Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 174

Kyrgyzstan’s constitution will be changed yet again through a national referendum to be held October 21. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev scheduled the referendum following the Constitutional Court’s September 14 cancellation of constitutional amendments endorsed in November and December 2006.

While the referendum will secure the legitimacy of the amendments, the announcement of the poll once again reveals the ongoing competition among political forces in Kyrgyzstan. There is a great risk that any changes to the constitution will be introduced in a rush, without thorough consideration, let alone public debate. The president will be able to grab more powers for himself if Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev fails to push forward his political party’s preferences. If Bakiyev prevails and secures greater powers for himself, there is a chance for even more political unrest in the country.

The key changes addressed by the October 21 referendum affect the election process. Kyrgyzstan will be converted to a 50% or event complete party-list system from a fully majoritarian structure. The proposed constitutional amendments will be adopted if a simple majority of the population approves them. Currently, only the version of the constitution amended in February 2003 by former president Askar Akayev is considered legitimate in Kyrgyzstan.

If the referendum earns public support, early parliamentary elections are likely to take place in order to avoid legal contradictions with the new constitution. However, few parliamentarians are interested in participating in new elections, especially if they will be conducted on the basis of party lists. Although it is vital for Kyrgyzstan to shift away from a simple majoritarian system and foster the development of political parties, it might be too early for the country to have a 100% party-list system. This spring the Kazakh parliament agreed to change its electoral system to the party-list system with a 7% threshold to receive seats in the assembly. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev had no difficulty in dissolving the parliament and filling the new parliament with members of his Nur Otan party. But unlike with Nur Otan, no political party dominates in Kyrgyzstan. There are up to 100 political parties registered in the country, and only about 10% of them can claim to have enough members to compete in elections.

The party-list system will hopefully eliminate the chances of gaining support though candidates’ informal connections with the government or thanks to their local economic influence. Ideally, aside from wealthy candidates who are able to sponsor their constituency, women and individuals with weaker economic backgrounds will be better able to win parliamentary seats under the new system.

Bakiyev will likely try to tailor the constitution to win presidential election in 2010, while the parliament will seek to avoid its own dissolution. The November and December 2006 constitutions represent two possible models of future political arrangements. The November version stripped the president of his key powers and passed them to the parliament and government (see EDM, November 9, 2006). However, this version also allowed the president to dissolve the legislature. In contrast, under the December version, Bakiyev was able to win most of his powers back and therefore had less incentive to push for early parliamentary elections.

If the new election system prioritizes party development, Bakiyev will rush to form a formidable political platform to represent his interests in parliament. The president announced his intention to form a party the same day as he signed the decree on the referendum. Similar to Nazarbayev’s Nur Otan and Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon’s Peoples’ Democratic Party, Bakiyev will seek to mobilize his supporters under a common party umbrella. According to Edil Baisalov, a member of Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party, most likely the president will unite several pro-regime parties. Also, Bakiyev will be able to force public servants to join his political camp. Bakiyev’s party-building plans thus reveal his ambitions to retain his hold on power despite weak public support.

Whatever the outcome on October 2, constitutional reform in Kyrgyzstan represents an important consequence of the Tulip Revolution that overthrew Akayev in March 2005. Indeed, if Bakiyev prevails in the referendum, it will show that the regime change from Akayev to Bakiyev failed to produce any significant changes in the country’s political regime.

(,,, September 14-19)