Yet Another Constitution for Kyrgyzstan

The balance of power as set out in the constitution appears to have swung back towards President Bakiev.

Yet Another Constitution for Kyrgyzstan

The balance of power as set out in the constitution appears to have swung back towards President Bakiev.

Two months after a compromise constitution ended the tense standoff between Kyrgyzstan’s government and its opponents, parliament has passed an amended version handing back significant powers to President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

On January 15, the president signed off on the latest version of the constitution, passed by legislators on December 30. The document reverses several changes made in the November constitution, so that the president regains his authority to name a prime minister and also to make appointments to the powerful post of regional governor.

Many deputies were clearly unhappy at passing a second set of revisions so soon, but felt they had no option as Bakiev had put a gun to their heads by threatening to dissolve parliament unless they accepted his terms.

Omurbek Abdrakhmanov, coordinator of the opposition Movement For Reforms, told a press conference later that Bakiev had “behaved like the boss of a collective farm”.

“It was unethical of him to threaten the deputies with dissolution,” he added.

The constitution which pro-opposition and pro-government deputies hammered out in November curtailed the Kyrgyz president’s powers by allowing the winning party to pick a prime minister and cabinet.

The argument Bakiev made at the December 30 parliamentary session was that the document was drafted too hastily and needed further revision.

After the president signed that document into law on November 9, the initial arrangement was that both the government and the parliament would remain in place for the time being. This was done in the interests of stability, since the constitution envisages a larger parliament elected differently from the old one, with the government formed by the winning party rather than the president. A change to either body, neither of which matches the prescriptions laid out in the constitution, would thus have major implications for the other.

But the December 19 resignation of Prime Minister Felix Kulov and his cabinet precipitated renewed crisis, raising questions about whether the new constitutional arrangements could be made to work with the present legislature still in situ, or whether a fresh general election was called for.

Commenting on Bakiev’s motives for seeking to reverse this change, member of parliament Temirbek Sariev said the president had decided that on reflection, he should not relinquish this aspect of his authority.

“The November 8 constitution was a break with the authoritarian system that was inherited from the Akaev period. But it seems Kurmanbek Bakiev does not want to see an end to that system,” he said, referring to ex-president Askar Akaev, toppled in March 2005 by a coalition including both Bakiev and many politicians who have since become his opponents.

Deputy Muratbek Mukashev took a similar view, saying, “On a careful reading [of the constitution], the president realised that he had been divested of many of his rights.”

Some members of parliament are raising questions about whether the latest constitutional change is in fact legal. Kanybek Imanaliev of the Movement For Reforms said the bill only went through on December 30 after being turned down four times - a breach of parliamentary rules, in his view.

Imanaliev would like to see an appeal brought before Kyrgyzstan’s Constitutional Court, but this will be difficult since the body is currently unable to sit as it lacks a quorum, and has not even given its approval to the version of the constitution passed in November.

Deputy Iskhak Masaliev highlighted the lack of clarity about which, if any, of the recent constitutional moves are in fact legal. “Some people say this [latest] constitution is illegal, but that means the November constitution is also illegal because it was passed in the same way,” he said.

As well as worries over legitimacy and fears that Bakiev is trying to claw back powers that he conceded to appease his political opponents and their thousands of supporters on the streets of Bishkek, some leading figures express concern that if the president rocks the boat too much, he may set off another round of confrontation.

Before Bakiev signed the latest constitution, Tursunbek Akun, head of the presidential committee for human rights, said he was trying to persuade him not to.

“The November 9 constitution was the result of a compromise, mutual understanding and consensus. No one has a right to pass another one just a month and a half later. It’s unforgivable,” he said.

Deputy speaker Erkinbek Alymbekov warned that “those around the president are unwittingly driving the country towards a second round of the March 24 [revolution]”.

Cholpon Orozobekova is a contributor for Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of RFE/RL.

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