of Islamic civilization, with unique historical and cultural monuments in Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva and other cities.
Imam al-Bukhari, Al-Termizi, Avicenna, Ulugbek and the other prominent ancestors were among the great thinkers and scientists of the East, who have contributed significantly to the development of the entire human civilization.
The unique heritage of ancient architects of Uzbekistan attracts many tourists from all over the world, including Malaysia. That’s why, the interest of Malaysian tourists to the ancient culture, historical and architectural monuments, unique culture of Uzbekistan, which is one of the most striking countries of Central Asia, grows steadily. In 2015, more than 2,300 Malaysian tourists visited Uzbekistan and about 11,700 Uzbeks tourists visited Malaysia. “This is small figure, if one keeps in mind that every year more than 25.7 million foreign tourists visit my country and more than 2 million tourists visit Uzbekistan”.
With all these resources and possibilities, strong mutual interest, common religion, similarity in traditions and mutual respect of Malay and Uzbek peoples, there can be multi-fold increase in people-to-people exchanges and tourist visits in the coming years, which can be measured in hundreds of thousands. One needs to keep in mind that in 2016 there were more than 32 million citizens living in each country, Malaysia and Uzbekistan. Figures show untapped potential many areas for both countries.