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Uzbekistan's Lower Chamber Passes Constitutional Amendments

The Uzbek parliament's lower chamber has passed constitutional amendments that would reduce the president's powers in favor of the prime minister and change the order of succession, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

The amendments would make the country's prime minister accountable to parliament instead of the president and make the Senate chairman the successor to the president if he died in office or was physically unable to perform his duties.

Currently, the prime minister is appointed by the president, and the constitution states that an election is to be held in the parliament to select a successor in the event the president cannot serve.

The amendments were proposed by President Islam Karimov when he addressed both chambers of parliament in November. The changes must still be adopted by the Senate and signed by the president.

Both chambers of parliament are controlled by pro-Karimov parties. The amendments are expected to come into force this year.

Among the other proposed changes to the constitution are the nomination of the prime minister by parliament's ruling party -- the premier could also be removed by the parliament if just one third of its members give it a vote of "no confidence."

Karimov has described the initiative to change the constitution as a "step forward" that will bolster democratic processes in Uzbekistan.

Some analysts say Karimov -- who is 73 and has ruled Uzbekistan for nearly 21 years -- is preparing the ground for his successor and wants a system in which power in the country is less absolute and more balanced. They add the amendments could be aimed at sidelining Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev, who is known for his heavy-handed rule.

Mirziyaev, 57, has been prime minister since 2003. He heads the ruling Uzbekistan Liberal Democratic party.

Parliament deputy and fellow party member Marufjon Usmanov, told RFE/RL on February 28 that his party fully supports Mirziyaev and his policies.

Many observers are expecting Senate chairman Ilgizar Sabirov, a little-known politician, to be replaced as the new constitutional amendments are signed by Karimov.

Karimov's daughter, Gulnara Karimova, is expected by some observers to be named head of the Senate, putting her in line to replace her father.