Central Asia & Caucasus

Kyrgyzstan set to change Constitution

Kyrgyz MP, former judge Kurmankul Zulushev has initiated a draft law to hold a referendum in the republic to amend the Constitution. Citizens are invited to speak out on the desired form of government – the parliamentary or presidential system. The amendment, if adopted, will expand the presidential powers and weaken the functions of the prime minister and parliament.

The current constitution of Kyrgyzstan was adopted in 2010 after the April 7 coup and the subsequent ethnic conflict in the country’s south against the backdrop of President Kurmanbek Bakiev’s attempts to strengthen his power. In 2016, the Basic Law was amended to increase the Prime Minister’s powers and weaken the President’s powers at the initiative of President Almazbek Atambayev. The political background of these changes was to keep Atambayev in power after the 2017 presidential election. According to experts, he intended to become prime minister. But something went wrong. Now Almazbek Atambayev charged with organising mass unrest, coup d’etat, murder and much more, is under investigation and being held in a pre-trial detention center. He faces a life sentence.

The full turn to the presidential republic was initiated by MP Kurmankul Zulushev, who explained his initiative by the fact that ready-made forms of government were prescribed in all versions of the Kyrgyz Constitution; citizens voted not for the form of government, but for the Basic Law. “The bill was developed in order to create conditions for the people to determine the government system,” the justification statement reads. If the MPs and the president approve the referendum bill, it will enter into force in July 2020. The referendum is scheduled for October 4, 2020. On the same day, the elections to the Jogorku Kenesh – the country’s parliament are to be held.

Director General of the Analytical Center ‘Strategy East-West’ Dmitry Orlov told Vestnik Kavkaza that Kyrgyz citizens, tired of the pseudo-parliamentary lawlessness, are likely to support Zulushev’s initiative: “Investors complain that laws do not work in Kyrgyzstan. No one in the country guarantees the protection of foreign and local businesses. We need rules of the game, an order. But no one knows what’s the order in Kyrgyz way. It is important for President Sooronbay Jeenbekov to look like the country’s savior, but according to the Constitution he does not have authority. Atambayev did everything possible to increase the powers of the prime minister and parliament and reduce the presidential powers, making this post a representative one.”

Kyrgyz expert Adil Turdukulov does not agree with this assessment: “The president in our country, despite the proclaimed parliamentarism, is a key political person. The president appoints judges through the so-called Council of Judges, which is formed with his directly involvement. Decisions of the Constitutional Chamber are also cannot be adopted without the head of state’s participation. The President appoints and dismisses ministers and heads of defense, national security committees and agencies, as well as their deputies. Nobody cancels his right to determine foreign policy. All other powers, including the formation of the CEC and the Accounts Chamber, are also in place. We witnessed that the president can directly intervene in the work of the government by the decision of the Security Council. It’s not good or bad. The only question is how to use these powers prescribed in the Basic Law.”

Turdukulov also told Vestnik Kavkaza that “changing the Constitution, through such a dubious method of ‘popular’ vote as a referendum, was used by all previous Kyrgyz presidents to strengthen and maintain their own power. Moreover, there are no exclusively ‘parliamentary’ and ‘presidential’ systems. “Therefore, the initiative proposed by MP and former judge Zulushev is speculative and populist. Moreover, it cancels out the events of 10 years ago, when the main achievement on April 7, 2010 was the movement towards the parliamentary system.”

Public figure, former candidate of all presidential campaigns Toktayim Umetaliyeva considers the constitutional reform issue to be difficult and untimely: “A referendum cannot be held during the state of emergency in the country. Moreover, the current law prohibits amending constitutional laws and holding referendums under emergency conditions. Now when the majority of Kyrgyz people are just trying to survive, many do not have money to buy bread, the MPs decided to hold a rather costly event at the expense of the state budget, which has a huge hole in it. This is not just impractical, it’s stupid, MPs, in order to gain dividends, screw over the president.”

“In 2010, the constitutional reform and referendum were already held in the country to amend the Constitution during an emergency situation. At the same time, part of the country was excluded from the voting process due to an emergency introduced in the south of the republic after a coup d’etat and inter-ethnic conflict. Only residents of the northern part of the country took part in the voting process, which was held with gross violations,” Toktayim Umetaliyeva told Vestnik Kavkaza.

The expert believes that if President Sooronbai Jeenbekov intends to amend the Constitution, then first he needs to check out all documents of the Basic Law, starting from the 2003 amendments. The constitution of Kyrgyzstan was changed quite a lot. But the fact is that the original of the Constitution, according to which the country lives, is lost. Both the Ministry of Justice and the administration of the President of Kyrgyzstan doesn’t have the original of the main document. According to some reports, it is held by the developer of the Constitution, leader of the Ata-Meken party Omurbek Tekebaev. He does not give it away for some reason.

The country lives according to the text of the Basic Law published in the Erkin-Too newspaper. But it is suspected that the text published by the newspaper is not real. There have been discussions that it was replaced since the adoption of the last Constitution of Kyrgyzstan in 2010. Like, instead of the law, the republic lives according to the amended document. In 2014, human rights defenders filed a lawsuit with the Constitutional Chamber. They argued that the text of the Constitution published in the Erkin-Too newspaper was significantly different from the real constitution. Though there is no direct evidence to prove this.

Only after the revision of the Basic Law one could think about the form of government in the country. Time has shown that the party system provides gives more grounds for family-clan governance, which is actually tearing the state apart nowadays. Umetiliyeva noted that the proposal to switch to the presidential system was made on the eve of April 7, the 10th anniversary of the coup and interethnic clashes in the south of the republic: “Those riots began after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev attempted to strengthen the presidential power with an emphasis on family governance. Now history repeats itself: there is no one in Kyrgyzstan who doesn’t think that the Jeenbekov clan rules the country.”

Source: Vestnik Kavkaza

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