By Erik Davtyan (05/27/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On May 17, Armenia’s Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan paid a working visit to Batumi, Georgia and met his counterpart Irakli Gharibashvili. The interlocutors discussed the current level of bilateral relations, as well as issues of future economic cooperation. Georgia’s PM also met with Armenia’s Minister of Transport and Communications, Gagik Beglaryan, and the Chair of the Standing Committee on Economic Affairs of Armenia’s National Assembly, Vardan Ayvazyan. The one-day visit was of strategic importance for the future of Armenian-Georgian relations due to a recent diplomatic scandal that engaged the two neighboring countries.
On May 3, the Speaker of Armenia’s National Assembly, Galust Sahakyan, met with Anatoliy Bibilov, the Chairman of South Ossetia’s Parliament who arrived in Stepanakert to attend the parliamentary elections in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) as the head of South Ossetia’s observing group. Though the Armenian authorities emphasized that the meeting had a private, rather than political character, high Georgian officials expressed strong reservations against it. Georgia’s ambassador to Armenia Tengiz Sharmanashvili conveyed this message to Armenia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Manasaryan, who confirmed Armenia’s support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Moreover, Armenia’s ambassador to Georgia Yuri Vardanyan was summoned to Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on May 4. Deputy Foreign Minister Gigi Gigiadze noted that the Sahakyan-Bibilov meeting was detrimental to the friendly relationship between Georgia and Armenia. Gigiadze said that Georgia “does not accept any kind of meeting between officials of an allied republic and the occupation administration.” In turn, Prime Minister Abrahamyan called his colleague and reaffirmed Armenia’s recognition of Georgia's territorial integrity. At a joint session of some standing committees of Georgia’s Parliament, Georgia’s Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili expressed her firm belief that the Sahakyan-Bibilov meeting must have been organized by “forces that have serious and far-reaching plans.”
Simultaneously, on May 4 Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement, according to which the ministry “reaffirms its support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and does not recognize the so-called ‘Parliamentary Elections’ held in Nagorno-Karabakh.” Although Georgia, along with other states traditionally does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state, this statement was a unique response to Sahakyan’s meeting with a high representative of Georgia’s breakaway region. Generally, Armenia’s political parties have not criticized Sahakyan for his informal ties with Bibilov. Moreover, the head of the Heritage Faction, Rubik Hakobyan, stated that Georgia’s reluctance to recognize the elections in Stepanakert and its support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity indicates that Armenia should adjust its position towards Georgia to resemble that of Georgian authorities.
However, Prime Minister Abrahamyan’s short visit to Batumi and the outcomes of the diplomatic negotiations clearly show that the two governments have quickly overcome the tensions caused by the meeting. Armenia and Georgia are currently developing their relations especially in the energy field, and the visit of the Minister of Transport and Communications served to further enhance bilateral cooperation. In December 2014, Minister Beglaryan and Georgia’s Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili signed an agreement on the construction of a new border bridge, the Friendship Bridge, which will bolster bilateral commercial ties.
The two states are also planning to build a fourth high-voltage transmission line connecting their power grids. This estimated US$ 105 million project is projected to enhance mutual electricity supplies. Similarly, trade turnover between Armenia and Georgia is increasing. In 2014, Armenian foreign direct investments (FDI) in Georgia grew by 139 percent, compared to 2013.
Experts believe that Abrahamyan’s recent working visit signaled continuity in cordial relations and high level cooperation between Georgia and Armenia. Johnny Melikian, an expert on Georgian studies, stressed that “this visit was a message to all states that thought there was serious crisis between the two countries.” The expert explained that these kind of incidents always take place in interstate relations, but this one could not affect Georgia-Armenia relations for the worse.
During the working visit, the Prime Ministers agreed to hold the next meeting in Javakheti in order to discuss the problems that exist in the region.
By Arslan Sabyrbekov (05/27/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Kyrgyzstan’s political parties are aligning for the upcoming parliamentary elections. On May 21, the two political parties Butun Kyrgyzstan (United Kyrgyzstan) and Emgek (Labor) officially announced their unification, despite differences in political program and ideology. During their joint press conference, the leaders of the newly created party “Butun Kyrgyzstan Emgek” stated that they have agreed on all the essential positions. According to the party’s co-chairman Adakhan Madumarov, “we share the same values and hold one single position on all the critical issues. Our political party holds a strong view that Kyrgyzstan should go back to a pure presidential form of governance since the current semi-parliamentarian system has divided our country and led to anarchy, with politicians bearing no responsibility for their deeds.” The party’s other co-chairman Askar Salymbekov, an oligarch and owner of the country’s largest market Dordoi, added that his party received a number of proposals to unite with other political forces but found a strong compromise only with “Butun Kyrgyzstan.”
The union of these two relatively big political parties received varying reactions from local expert circles, with many predicting its success in the upcoming parliamentary elections in November 2015. During the last elections in 2010, Madumarov’s political party “Butun Kyrgyzstan” almost made it to the national parliament, lacking about 1 percent of the votes to overcome the required threshold. In 2011, Madumarov, a former journalist and a close ally of the ousted president Bakiev, former speaker of parliament and head of the country’s Security Council ran as a presidential candidate, receiving 15 percent of the votes and coming second in the race. Following the presidential elections, Madumarov remained an outspoken critic of the country’s political leadership until he was nominated as deputy Secretary General of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States, a decision that was viewed by many as a sign of loyalty to Kyrgyzstan’s political leadership. Despite numerous claims that Madumarov would not participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections, he officially stepped from his position as deputy SG of the Turkic Council and returned to Kyrgyzstan in mid-May.
According to political commentators, the newly formed political union has a good chance of entering the national parliament. The former Bakiev ally Madumarov comes from southern Kyrgyzstan and continues to enjoy widespread support there. His party ally Salymbekov comes from the northern part of the country and his substantial financial wealth will allow for an impressive nationwide election campaign.
The newly formed political party constitutes a union between two political forces guided by short-term political interests. In the words of political analyst Mars Sariev, “the lack of program or ideological commonalities between them might endanger the party’s existence after the election period.” Other prominent members of the new party include Kyrgyzstan’s former Prime Minister Amangeldi Muraliev, former speaker of Parliament Altai Borubaev and a number of other formerly prominent state figures.
The tendency to merge political parties ahead of the parliamentary elections started a year ago. Last fall, the political parties Respublika and Ata-Jurt formed a new union, guided by similar regional and financial factors. According to MP Daniyar Terbishaliev, the political parties are at this stage preoccupied with forming their party lists. At a roundtable held in Bishkek, he stated that anyone willing to be in the so-called “golden ten” – the top 10 candidates on the party’s election list – must allocate from US$ 50,000 up to 1 million to the party fund, depending to their popularity among the electorate. Terbishaliev said this tremendous degree of corruption in the formation of party lists can only be regulated through tougher regulation of election funds and necessary adjustments to the law on elections.
In early May, Kyrgyzstan finally introduced new amendments to its election code. As predicted, the threshold for political parties to enter the parliament was increased from 7 to 9 percent, forcing political parties to merge. Also, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Justice, 200 registered political parties exist in Kyrgyzstan, a country with a population of 5 million.
By Eka Janashia (05/13/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On May 8, Georgia’s parliament approved the reshuffled government with 87 against 38 votes. It was the third set of changes impacting the cabinet composition since the breakup of the Georgian Dream (GD) ruling coalition in the fall of 2014.
On November 5, 2014, one of the founding members – Our Georgia-Free Democrats (OGFD) party – left the coalition. The party’s leader and then Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, along with the OGFD Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Euro-Atlantic Integration, lost their posts instigating subsequent changes in the lineup of the cabinet (see the 11/11/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst).
Shortly thereafter, another regrouping affecting senior and mid-level government officials as well as the GD leadership, took place allegedly due to former Prime Minister and oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili’s loss of confidence in his protégé PM Irakli Gharibashvili. The PM’s trustees – the Minister of Interior, GD’s Executive Secretary, the heads of the Special State Protection and State Security Services, and the Deputy Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure (MRDI) were replaced by Ivanishvili’s cadres. On April 21, the Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure, Davit Shavliashvili, left the post reportedly for health reasons and was substituted by his Deputy Minister, Ivanishvili’s close associate Nodar Javakhishvili (see the 01/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst).
A week later, the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Protection, Elguja Khokrishvili and the Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs Levan Kipiani also resigned. Republican MP Gigla Agulashvili, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Agriculture and Tariel Khechikashvili, co-owner of one of Georgia’s largest auto traders Iberia Business Group, were respectively named for the ministers’ posts.
What came as a surprise was the nomination of the chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on European Integration, Republican Tina Khidasheli as Minister of Defense. Although Khidasheli allegedly has long been at odds with Gharibashvili, she replaces the PM’s confidant Mindia Janelidze on the post.
Through these alterations, the government lost a third of its members and according to Georgia’s constitution, the new cabinet initially needs the president’s signature and then a confidence vote in parliament. The president is not entitled to block or reject ministerial nominees but on May 1, President Giorgi Margvelashvili used another constitutional lever and delayed the signing and submission of the new cabinet nomination to parliament to the end of the statutory seven-day period.
“As the commander-in-chief, I want to ask a question: how frequently should we replace Defense Ministers?” Margvelashvili said and suggested that the PM and parliament to go through the proposed composition of government members once more. As an immediate response, Gharibashvili defiantly issued decrees of the appointment of nominated ministers. On May 8, the reshuffled cabinet won a confidence vote in the parliament.
The parliament approved a renewed cabinet in late July 2014 and after less than year, the government again needs to restore its mandate through the legislative body. While that reshuffle carried a much more cosmetic character, the regrouping conducted since November 2014 is indicative of the internal contradictions that GD has undergone after OGFD’s exit.
Several factors have contributed to undermining GD. Since fall 2014, Georgia’s national currency, the Lari (GEL) has devaluated, dampening the overall social and economic climate in the country. A considerable share of the electorate has withdrawn its support for GD for this reason. The GEL crisis was coupled with two important events: OGFD’s exit from the coalition and Ivanishvili’s endeavor to introduce new confidantes in the government, allegedly due to his changing attitude towards the once favored Gharibashvili.
OGFD leader Alasania has publicly accused Ivanishvili of departing from Georgia’s pro-western course and thwarting a crucially important defense deal with France, likely as an effect of Russia’s objection to it (see the 04/15/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst).
The coalition was forced to reject Alasania’s accusations and bring to the front the Republican Party (RP), which is aside from OGFD GD’s other founding member with a pro-western reputation. RP holds six out of 87 GD mandates in parliament. Despite its small number of seats in the legislative body, the party after the recent reshuffle enjoys three ministerial portfolios – Environment, Defense and Reintegration. Moreover, Defense Minister Khidasheli is the spouse of Parliamentary Speaker Davit Usupashvili.
Through the move, GD hopes to appease Georgia’s western partners and simultaneously mollify the electorate supporting Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. Ivanishvili’s need to retrench Gharibashvili’s clout has in fact provided RP with an opportunity to increase its sway in the government. Given RP’s partnership and ideological closeness with OGFD, it has previously been speculated that the two parties could unite in opposition. In this scenario, RP and OGFD would form a new coalition at the detriment of GD but at this stage, RP’s leaders have chosen a different course of action.
The recent government reshuffle is part of a continuous internal redistribution of power within the ruling coalition, rather than an attempt to empower the executive team to deal with the collapsing economy.
By Arslan Sabyrbekov (05/13/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On May 5, Kyrgyzstan marked the 22nd anniversary of its constitution. In a relatively short period, the country’s basic law went through numerous changes, with the state remaining inefficient. The changes primarily aimed to centralize and strengthen the vertical of power of the first two ousted Presidents. Kyrgyzstan’s current constitution, adopted via a nationwide referendum in the aftermath of the April 2010, has been an exception. Ye the country’s prominent political circles recently suggested holding another referendum in the fall, together with the parliamentary elections.
Kyrgyzstan’s first constitution as an independent state was adopted in 1993 after two years of heated debates in the country’s “legendary Parliament,” as it was termed at the time. Already in 1994 the constitution faced new amendments, under the slogan of creating two chambers of the Parliament, but in reality massively increasing the power of the country’s first President Askar Akaev. A series of amendments were again introduced in 1996, 1998 and 2007 under the reign of the country’s second President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who just like his predecessor, was keen to manipulate the basic law to increase the authority of his own regime.
In 2010, Kyrgyzstan did what then seemed to be unthinkable in Central Asia by adopting a constitution that limited the power of the head of state, in a region where personalization of power is the rule. Moreover, with the objective of preventing further manipulation and ensuring a form of stability to the new system, a Constitutional council comprised of 75 members decided to introduce a special clause, banning any changes to the basic law until 2020. After less than five years, the country’s power holders are again eager to change it.
The talks on amending the 2010 constitution were activated a year ago, with some politicians advocating it from time to time. During a meeting of the country’s Council on Judicial Reform last October, President Atambayev also supported the idea of changing certain articles in the constitution, as he put it, “if they are necessary to carry out full-fledged reform of the judicial sector.” Without much subsequent public deliberation ever since, the initiators have presented a new set of amendments on April 28, stirring heated discussion and opposition from expert and civil society circles.
According to local political experts, the initiatives severely weaken the independence of parliamentarians. Under the proposed amendment, parliamentary factions can vote for early termination of the duties of individual MPs, if so proposed by the governing body of their respective political party. The initiators of the change justify this amendment, arguing that voters vote for a party rather than individual candidates. Yet according to political analyst Tamerlan Ibraimov, “in the Kyrgyz political context, voters first look at the individuals who are in the party list and then decide which party to vote for. The amendment is simply an effort to establish a system of party dictatorship and will not increase the efficiency of the legislature whatsoever, as claimed by its initiators.”
Moreover, the proposed changes strengthen the role of the Prime Minister. He will be in a position to dismiss members of the government and directly appoint and dismiss heads of regional administrations, therefore clearly weakening the role and independence of local self-governments. This initiative has already led to speculations that it serves the interests of the current President, who could after his term in office become the country’s next Prime Minister with extensive powers and no term limits, in close resemblance of the Kremlin scenario. Under the country’s current constitution, the president serves one six-year term with no possibility for reelection. President Atambayev’s term in office expires already in 2017.
Whatever the real motives are, a new amendment to the constitution will hardly improve pluralism in Kyrgyzstan’s political life. Instead, it will strengthen the “vertical of power” and will gradually diminish the room for political competition, along with general legal culture. In more than two decades of independence, the country’s political elite has become accustomed to blaming the constitution for their own lack of capacity to launch public reforms. Therefore, the real problem lies not with the constitution, but with the unwillingness of the power holders to abide by it and their constant efforts to redraw it for their own benefit.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.