In less than two weeks, on October 21, Kyrgyzstan will hold a referendum on a new constitution and electoral law. Both documents have been drafted by Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Already it is obvious that the new constitution and electoral law are far from representing the intentions proclaimed by supporters of the Tulip Revolution in March 2005. If the referendum passes, Bakiyev will be able to gain substantial powers over the parliament and government (see EDM, September 9).
Bakiyev’s changes come in the midst of a protracted constitutional crisis and season of political uncertainty in the country. In many respects, the upcoming referendum brings to mind former president Askar Akayev’s political maneuvering. He was able to implement quick constitutional changes to further centralize his power in 1995, 1999, and 2003. On the surface, Akayev’s referendums seemed to serve the public will; while, in reality, he was able to tailor the political system according to his own interests by changing the structure of the parliament and the voting system. The parliament still has a chance to cancel the referendum, although few MPs openly criticize Bakiyev’s constitutional project. But Bakiyev’s opponents lack sufficient time to consolidate their forces against the referendum.
The new electoral law will encourage the formation of political parties, since parliamentary elections will be held on the basis of party lists. Parties will need to pass a 5% threshold to be awarded seats in the legislature. MPs supporting the president and willing to stand again in the next elections are trying to erect hidden hurdles in the new law to curb competing forces from winning the elections. For example, 25 MPs called on Bakiyev to allow only political parties with 0.5% support in each of the country’s seven administrative regions to be represented in the parliament. This would potentially limit the opportunities for political parties that are concentrated in certain regions to be represented in the parliament. For example, Bakiyev’s most ardent opponent, Felix Kulov, and his party enjoy support only in the northern part of Kyrgyzstan. Similarly, political parties supported mainly by ethnic Uzbeks living in southern Kyrgyzstan are unfamiliar to the northern population.
Bakiyev did not have time to create and head his own political party. Instead, he united several political parties into the “Ak Jol Kyrgyzstan” bloc. The Republican Party of Labor and Unity, led by his brothers, Zhanysh Bakiyev and Zhusup Bakiyev, should become the strongest pro-presidential fraction within Ak Jol. A number of top-level influential politicians have joined Bakiyev’s political bloc, including State Secretary Adakhan Madumarov and Bishkek mayor Daniyar Usenov.
The referendum presupposes that by October 21 voters will be acquainted with the changes in both laws, as ballots will contain two questions, one on each law, with “Yes” and “No” answers for the voter to mark. Furthermore, should the referendum acquire the majority’s support and snap parliamentary elections ensue, voters will also need to be familiar with competing political parties’ programs. However, neither of these presuppositions are realistic.
Meanwhile, the Central Elections Commission is working with outdated records of registered voters. For example, the commission’s records indicate some 330,000 voters in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital and the largest city in the country. However, most experts agree that roughly 1.2 million people work and live in Bishkek permanently. The existing voter list does not take into consideration the fact that up to 500,000 labor migrants currently reside in Russia and Kazakhstan. Although special voting precincts will be organized in large cities in Russia and Kazakhstan, most labor migrants never register with Kyrgyz diplomatic missions abroad and therefore will be unable to vote. Such logistical issues will allow easy falsification of results.
For Bakiyev, it is vital to show that the majority of the population in Bishkek is in favor of the referendum. On October 10 Bakiyev appointed Daniyar Usenov as an interim mayor of Bishkek, removing Arstanbek Nogoyev. Usenov is a former first deputy prime minister and is known throughout the country for his large business holdings. Usenov is also known to have close relations with Bakiyev, and he might be able to facilitate desirable results in the referendum voting in Bishkek, the capital. Usenov will also be able to cooperate with Bakiyev should new popular protests occur.
While the constitutional changes will furnish Bakiyev with additional powers, some Kyrgyz experts think that the new constitution fails to create a framework for efficient governance. Tamerlan Ibraimov, head of a political-legal organization, comments that as a result of the referendum, “It seems that political parties with their MPs will form the ministerial cabinet, but the president will always be able to dissolve it [the cabinet].” Ibraimov also concludes that the current constitutional reform is a sign of a political crisis and not the development of a checks-and-balances system in Kyrgyzstan.
(24.kg, Akipress.kg, baisalov.livejournal.com, shailoo.gov.kg, October 8-10)