Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Kyrgyzstan Debates Constitutional Change

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By Arslan Sabyrbekov (10/29/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst) 

Initiatives to amend Kyrgyzstan’s constitution, adopted in the aftermath of the April 2010 events and transforming the country into the first semi-parliamentarian state in Central Asia, are again on the rise. In the past month, a number of prominent politicians have made statements ranging from proposing additional amendments to completely changing the constitution. During last week’s meeting of the Council on Judicial Reform, Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev also supported the idea of changing certain articles in the constitution, “if they are necessary to carry out full-fledged reform of the judicial sector.”

This fall, two members of parliament have expressed their desire to launch constitutional amendments. The first initiative group led by MP Felix Kulov, leader of the Ar-Namys party, proposed removing the suffix “stan” and adding an “el” in the country’s name through a nationwide referendum. According to him, the resulting “Kyrgyz El Republic” would make use of the Turkic-origin “el,” that means “nation” in Kyrgyz. Kulov’s proposal received varying judgments, ranging from the party leader’s desire to attract public attention ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections to his attempt of drawing support from the so-called “national-patriotic groups.”

According to Atyr Abdrahmatova, leader of the civic union For Reforms and Results, Kulov’s proposal has little to do with changing the name of the country. Instead, Abdrahmatova claims that the suggestion was simply a pretext for probing how the Kyrgyz public would react to the idea of amending the constitution through yet another referendum. If the public agrees to such a proposal, the country’s political forces could then add additional questions to the agenda of the referendum, such as for example a different power redistribution between the President, Government and Parliament. This would indeed bring Kyrgyzstan back to the times of the first two ousted Presidents, when the country’s constitution was changed numerous times in favor of one office, turning it into a constant subject of political bargaining between the stakeholders.

Kyrgyzstan’s current constitution, adopted in June 2010, contains a special clause banning any constitutional changes until 2020. This provision was introduced in order to ensure some measure of stability to the country’s semi-parliamentarian form of government that the new constitution introduced. But last month, MP Karganbek Samakov, who has recently left the Ata Meken faction, issued a draft law repealing the ban. In his words, the “constitution is a living and moving body and it needs to be changed when necessary. Especially now, some of its rules are often violated, are not always enforced and are contradictory in their content.” These initiatives of parliamentarians and the President’s readiness to discuss constitutional amendments are obviously not coincidental and prepare the ground for the next possible modification of the country’s constitution.

Local experts skeptically perceive the president’s apparent willingness to change the constitution as a means for conducting judiciary reform and instead suspect that he maneuvers to remain in office beyond his current term. According to political scientist Uran Botobekov, the President might be preparing to run for reelection in 2017, which is not possible under the current constitution. However, in his address to the Council on Judicial Reform last week, President Atambayev clearly stated that he has no intention to change the country’s constitution in his favor as his predecessors did and will not become an authoritarian leader. Time will show if words will be kept.

Indeed, it is questionable whether adding a presidium to the Supreme Court by launching a nationwide referendum will result in any effective reforms of the judicial branch, which remains dependent on the will of political actors. The recent release of former politicians accused of heavy corruption deals speak in favor of this judgment. The country’s political elite commonly blames the constitution for their inability or lack of political will to conduct meaningful reforms. This constitution adopted only four years ago is unlikely to pose an exception. After more than two decades of independence, Kyrgyzstan is still engaged in a debate over choosing the most suitable system of governance.

The author writes in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not represent the views of the organization for which he works.

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