Kyrgyzstan: Reforms on the Way?

Kyrgyz politicians are divided over whether President Akaev's bold reform move is really genuine.

Kyrgyzstan: Reforms on the Way?

Kyrgyz politicians are divided over whether President Akaev's bold reform move is really genuine.

A working group set up by President Akaev to come up with political reforms, after a series of public demonstrations led to increased calls for his resignation, recommended this week that he relinquish sole charge over the appointment of his government and judiciary.

Some politicians believe the president's reform bid is a genuine effort to address public concerns, while others suggest that it's merely a cynical move to ensure he remains in a position of power after his term in office expires in three years' time.

The president announced the start of the constitutional reform process on August 26, following growing public discontent sparked by the March 17 deaths of six civilians at the hands of police. They had been taking part in a demonstration in the southern Aksy district against the brief imprisonment of opposition parliamentary deputy Azimbek Beknazarov.

The unrest culminated earlier this month in a mass march from Aksy to Bishkek, which fizzled out several hundred kilometres short of the capital, when the opposition agreed to the peaceful dispersal of the demonstrators in return for power-sharing concessions.

Acknowledging the need for reforms, Akaev said at the time the country had passed the stage when strong presidential power was needed and agreed that some authority should be transferred to government and parliament.

Parliamentary deputy Omurbek Tekebaev, leader of the Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party and deputy chairman of the working group the president set up to look at reforms, said, "The president has learned a good lesson from the recent confrontations, and he has realised it is useless to keep manipulating public opinion."

He added that, for the first time in his presidency, Akaev had been faced with an angry protesters who would not be prepared to back down in the face of government pressure - and were even willing to sacrifice their lives for their cause.

The proposals of the constitutional working group - which included Akaev, representatives from government, the opposition and the public - were announced on October 2, and are now to be debated. They can only be adopted through a referendum or a vote in the Jogorku Kenesh (parliament).

The group's main proposal that Akaev allow parliament to have a say in the appointment of his government and judiciary has been welcomed by some politicians, but others suspect that its an attempt by him to retain some political power beyond 2005 when his presidency ends.

Under Kyrgyz law, Akaev can run for parliament after his term in office expires, but his supporters are now pushing for legal changes granting him life-long membership of the assembly - so that he can get back into power without the inconvenience of being elected first.

Adakhan Madumarov, one of the deputies who have been calling for Akaev's resignation, said Akaev is likely to try to become parliamentary speaker, as the constitutional proposals would enhance the post's authority. "Over the last 12 years, President Akaev has skilfully managed to extend his term twice. He is now making another political manoeuvre to stay in power," Madumarov said.

The renowned newspaper columnist Alym Toktomushev said that Akaev is likely to approve the working group's recommendations but stall on their implementation until his term ends. "The reforms will drag on to the beginning of the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2005. Then Akaev will just move to the post of speaker," he told IWPR.

Government representatives dismiss claims that the reform process is merely a device to gain a respite from the demonstrations, or to engineer a way for Akaev to cling to power for life.

First deputy prime minister Kurmanbek Osmonov told IWPR that constitutional reform was a logical continuation of the president's policies for advancing democratic change. He said the recent political situation simply hastened the decision to move on to the next stage of the process.

"Akaev is not the sort of person who would immediately move to the post of parliamentary speaker when his term ends. You shouldn't forget that he is the only president in Central Asia who has announced firmly that he will not put himself forward at the next elections," said Osmonov.

Media commentators believe it is still too early to pass judgement on the reform package, and are advising caution. Rina Prijivoit, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Moya stolitsa - novosti, warned, "There are still plenty of shady areas, and there may well be unpleasant surprises in the final text of our latest constitution."

Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC stringer in Bishkek

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