INTERVIEW: AKTAM KHAITOV
Aktam Khaitov has held many roles in Uzbek politics. Currently the Leader of the Uzbekistan Liberal Democrat Party, he cut his teeth in several previous government roles as Minister of Employment and Labour Relations and General Director of the Uzbek Agency of Standardisation, Metrology and Certification (Uzstandard). Uzbekistan has changed significantly since the death of former autocrat, Islam Karimov, and OCA had the opportunity to interview Khaitov and find out more…
OCA: The label “Liberal Democrat” has been adopted by a wide range of parties across the world from the centre left minority Opposition in Britain through Japan’s ruling conservative government to Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s national grouping in Russia. Where would you place Uzbekistan’s Liberal Democrats in that spectrum?
Aktam Khaitov: First, let me briefly familiarise you with the history of our party in order to answer this question in a better way. The movement of entrepreneurs and business people, the Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (hereinafter – UzLiDeP) was created in 2003 as a nationwide political organisation that voices and defends the interests of the middle class, representatives of small business, entrepreneurs and farmers – the class of owners who are business people.
Having united on behalf of entrepreneurs and business people into a powerful political force, we need to strengthen the tools that make people’s power not theoretical, but real and ensure the effectiveness of parliamentary and public management. Summarising all of this, it can be said that UzLiDeP is a centrist liberal party, oriented toward liberal economic reforms.
OCA: Do you consider yourself to be a social liberal or an economic liberal or both?
AK: Most likely both. Our party stands for a social policy that promotes the development and self-realisation of people. The party believes that the main goal and driving force of democratic transformation is the person themself. Our targets are to halve the share of low-income groups of the population, achieve full coverage of all those in need of social protection measures, ensure that vulnerable sectors of the population have access to basic resources (land, bank lending and etc.), new technologies and financial services, including micro-financing. Our priority is further liberalisation of economic reforms. To summarise the above, and speaking briefly, there is a need for more freedom of enterprise and less bureaucracy.”
OCA: How easy is it for a multi-party democracy to establish itself and function effectively in a country, where this is a relatively new phenomenon?
AK: Currently, Uzbekistan is at a new stage of its development. There are five political parties in Uzbekistan, including the Movement of Entrepreneurs and Business People (Uzbekistan Liberal Democratic Party) such as Uzbekistan National Revival Democratic Party “Milliy Tiklanish”, “People’s Democratic Party”, “Justice Social Democratic Party “Adolat” and the Ecological Party of Uzbekistan.
Indeed, multi-party democracy policy began when our country obtained its Independence. But much has been done in this short historical period. Our party predicts a fierce struggle in the upcoming elections. Therefore, the openness and transparency of their conduct becomes one of the key factors in the implementation of the principle of democracy and determining the country’s authority on the world stage.
OCA: How many members does the Party have, and how many Members of Parliament or local councillors?
AK: To be specific, the total number of party members as of July 1, 2019 is 733 989 people, of which 383 166 people (52.2%) are under the age of 34, and 297 561 people (40.5%) are women.
The number of deputy seats in the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis is 39, the members of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis have 35 seats, the deputies of the Zhokarga Kenes of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, the region and Tashkent city Kengashes have 291 seats, while the district and city Kengashes seats make up 1976. As of July 1, 2019, the number of primary party organizations is 12,616.
OCA: In your view, what are the most important reforms that would benefit Uzbekistan at its current stage of development?
AK: I see four key areas we need to reform:
1. Free currency conversion
Previously, a simple financial currency exchange operation was a big problem in Uzbekistan. The President of our country Sh. Mirziyoyev allowed banks to buy currency from the population and convert money for legal persons to pay for import contracts at the market rate. This was the first and key economic reform carried out at the initiative of the President.
2. Reform of the financial system
The Central Bank began to regularly publish important financial indicators and actively collaborate with leading global financial institutions, among them: theInternational Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The result of this work was an increase in the confidence of foreign investors and the issuance of the first Eurobonds, most of which were acquired by investors from the UK and the USA.
3. True statistics
Several years ago, no one believed the statistics of Uzbekistan. In 2017, Mirziyoyev approved a program to improve the efficiency of statistical activities and improve the quality of statistical information. In 2018, the republic introduced a system for disseminating statistics according to the methods and standards of the International Monetary Fund. Today we know with certainty the real level of citizens’ incomes, unemployment, the level and main causes of mortality, and much more.
4. Freedom of journalism
Uzbekistan has risen four positions in the freedom of speech rankings. Previously, journalists were afraid to criticise officials, who held “senior positions” and did not cover a number of socially important topics. Now media representatives, not fearing for their own lives and health, can condemn the work of any public servant or state-owned company.
OCA: Are there women and youth sections in your party and, if so, what are the issues that most concern them?
AK: UzLiDeP pays close attention to issues of work with youth and women. In the structure of UzLiDeP, the Youth wing of the party operates and unites about 425,000 youth. The party is addressing the challenges of increasing the political culture and legal awareness of young people, forming their active civic position and a conscious attitude to political processes. It also provides lasting ideological immunity against various external and internal threats in the spiritual and moral sphere, and ensures the information security of children. The projects have already provided practical assistance to over 150 young entrepreneurs.
The “Women’s Wing” is also successfully functioning in the party, which helps to increase the political activity of women and enhancing their role and social status.For example, last year, over 200,000 women and girls were involved in UzLiDeP’sactivities of the “Women’s Wing”. One of the main tools of the “Women’s Wing” of UzLiDeP is the implementation in practice of various kinds of party projects aimed at the comprehensive support of women who intend to do business, create new jobs by broadly attracting girls to entrepreneurship by identifying active and initiative women.
In the UzLiDeP faction in the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis, 8 deputies are women. At present, UzLiDeP has a well-formed basis of which 8.103 are women or 30.9% of staff capacity from the party.
OCA: How has your past professional and personal experience in many different roles affected you?
AK: Of course, it is not right to praise oneself; one must prove one’s professional success by deeds. But, as can be seen from my biography, my professional activity is connected on the one hand, with the solution of a wide range of economic problems. But, on the other hand, in carrying out these activities, it was important to take into account the opinions and wishes of ordinary people and to feel their aspirations and hopes, the desire for well-being and high quality of life for families.
For myself, I think this is the most important professional baggage, which is to focus on solving specific problems of people and the importance of work by taking into account the needs of the population, as reforms should be carried out for the people.
I see in every workplace that the Motherland, society, our voters, trust me, so my goal is to try to justify this high trust by working for the benefit of our people. Years of work taught me that it is important that in each of us such values as readiness for change, responsibility, professionalism, justice and humanism prevail.
OCA: What are your perspectives on relations between the UK and Uzbekistan?
AK: Uzbekistan attaches great importance to the development of mutually beneficial cooperation with European countries. At the same time, special attention is paid to promoting a higher level of bilateral relations with such a leading European power as Great Britain.
In our opinion, the trade and economic interaction of our countries requires its further development. Although bilateral trade between Uzbekistan and the UK in 2018 grew by almost 40% and exceeded $235 million, we are confident that the parties have significant potential for the growth of mutual trade.
UzLiDeP also considers the possible development of inter-party cooperation as a step towards expanding interstate contacts between Uzbekistan and the UK. This may require the organisation of international conferences and round tables aimed at further developing interstate relations, disclosing Uzbekistan to the general public in Great Britain as a reliable and responsible partner. UzLiDeP expresses its readiness to support the business circles of the two countries in their intentions to develop cooperation.