Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Kyrgyzstan Debates Electoral System Reform

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By Arslan Sabyrbekov (02/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)

In October 2015, the second parliamentary elections under the 2010 Constitution are scheduled to take place in Kyrgyzstan. The country is in the midst of debating reform of its electoral system with political forces trying to define the “rules of the game” in their own interests. According to the recommendations of the Venice Commission, amendments to the electoral system must be introduced at least one year prior to the elections and Kyrgyzstan is already behind schedule.

The working group on reforming the existing electoral system, chaired by the head of the presidential administration Daniyar Narymbaev, recently issued a statement that all the amendments will be finalized and submitted to the parliament in February at the latest. The initiative on dividing the country into 9 constituencies was already adopted in the first reading. Other initiatives concern the formation of the voters’ list, the bill on conducting elections on the basis of biometric data, automation of the entire electoral process – from issuing ballots to counting the end election results as well as bills related to increasing the size of the parties’ required electoral fund and raising the electoral threshold to 10 percent from the current 5. These last two initiatives have led to widespread discussions in the country’s expert and political circles. According to the leader of the country’s ruling Social Democratic Party and one of the initiators of these norms, Chynybai Tursunbekov, “these initiatives will foster the country’s stability by getting rid of the smaller political forces and having 3 or 4 political parties in the parliament with a stable electorate and political capital.”

However, the country’s prominent civil society activists take a different position and perceive these initiatives as an effort to further consolidate power and another drawback in the country’s democratic development. “We should keep the threshold at 5 percent. Doubling the threshold will definitely remove the chance for smaller political parties to compete and the country risks ending up with one or two political parties in the parliament, like during the times of the first two ousted presidents,” noted Dinara Oshurakhunova, leader of the Bishkek-based “Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society.” Indeed, even the last parliamentary elections of 2010 with a threshold of 5 percent showed that this number is still high for Kyrgyzstan. Then, none of the political parties currently represented in the country’s legislature managed to pass the proposed 10 percent threshold, making the warning that the state machine could be used for the benefit of certain political forces in the upcoming elections quite legitimate. In 2010, only 5 parties out of 29 competing were able to enter parliament and represented less than 50 percent of the electorate.

According to local experts, this initiative has already led to the formation of unions between several major political parties: Ata Jurt and Respublika as well as Butun Kyrgyzstan and Bir Bol. According to political analyst Marat Kazakpaev, “these unions are not guided by ideological commonalities but rather by short-term opportunistic interests. This in turn damages Kyrgyzstan’s path towards developing a stronger parliamentarian system.” Kazakpaev has also noted that the initiative to increase the required election fund will make it impossible for smaller political parties to compete, forcing them to unite with others who have sufficient financial resources. Currently, only a few parties can manage to raise the required sum of 10 million KGS or around US$ 165,000.

In the meantime, the government is actively collecting biometric data on citizens, arguing that this will help holding the upcoming parliamentary elections in a fair and transparent manner. However, critics of the initiative see political interest behind it, claiming that citizens who have failed to submit their biometric data will be deprived of their right to vote, just like in the last presidential elections where hundreds of citizens were not included in the voters’ list and could not therefore cast their ballots.

In addition, electoral reform and especially its automation requires significant financial resources. Despite recent drawbacks in Kyrgyzstan’s democratic development, the European Union has expressed its readiness to allocate 10 million Euros for these purposes, along with Switzerland providing another US$ 2 million.

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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