Two weeks ago Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev unveiled his draft constitution, which substantially increases his powers. Bakiyev’s constitutional project will be confirmed or rejected in the national referendum scheduled for October 21. Meanwhile, most local observers agree that the regime will likely falsify the final vote tally.
Bakiyev’s constitution will be submitted to a national referendum only one month after he presented it. This is not sufficient time for the general public to learn about all the substantial changes it entails. Bakiyev and a number of ministers claim that the current constitutional project is the culmination of a prolonged debate that began after the Tulip Revolution in March 2005. But, as one Washington-based Kyrgyz observer notes, “Such logic is doomed, as it gives a false image of president’s willingness to accommodate all the views voiced during the past two and a half years.” Omurbek Tekebayev, a member of the Kyrgyz parliament, thinks that the upcoming referendum “besides multimillion costs, will not bring anything to the country” (Bishkek Business Club, October 1).
The entire public sector is preparing for the upcoming referendum, while political parties are starting to mobilize for the parliamentary election that will likely follow the referendum (see EDM, September 27). Once again, both the government and parliament’s policy-making activities are stalled due to their need to prepare for the referendum. While current MPs are stepping up activities in their respective political parties, cabinet members are hoping to keep their portfolios after the parliamentary elections.
The parliament still could pass a vote of no confidence in the document and send their opinion to the Constitutional Court, which single-handedly cancelled constitutions endorsed in November and December 2006. This will avert the referendum and allow the parliament to design another constitution. But this scenario, although discussed in political back rooms, is highly unlikely.
According to Mukar Cholponbayev, a former speaker of parliament and co-author of Kyrgyzstan’s first constitution in 1993, “Only the president’s own fantasy will allow him to limit his powers” (24.kg, September 24). The president will control all security and law-enforcement structures, and he will also be able to create new government structures. While the president will be able to dissolve the parliament, presidential impeachment is only possible with 80% of the votes in parliament.
However, some local experts think that this constitutional referendum will not end the ongoing political struggle between the president and his opponents in parliament. Once strong presidential power has been constitutionally established and proven able to govern, further debates will follow on particular aspects of this power. As one Kyrgyz civil servant thinks, “Once the president’s powers are crystallized, the parliament will be able to build concrete claims against them.”
Despite the fact that the new constitution fosters the rapid development of political parties, the president likely will be able to prevail over other political forces. So far it is unclear which political parties will be able to win the snap parliamentary elections that will likely be held this December or early next year. Although seven political parties have displayed particular success in mobilizing their members and building campaigns, no significant blocs have emerged yet.
Three political parties — Asaba, led by MP Azimbek Beknazarov and former foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva; Ata Meken, led by MPs Omurbek Tekebayev and Bolot Sherniyazov; and the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, led by Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, have good chances to represent the opposition to Bakiyev. The Republican Party of Labor and Unity, led by Zhanysh Bakiyev and Zhusup Bakiyev, both brothers of President Bakiyev, should become the strongest pro-presidential bloc. Two smaller political parties, including Moya Strana, coordinated by the deputy mayor of Bishkek, Galina Kulikova, and Zhany Kyrgyzstan, led by State Advisor Usen Sydykov, will likely take a pro-regime position as well.
The current 75-member parliament is the strongest in the history of independent Kyrgyzstan. It was formed on the basis of the constitution of 2003, and adopted by former president Askar Akayev through a national referendum. The parliament’s size was considerably decreased then, turning it from a bicameral structure into a unicameral body. Due to the sharp decrease in the number of parliamentary seats available, the subsequent elections in February-March 2005 provoked severe competition and rampant cheating among candidates. Widespread falsification of election results led to a popular upheaval against Akayev’s regime in March 2005.
Bakiyev came to power as a result of that upheaval, and he must be concerned that he is not swept away following the next parliamentary election.