Kyrgyz President Takes on Parliament

Deputies stunned as President Bakiev tells them to stop obstructing his policymaking, and to clean up their own act at the same time.

Kyrgyz President Takes on Parliament

Deputies stunned as President Bakiev tells them to stop obstructing his policymaking, and to clean up their own act at the same time.

Saturday, 11 February, 2006
Members of the Kyrgyz parliament have reacted angrily after the country’s president Kurmanbek Bakiev told them to put their house in order and stop meddling in matters that are none of their business.

It is the first time Bakiev has openly challenged the legislature, and many deputies say it is an attempt to intimidate them into silence. Many of his remarks were unfair, they say.

In an address to the parliament, the Jogorku Kenesh, on February 3, President Bakiev accused parliament of not cooperating with him and his government, and instead spending their time whipping up hysteria over matters well outside their proper remit.

The parliament, he said, is “turning into an arena for political squabbles, and becoming the source of an atmosphere of instability in the country”.

He said a small faction of deputies, supported by speaker Omurbek Tekebaev, was openly seeking confrontation with the executive.

“In the regions, people are asking why parliament hinders the work of the president and prime minister,” he told those assembled.

He went on to refer to the murders of three members of parliament killed in separate incidents over the last seven months - Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev, Bayaman Erkinbaev and most recently Tynychbek Akmatbaev. In the latter two cases, deputies had raised concerns about the level of security afforded to their colleagues. But Bakiev accused them of using such tragedies to score political points.

“Any event, even one as tragic as the death of your colleagues, is used to unleash political hysteria, even though there was no political motive behind these sensational murders, [as was clear] from the very beginning and subsequently shown by the investigations,” he said.

He also rounded on deputies for their intervention in a recent dispute between Kyrgyzstan’s interior ministry and National Security Service, when police subordinate to the former arrested a member of the latter.

“Since when has parliament started interfering in cases which are still at the investigation stage?” he asked. “Why are the [procedural] laws being grossly violated by the same body which creates the laws? Accusations have been levelled against individuals not just prior to trial, but also before an investigation has been carried out. Deputies are disclosing information which has not been established by the investigative bodies themselves.”

He issued a direct challenge to them, “Are you planning to assume power? We [the executive] will deal with those who break the law ourselves.”

Turning to parliament’s own work, Bakiev told its members, “Since this parliament began work on March 27, only 142 bills have been passed, and you knock back one out of five bills with some objection. Ever since April, you’ve been sabotaging the passing of the privatisation programme. It’s now February, and the budget has not yet been passed.

“But not only does the Jogorku Kenesh do this badly, it also tries to assume the role of head of state. Some deputies behave as if they were prime ministers, and try to take charge of industries. Neither the people nor the constitution asks this of you. I think that you need to put your ambitions to one side, and do your job.”

Aside from their behaviour inside parliament, the president said some members were abusing their position for personal gain, “You should be less involved in the vodka business - in violation of the laws governing deputies – you should stop breaking the law, and you should give up your businesses, whether legal or illegal.

“Stop using your powers as parliamentarians to fight off your [business] rivals, and you’ll sleep with an easier conscience.”

The list of alleged sins concluded with the accusation that parliamentarians debate their own expenses behind closed doors, exploiting the secrecy to bump up their allowances and buy apartments and cars at discount rates.

“I won’t sign such bills,” he warned them. “In any democratic country these bills would mean the immediate dismissal of parliament.”

Leaving his audience stunned, Bakiev immediately left the chamber.

Afterwards, many described his speech as a threat to dissolve parliament. “If you continue to criticise the regime, I will dismiss you,” was how deputy Azimbek Beknazarov summed up Bakiev’s remarks. Beknazarov served as prosecutor general for a few months last year, but has been critical of the Bakiev administration since he was sacked in September.

The March revolution which brought Bakiev and allies like Beknazarov to power last year was sparked by protests over elections to the current legislature, and at the time many in the opposition wanted the body to be dismissed and a fresh ballot to be held. But after some indecision, the incoming government decided to retain the parliament as it was – presumably to avoid further political turmoil. The executive and legislature have coexisted uneasily since then, a relationship not helped by the kind of political scandals cited by Bakiev, nor by parliament’s rejection of six out of 16 names on a cabinet list he submitted for approval in September.

Parliamentary Speaker Omurbek Tekebaev told IWPR, “I thought that he would make a breakthrough speech and set out specific tasks for deputies which would unite us. But unfortunately, [all we got] was his anger over parliament’s discussion of the circumstances of [SNB officer Aldayar] Ismankulov’s arrest. I didn’t think this matter would provoke the president so much, or that he’d assign so much importance to it.”

Tekebaev rejected the accusation that his colleagues were acting outside their mandate, saying, “Parliament has not once gone outside the remit established by the constitution.”

He said the speech amounted to intimidation, but added, “It may have this effect on young deputies, but I won’t be intimidated.”

Deputy Melis Eshimkanov was even more critical of the president’s speech, saying, “He distorted facts, and a lot of what he said in his speech was not true….

“He had a chance to resolve all areas of conflict among the prime minister, parliament and political forces. But instead he only aggravated the problem by trying to intimidate parliament.”

Eshimkanov warned that things could only get worse, “A second revolution is now a real possibility, as is civil strife.”

Dooronbek Sadyrbaev, another member of parliament, summed up his colleagues’ angry mood more succinctly, as “reminiscent of a [Communist] Party branch meeting on a Soviet-era collective farm…. They want to put the deputies in their place and shut them up”.

He added a warning of his own, “If our deputies had been given a chance to reply to Bakiev or raise objections, he would have gone very pale. But the deputies do have something to say in reply and thy will do so soon.”

Bakiev’s press secretary Nadyr Momunov was dismissive of parliament’s agitated reaction to the speech, telling IWPR, “The president’s opponents unfortunately only heard what they wanted to hear…. Naturally, everything that comes from the mouth of your enemy cannot be seen as anything but a threat.”

Momunov insisted that the president had upheld parliament’s office and pledged to work with it until its term runs out in spring 2010.

Commenting on the stand-off between parliament and president, Muratbek Imanaliev, head of the Justice and Progress party and a professor at the American University in Central Asia, said, “In all the time that the new president has been in power, this is the first speech in which the issue of power has been raised. The president announced with deadly seriousness that he is the boss in this country.”

In Imanaliev’s view, as well as telling parliament and government to stick to their own business and stay away from political infighting, Bakiev was also sending out a wider message, “One senses a crude appeal to the public to support him.”

Leila Saralaeva is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.

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