On Sunday, October 21, Kyrgyzstan voted in a referendum for a new constitution and electoral law. According to the Central Elections Commission, voter turnout was 76%. Both the new constitution and electoral law were supported with 76% of voters favoring the new documents. While the pro-presidential Ak Zhol bloc claims that the referendum proved the population’s desire to establish a new constitutional order, most internationals observers and local NGOs point to widespread falsification of the referendum’s results.
Hours after the referendum ended Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev dissolved the parliament and the government, halting any further debate on the referendum’s legitimacy. The president announced snap parliamentary elections for December 16 and promised that a new parliament and government will be formed by the end of this year. Political parties were given only three days to register for the elections. The parliamentary elections will be held according to the new electoral law; that is, on the basis of proportional representation. The parliament will consist of 90 representatives, not 75 as the previous one. Furthermore, if one party gains a majority of seats, it will form the government.
However, the new constitution and electoral law raise numerous questions. It is evident that no political party today is able to form a parliamentary majority except for the rapidly formed pro-presidential bloc Ak Zhol. The bloc unites a range of government officials and pro-presidential MPs. Because local governors were rapidly included into the bloc, they were interested in continuing Bakiyev’s regime and thus apparently had no qualms about falsification of the referendum’s results. On Sunday governors were present at voting precincts to personally supervise the activity of local electoral committees and secure favorable results. Local governors also forced all public employees, from school teachers to police personnel, to be present at voting precincts. The NGO coalition “For Democratic Reform and Civil Society” reported that members of local voting committees brought up to 600 ballots to ballot boxes. The Coalition also reported that local governments were instructed to assure at least 65% turnout at their precincts. The Interbilim NGO called the October 2007 referendum the “most cynical” in the history of Kyrgyzstan.
Interim parliamentary speaker Marat Sultanov thinks that more than 30% of the members of the last parliament will be re-elected on December 16. According to MP Mars Sarieyev, from a strategy perspective, the president actually cannot allow his political bloc to walk away with an outright majority, because then it would be clear that the elections were rigged. Most likely, strong opposition members will still be present, among them Kubatbek Baibolov, Omurbek Tekebayev, and Temir Sariyev, who formed the opposition bloc “Ata Meken.” The recent expansion of the Social Democratic Party, led by Interim Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, will provide a counterweight to Ak Zhol. Former foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva and former NGO leader Edil Baisalov joined the SDP in the past weeks. Both are popular political figures in the country, known for their ardent opposition of the corruption that surrounded former president Askar Akayev.
The new constitution does not provide effective mechanisms for the division of powers. The rights of the parliament and president in appointing the government are not clearly defined and will encounter complications when the new parliament is seated. By scheduling only one month to prepare for the referendum, Bakiyev prevented political and legal experts from vetting the constitution for inconsistencies. Most political observers think that since no party will be able to dominate the new parliament, Bakiyev will have greater leverage over forming the government.
Today, the situation in Kyrgyzstan is largely reminiscent of the period before parliamentary elections in February-March 2005, after which president Askar Akayev was ousted for his increasingly undemocratic and corrupt leadership. Akayev had staged a referendum in February 2003 that provided him with more power over the legislative and judicial branches, a move that was part of the reason for popular protests in March 2005. The protests also arose from anger over the violent suppression of the Aksy riots in March 2002. Finally, the widely falsified parliamentary election returns and the formation of an overtly pro-presidential parliament were the final triggers that led to the Akayev’s ouster. All these factors are present today as well, and the opposition has not forgotten the regime’s violent suppression of demonstrations in April this year.
(Akipress.kg, 24.kg, for.kg, October 21–24)