Kyrgyz Parliament Under Threat

President Akaev seems intent on exerting greater control over the Kyrgyz parliament

Kyrgyz Parliament Under Threat

President Akaev seems intent on exerting greater control over the Kyrgyz parliament

President Akaev appears to be hoping to overhaul Kyrgyzstan's bicameral parliamentary system later this year, in an apparent effort to tighten his grip on the country.

A planned referendum - one of Akaev's favoured methods of expanding his power base - will ask voters to decide whether the Jogorku Kenesh, Supreme Council, should be reduced from two chambers to one.

Akaev claims the cost of the bicameral system has become too burdensome, but his opponents say this is just a pretext for acquiring more control over parliament. A single assembly, the argue, would be filled with deputies loyal to the president.

Opposition deputies already complain that they have been rendered politically impotent. Most believe they have become mere tools of President Akaev's government.

Since the creation of the bicameral system in 1994, a series of referenda and amendments to the constitution have reduced the Jogorku Kenesh to a theatre of infighting, presidential toadying and fear.

This is in complete contrast to the early nineties when the 12th Supreme Soviet, convened between independence in 1991 and 1994 when it was dissolved, wielded real power. Back then, Akaev frequently addressed parliament, openly defending government policy.

The assembly, which has been called 'legendary' for creating the legislative framework for the newly independent state, suggested the country was intent on following a democratic path.

Legendary or not, parliament and Akaev were to fall out over the former's eagerness to stamp out graft. Its downfall came after a parliamentary inquiry accused the government of bribery and corruption. The findings proved so harmful to the authorities that Akaev dissolved the assembly.

The president created two weaker chambers out of the former Supreme Soviet: the Legislative Assembly and the Assembly of Popular Representatives. More powers were given over to the latter, made up of deputies who were also members of Akaev's cabinet.

Effectively, this meant that they carried out the executive's will in all main policy areas including state finance. Parliamentary autonomy was soon eroded.

Both assemblies are now financially dependent on the president and a 1998 referendum deprived deputies of their immunity. Not only has this affected their status, but also their freedom of expression.

The government has other, more overt means of encouraging conformity. Continual pressure is brought to bear on deputies in both assemblies. Legislative Assembly deputy Tursunbai Bakir Uulu said "attempts to pressure the deputies are relentless. Relatives are continually harrassed and even charged with bogus crimes".

Also, the many entrepreneurs in the assemblies are made aware that their livelihoods depend on their loyalty to Akaev. Voting is open and by name so the government knows full well who has complied with its wishes and who needs to be dealt with.

Only when it comes to dealing with radical parties like the Communist Party, the only real organised opposition, does Akaev tread carefully.

His decision to do this is based on pragmatism. When he's criticised by the West, he can always argue that the alternative to him is a return to a communism.

Some deputies say the Legislative Assembly is now so impotent that it has been reduced to rubber-stamping often flawed legislation proposed by Akaev. "In practice, the overwhelming majority of the laws do not work and this is not only because they are distanced from real life, but also because there is inadequate parliamentary control," said Legislative Assembly deputy Tursunbai Bakir Uulu.

Kyrgystan is a very different place today than in 1994. It has changed from being a parliamentary to a presidential republic. The constitution has been amended to give the president considerable powers thus rendering the need for a bicameral system redundant.

But parliament has been so severely disenfranchised that it is of no consequence whether it has one or two chambers.

Joomart Otorbaev, leader of the pro-Akaev My Country Party, has said the bicameral system was set up "in an attempt to build legislative power and define what form of governance should hold sway in the republic - presidential or parliamentary". Clearly, presidential has won out.

Igor Grebenshchikov is a regular IWPR contributor

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