Publication: Prism Volume: 4 Issue: 22

By Sadyrbek Jighitekov

Beginning in May of this year, the republic of Kyrgyzstan was beset by a series of disasters. In the Suzak region of Osh Oblast, a dam burst, with the resulting damage totaling 157 million som (US$8 million). A goods truck carrying cyanide then crashed near the village of Barskoun. As a result of the accident and the poison was released because of it, several people were killed and dozens hospitalized, with nearly 1,000 appearing in clinics and hospitals with symptoms of poisoning. Cyanide was released into Lake Issyk-Kul, ruining the holiday season.

Because of this, the republic’s budget and the population of Issyk-Kul Oblast have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars this year. And though US$52 million in damages have been sought from the Canadian Kumtor Operating Company, which was responsible for the environmental catastrophe, the compensation will cover neither all the costs already incurred nor still to come. This is evident. These disasters have been compounded by two more: the bursting of a dam in the Kadamzhaisk region of Osh Oblast and fires in the Djergalan coal mine in Issyk-Kul Oblast.

Analysis of these disasters reveals that they occurred because of the irresponsibility of the local authorities. This, in turn, is a clear demonstration of the weakness of the central authorities. Indeed, since they have been in power, President Askar Akaev and his closest advisors have been unable to push through administrative reform of the power structures. This can be explained above all by the official economic reform taking place. It is well known that carrying out real economic reform involves creating effective administrative structures based on firm discipline in the executive branch of power and the responsibility of all public servants for their own particular work. The catastrophes and disasters which have occurred have shown more clearly than ever that the republic’s economy has not yet emerged from crisis. Naturally, the disasters have only aggravated the already difficult situation in every area of life in the country.

Against this background, President Akaev and his government, lacking any results from the economic reforms they have carried out, have not come up with anything better than maintaining the budget by economizing on the pensions of the most unfortunate sections of the population–the elderly, invalids and war veterans.

According to a government initiative, on June 22 the Legislative Assembly of the parliament, Zhogorku Kenesh passed a law “On amendments and supplements to the Law of the Kyrgyz Republic ‘On state pension and social insurance'”. The government calculates that by gradually increasing the pension age, starting from 1 July, by six months per year, raising it to sixty-three for men and fifty-eight for women by 2004, it will cut the number of pensioners by 50,000 and will save 440 million som (about US$22 million) over six years. The Law also provides for limiting payments to working pensioners to around 50 percent. With this limit, the government plans to save up to 46 million som (US$2.3 million). in the second half of this year alone.

President Akaev signed the law in record time–two days after it was passed by the Legislative Assembly. Economizing at the expense of pensioners is an eloquent demonstration of the fact that Akaev and his government are experiencing huge financial difficulties despite the daily assurances about macroeconomic stability. Since Akaev and his entourage came to power, they have been unable to put forward and implement one effective economic idea. Nonetheless, they have been going on with the general flow of traditional market reforms, which do not take into consideration the specific nature of the region and the mentality of the republic’s population. The only success Akaev and his people have achieved has been their stubborn hanging onto power. This can be clearly seen from Akaev’s career.

Akaev was first elected president of Kyrgyzstan on October 27, 1990 by the Supreme Soviet of the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic. He took everyone by surprise the following year when, citing the fact that the republic had won sovereignty, presidential elections were announced, and Akaev was the only candidate. He was thus elected president this time also.

At the end of 1993, the “Gold Scandal” broke, as a result of which the prime minister at the time, Tursunbek Chyngyshev, was dismissed by parliament. Fearing that parliament would dismiss him also, Akaev again caught everyone off guard by announcing a national referendum on January 30, 1994 to extend his presidential term until 1996. Once the referendum had been held successfully, representatives of the executive branch of power, who were in the majority in parliament, organized the “self-dissolution” of parliament.

Following elections to a new two-chamber parliament, before the new deputies had had a chance to get their bearings, Akaev declared that he had first been elected president not on October 12 1991, but on October 27 1990. By law, his declaration should have been considered in the Constitutional Court. However, it was considered in the Legislative Assembly, which fell in with Akaev’s wishes and set presidential elections for December 24, 1995. Akaev, as the incumbent president, had no trouble defeating his rivals.

>From this biography, Akaev looks like a man whose main concern is how not to relinquish power.

The political events of this year clearly show that, even now, Akaev is more concerned with the above-mentioned problem than with the social and economic situation in the republic. At any rate, the president’s entourage has begun actively to work on his participation in the presidential elections of the year 2000. This is despite the fact that his participation is a gross violation of article 43 of the Constitution, which states in black and white that “One and the same person may not be elected president of the Kyrgyz Republic for more than two terms in a row.”

In May this year Akaev’s former graduate student and current Prime Minister Kubanychbek Zhumaliev declared in London that Akaev has the right to participate in the presidential elections in 2000. This raises the question: Why did the prime minister make this announcement abroad rather than at home? This can be explained by the following suppositions.

The declaration was probably of an exploratory nature: What would be the reaction in official circles in the developed democratic countries of the West and the United States? If the reaction was negative, then naturally Akaev could distance himself from the declaration of the prime minister, saying that it was a personal opinion. But for two months there was no reaction at all. It is quite possible that the governments of these countries decided not to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign state, even if elementary democratic norms were being grossly violated.

As it was, the silence of the democratic West was taken as approval and the republic’s Constitutional Court ruled on July 13 that Akaev has the right to participate in the presidential elections of 2000. The Court based its ruling on the fact that under the 1993 Constitution, Akaev was first elected president in 1995. On the basis of the materials they had studied, the judges came to another paradoxical conclusion: that the presidential term Akaev served from 1990 to 1995 should not count because he had been elected under the 1978 Constitution, that is, when the republic was still part of the Soviet Union. This reasoning prompted many citizens to ask sarcastically what Akaev had been doing up until 1995.

Sarcasm aside, by the logic of the Constitutional Court, Akaev was a “soviet” president up until 1995, despite the break-up of the Soviet Union. He was, in other words, not a legitimate president. From this, it can be concluded that all documents of national and international significance signed by Akaev between 1990 and 1995 are invalid. But the most ridiculous result of the Constitutional Court’s ruling is that the Basic Law of the republic, signed by an illegitimate president, does not have validity in law–though the political parties and movements at the time proposed accepting the text of the constitution at a special congress. However, by means of political intrigue and pressure, Akaev managed to push through his own procedure for adopting the constitution: approval by parliament and then confirmation by the president. As a result, if we abide by Constitutional Court’s ruling, we are living by a constitution which is legally invalid. Such a thing could only happen in Kyrgyzstan, where the indigenous population is descended from nomads. The democratic changes in the republic are more reminiscent of a nomadic migration from one extreme to the other according to the whims of the ruler. Thus, with its inimitable ruling, the Constitutional Court has provided another reason for the whole world to laugh at “Kyrgyz-style” democracy.

Despite the absurdity of the Constitutional Court’s ruling, however, supporters of the president greeted it with unconcealed delight. This is understandable. In fact, on 6 March this year, through deputies Valery Dil and Esen Ismailov of the Assembly of People’s Representatives and Boris Gogaev of the Legislative Assembly, Akaev’s entourage began a petition to the Constitutional Court on the legal validity of Akaev’s participation in the forthcoming presidential elections, and they got the answer they were hoping for. That certain parties have a vested interest in keeping Akaev in power is totally understandable. Were he to lose power, many people would lose their source of income and wealth. It should also be pointed out that among the general public there are people with conservative views. The essence of their ideology can be brought down to narrow-minded anxiety: A change of president would lead to a general downturn in the standard of living in the republic because the new leaders coming to power would enrich themselves at the expense of the people. But Akaev’s entourage has already got rich and will now start thinking about how raise the living standard of the people. Naturally, such primitive thinking does not hold water, because usually it is wealthy people who come to power. The more so now that the market has clearly divided people into rich and poor.

Nevertheless, these ideas are held and actively propagated by Akaev’s entourage. However, there are people who are unhappy with his rule.

The “ResPublika” newspaper (No. 22, 23-29 June 1998). published the results of a sociological survey. There was one question: Who will be president of Kyrgyzstan in 2000? The survey showed that Akaev’s image has significantly deteriorated. It is true that his name did figure in the list of candidates for president, but the first three places were allocated as follows: Feliks Kulov, the mayor of the capital Bishkek–29.2 percent; Daniar Usenov, a deputy in the Legislative Assembly–12.5 percent; and Topchubek Turgunaliev, prisoner of conscience and leader of the Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan–8.3 percent. And what is interesting is that 16.7 percent of respondents answered: “anybody other than Akaev.”

On the question of retaining power, Akaev and his entourage are not as naive as it may seem to many. They are perfectly aware of the negative attitude toward the authorities among the majority of the population and understand that one ruling by the Constitutional Court is not enough. The most authoritative and organized force capable of challenging the president and his executive is Zhogorku Kenesh, particularly the Assembly of People’s Representatives (APR). which numbers seventy deputies. Unlike the legislative chamber, the APR decides questions mainly relating to political issues. Therefore it is in Akaev’s interest to have the APR in his pocket. In connection with this, on the initiative of the president’s administration, the Central Electoral Commission formed a working party to draw up a new electoral code.

On June 22 this year, in the Kabar (News) Information Center, the chairman of the Suleiman Imanbaev gave a press conference for journalists. He informed all those present that the working party had completed the project for a new electoral code. According to Mr. Imanbaev, certain important articles of the code should be enshrined in the republic’s Constitution. Therefore, it was announced, a referendum would be held with the aim of making amendments and supplements to the relevant articles of the Constitution.

The information given by the chairman of the Central Electoral Commission provoked a storm of protest from APR deputies. On the initiative of deputy Nur uulu Dosbol, a question on the new electoral code and the forthcoming referendum was put on the agenda for the 14th session of the APR held from June 24 to July 2.

In the new code, it is proposed that the number of deputies in the Legislative Assembly be increased to sixty-three, and to decrease the number in the APR to forty-two. Moreover, it is proposed to elect fifteen Legislative Assembly deputies by party lists and the remaining forty-eight in single-mandate constituencies. APR deputies will be elected from the deputies of regional councils. In their turn, to be elected to regional councils, candidates must live for at least three years in the corresponding area. Such restrictions mean that most of the current deputies will not be able to stand for election in their native regions. Currently, almost all the APR deputies live in the capital Bishkek. The president and his entourage now control, with little effort, the oblast, town and regional councils. It would not too difficult for them to create, with the help of the new code, a puppet APR.

However, the deputies have one serious trump card to play against the adoption of these provisions of the code. According to the code, six deputies should be delegated from each oblast. In the south of the republic there are only two large oblasts, but in the north there are four plus the capital. Thus the new code raises a regional north-south problem. This could lead eventually to political instability in the republic. For this reason all the APR deputies have spoken out against the code and the referendum. The recently elected deputy from Osh Oblast, Bakyt Beshimov, declared at the fourteenth session of the APR that if a decision was taken to hold a referendum on changing the Constitution he would call upon his constituents to boycott it.

At a meeting with the deputies, Akaev agreed that there were certain snags with the issue of delegating deputies from oblast councils in the new code, and left a final decision on it until the autumn.

Dr. Sadyrbek Jighitekov is a well-known Kyrgyz political writer and author of many articles as well as the book “Our Past, Present, and Future.” Currently, Jighitekov is a reviewer of “ResPublika” newspaper.