On December 30 the Kyrgyz parliament adopted yet another constitution. The new constitution comes only few weeks after the previous version was endorsed on November 8, 2006. The November 2006 constitution was widely celebrated by the Kyrgyz opposition, as it was achieved after nearly week-long protests in central Bishkek (see EDM, November 16, 2006). While the November constitution was regarded as the most liberal one among the Central Asian states and secured stronger powers for the parliament, its most recent version returned key powers to the president.
The new constitution was endorsed following the Kyrgyz government’s resignation on December 19. The resignation created a Catch-22 for the parliament and made it incapable of functioning. According to the November constitution, the parliament forms the government if one party makes up a simple majority. Furthermore, only a parliament consisting of 90 members can form the government. Neither of these provisions existed when the government resigned. Some Kyrgyz experts think Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev encouraged the government’s resignation to get rid of the parliament and restore his own powers.
Although the text of the new constitution has not been published yet, it is evident that the president reclaimed his powers in forming the government and the judicial branch. He thus regained stronger leverage over the parliament and is able to demand its dissolution. Downgrading parliament will also allow the president and the interim government to proceed with implementing the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative. The parliament has been actively blocking the initiative, but the president, Prime Minister Felix Kulov, and Ministry of Finance supported it.
During his December 30 speech to parliament, Bakiyev claimed that the November constitution was inconsistent and adopted in a rush, therefore political stalemate was inevitable. Because of these problems surrounding the main state document, the parliament is not fulfilling its main functions such as endorsing the state budget for 2007, he argued. However, if the president genuinely had wanted to avoid the escalation of political tensions, he could have tried to prevent government’s resignation.
Next week the Security Council, which Bakiyev heads, will discuss the future status of parliament. Bakiyev will probably press for dismissing the parliament. A rapid call for reelection will decrease the chances for the formation of the strong political blocs needed for a parliamentary majority to consolidate in case of new elections.
By quickly adopting a new constitution, the parliament tried to escape holding new elections. However, immediately after it revamped the constitution, local media and civil society groups accused the parliament of capitulating to the president. Should new parliamentary elections take place in the coming months, some current parliament members will be unable to win back their seats because of continuing economic decline and the political tensions of the past two years.
Future candidates for parliament will be forced to join political parties and blocs in order to form large coalitions. In general, there are up to five major political parties to compete in the coming elections, including the communists. Kulov’s Ar-Namys party, in particular, will mobilize. As one Ar-Namys member told Jamestown, Kulov might run for president in the next elections, and he has all necessary resources to win. Since Bakiyev’s domestic popularity is extremely low, there is some leeway for the new parliament to regain powers should new elections take place.
Adopting the constitution with an absolute parliamentary majority, or 51 members, is the main reason why the new version was approved within hours on December 30. Such an undemanding procedure for adopting constitutions generated wide public criticism of the parliament and government. Local civil society groups might challenge the legitimacy of the current constitution though the Constitutional Court.
However, even with the most recent constitution, it is unlikely that Bakiyev will be able to fully recapture all of his powers, because he faces strong resistance in the government, parliament, and civil society for his unpopular policies and corruption. Quite possibly, he will be pushed to resign before his term expires in 2010.
As the year begins, Kyrgyzstan is again facing political flux. This turbulent road ahead will set precedents for Kyrgyzstan’s future power relations. According to civil society activist Edil Baisalov, Kyrgyzstan’s political institutions are in the process of forming relations among each other and finding consensus for further functioning. Importantly, the ongoing political showdowns involve multiple actors from all power branches, mass media outlets, and civil society groups. Such dynamics will not allow the president to completely prevail over other political actors.
(Akipress, 24.kg, December 25, 2006-January 3, 2007)