Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kyrgyz Politician Tries to Dissolve Parliament

Veteran opposition figure wants an end to the controversial legislature, but the timing is all wrong for the new adminstration.
By Leila Saralaeva

Calls by a leading political figure in Kyrgyzstan for the dissolution of a parliament he says lacks legitimacy are likely to go unheeded because the country’s new rulers want continuity above all else.

Topchubek Turgunaliev announced on July 12 that Erkindik, the political party he heads, was about to start a petition in support of dissolving parliament, which was elected in two rounds of voting in late February and mid-March.

“Most of the current of deputies are the product of the old regime, so they no longer genuinely represent the people’s will,” he said. He wants to see fresh elections held using the proportional majority system rather than the current constituency-based method.

Under the constitution, a petition needs 300,000 signatures before parliament can be dissolved. “Whole groups of Kyrgyzstan citizens are now responding to this idea,” said Turgunaliev. “I think that in a month and a half we will have collected the required number of signatures.”

There will be many people in Kyrgyzstan who share his view that the then president Askar Akaev rigged the elections so as to pack the new parliament with loyal supporters. Anger at the conduct of the elections sparked local protests which eventually coalesced into a protest movement that, on March 24, ousted Akaev and installed an interim government.

Erkindik was part of the People’s Movement of Kyrgyzstan, PMK, an umbrella group of opposition parties which was instrumental in Akaev’s defeat. The PMK leader, Kurmanbek Bakiev, was elected Kyrgyz president on July 10, after three months doing the job on an acting basis. But although he comes from the same anti-Akaev opposition which protested about the elections, he is not likely to agree with Turgunaliev that the contentious parliament should be dismissed.

One reason is that after a period of uncertainty, Kyrgyzstan’s new rulers decided they could after all live with parliament in spite of the flawed election.

As protesters stormed government buildings and Akaev fled, it was the outgoing legislature that convened to grant legitimacy to the emerging interim administration. It named Bakiev as acting prime minister, which also made him acting president in Akaev’s absence. But a week later, after the old and new parliaments had held rival meetings in different chambers, it was the latter that emerged the winner - and once recognised, it in turn formally endorsed Bakiev as acting leader.

Turgunaliev’s implacable hostility to President Akaev and the parliament he engineered is understandable. Initially a supporter of the newly-independent state’s first leader, he turned against him in the early Nineties, and was then jailed repeatedly on a range of charges including corruption and providing the “ideological inspiration” for an alleged coup plot. He was finally released in 2001, following international protests at what were widely regarded as politically-motivated convictions.

But he insists his current campaign is not an attempt to create further instability in the already shaky political climate. “We are offering a constitutional path,” he said. “Our party believes that after a revolution, every branch of authority needs to be reformed, and especially the parliament.”

Other members of the PMK disagree, saying it is all very well to stand up for principles, but the volatile political situation dictates a certain amount of pragmatism. “Dissolving parliament is the right question but put at the wrong time,” said Jypar Jeksheev, head of the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan.

“None of the other parties support this idea,” said Viktor Chernomorets, a PMK leader. “After the revolution, Bakiev’s regime had to recognise the legitimacy of this illegitimate parliament so as to stop further bloodshed. This is not the time to dissolve parliament – it could cause protests and instability.”

Klara Ajybekova, who leads the Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan, also part of the PMK, agrees. “This parliament should have been dissolved immediately after the revolution, because most of the deputies won their seats as a result of total corruption. But it was not done immediately, and the time for it has now passed.”

Emil Aliev, deputy leader of the Arnamys party, which is not part of the PMK but whose leader Felix Kulov supported Bakiev in the presidential election, suggested that Turgunaliev’s petition was merely a promotional stunt even if the basic principles behind it were right.

“Those politicians who are gathering signatures in order to dissolve parliament are trying to win cheap populism with the people. I have visited five regions of Kyrgyzstan, and the people there do not support this idea,” said Aliev.

According to political analyst Nur Omarov, pragmatic considerations are the reason why President Bakiev cannot now accede to Turgunaliev’s demands. Although the presidential ballot marked a significant step towards restoring stability, the country is by no means stable, and Bakiev needs parliamentary approval in order to move things forward.

Dissolution would result in “stalemate”, said Omarov. “There would be no one to approve the new government and the constitutional reforms. Months would go by before new parliamentary elections are held, and all this time Bakiev would lack a legitimate cabinet of ministers.”

Another fear articulated by both officials and politicians is that – however valid the reason – any unnecessary political upset such as an election is best avoided in this dangerous transitional period.

“Any attempt to dissolve parliament now would have very serious consequences,” said parliamentary deputy Kubatbek Baibolov. He recalled that the March revolution was followed by weeks of what he calls “violent coup syndrome”, where groups of protestors with varying grievances would invade official buildings at will.

“Those who are now working to bring down this parliament are politically blind. We must reconcile ourselves with what happened, so as to avoid major cataclysms, and we must strive to achieve higher aims such as stability and public security,” he said.

Edil Baisalov, who heads the non-government Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, thinks parliament and government will be able to get along, whatever their individual members may think of one another, “Even though the deputies are Akaev supporters, they have nevertheless been able to prove their revolutionary credentials. A political compromise has been found between the new regime and the new parliament, so the latter will continue in existence.

“But regime and parliament will continue to trade accusations of illegitimacy for some time to come.”

Leila Saralaeva is an independent journalist in Bishkek