Kyrgyzstan is currently witnessing a rapid and further centralization of presidential powers. On January 26, the Kyrgyz parliament’s special committee on constitutional legislation approved several new presidential rights. These include the president’s right to appoint a special presidential council that would in turn have the power to appoint an interim president. Initially, Kyrgyzstan’s constitutional court rejected the amendment, ruling that a presidential council should not be permitted to vote for an interim head of state, yet the parliament approved the change shortly after first round of discussion (www.24.kg, January 26).
The constitutional amendments will theoretically allow President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to select his presidential council members with an informal condition that they support his preferred candidate once he decides or is forced to resign. Although the council will be composed of members of parliament, government and civil society, the president will have the power to “appoint” his successor, and bypass parliament. In a likely scenario, Bakiyev would select his son Maksim Bakiyev, who currently heads the Central Agency on Development, Investment, and Innovation, which is responsible for all financial inflows into the country.
Other constitutional changes included the dissolution of the National Guard and National Security Council (www.akipress.kg, January 26). Suspending the National Security Council in particular, leaves control over the armed forces as well as military and security strategy undefined. Previously, the Security Council was responsible for developing the country’s military doctrine. In 2008, the council announced that it was revising the current doctrine passed in 2002. Whether the doctrine is still in the making, and who will be in charge of drafting the new document is therefore unknown.
The National Guard mainly served a symbolic purpose. However, ironically, in 1997 the former President Askar Akayev proposed disbanding most of the armed forces and retaining the National Guard only for non-military purposes. He suggested this as a method of saving on military expenses and instead only using decorated personnel during national holiday celebrations. His proposal was largely criticized in 1999, when Kyrgyz troops were challenged by militants on the border with Tajikistan. Bakiyev regarded the National Guard as a liability, unlike in the 1990’s, and preferred to increase the importance of the armed forces in domestic affairs.
In his most recent legislative initiatives, Bakiyev had to gain the support of just one parliamentary committee. Roza Otunbayeva, a Social Democratic Party parliamentarian, dared to abstain from voting in favor of these changes (www.24.kg, January 26). Otunabayeva argued that Bakiyev has already secured his own “council,” as a result of sweeping constitutional changes and that the constitutional court effectively “abused” his rights by adopting Bakiyev’s version of the new council (www.24.kg, January 27). Last month, the parliamentary committee deferred the decision on the president’s amendment to the constitutional court. The court, in turn, made only minor suggestions, which were later ignored by parliament.
Other state institutions cancelled as a result of these constitutional changes include the president’s administration and state secretary. The latter was responsible for providing ideological support to the regime by creating a national ideology. Akayev, for instance, was notorious for using ideology as a soft power mechanism, communicating his political views, which he otherwise was unable to state in law. Bakiyev, by contrast, disregarded the role of ideology in his leadership, quickly disbanding all of his predecessor’s projects.
The current parliament is dominated by the pro-presidential Ak Zhol party. Along with Ak Zhol, the Communist Party was quick to support the amendments, as its leader Iskhak Masaliyev said that since the president’s party has a parliamentary majority, Bakiyev de facto heads the legislative body. Therefore, the recent constitutional changes meet current demands, otherwise the president would be replaced by the parliamentary speaker or prime minister from his own party should he leave office before his term ends (www.akipress.kg, January 27).
Bakiyev has already changed the constitution several times since acquiring power five years ago. Some of his earlier amendments led to the dissolution of the parliament. The constitutional court has consistently approved the changes proposed by the president. On each occasion that Bakiyev chose to make such amendments, he found it easier to do so without causing any political friction. The new changes will soon officially become law and ironically come in the aftermath of an announcement by Freedom House several days ago designating Kyrgyzstan as “not free.”