CONSTITUTION, PRESIDENT AND LEGISLATURE OF KYRGYZSTAN

CONSTITUTION AND DEMOCRACY IN KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan has dabbled with democracy. It was originally thought that Kyrgyzstan would be the one nation in Central Asia where democracy would permanently take root. One government official told the New York Times, “The reason is our heritage as nomads. The Kyrgyz have always lived in small groups, not under emperors. We’re used to thinking for ourselves. So maybe the ground here is a little more fertile for democracy.” Democracy comes and goes. Leaders have been ousted in People-Power-style demonstrations after asserting themselves too authoritatively.

The original constitution was adopted on May 5, 1993. A new one was adopted on June 27, 2010, and became effective on July 2, 2010.

Besides electing Akayev, the 1990 parliament fashioned the legislative foundation for the political transformation of the republic, in concert with the president. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment in this phase was the drafting and passage, in May 1993, of the country's constitution. The constitution mandates three branches of government: a unicameral parliament; an executive branch, consisting of government and local officials appointed by the president; and a judiciary, with a presidentially appointed Supreme Court and lower courts. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In many ways, however, the 1993 constitution was not put into force. Akayev was president under a popular mandate gained in an uncontested election in 1991, and most of the judicial system was not appointed. The bicameral parliament, which was elected early in 1995, did not match the unicameral body prescribed by the constitution. This structural change was attained through popular referendum, for which the constitution did not provide, although the same referendum simultaneously gave popular (and retroactive) permission for this abrogation of the constitution. In February 1996, Akayev's proposed constitutional amendments strengthening the office of president were approved by 94 percent of voters in a national referendum.

Problems Creating a Kyrgyzstan Constitution

the constitution adopted on May 5, 1993 got rid of Communist structures that remained from the Soviet period. But Akayev's loss of momentum was reflected in the debate over the national constitution, a first draft of which was passed by the Supreme Soviet in December 1992. Although draft versions had begun to circulate as early as the summer of 1992, the commission itself agreed on a definitive version only after prolonged debate. An umbrella group of opposition figures from the DDK also began drawing up constitutional proposals in 1992, two variations of which they put forward for public consideration. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Although broad agreement existed on the outlines of the constitution, several specific points were difficult to resolve. One concerned the status of religion. Although it was agreed that the state would be secular, there was strong pressure for some constitutional recognition of the primacy of Islam. Another much-debated issue was the role of the Russian language. Kyrgyz had been declared the official state language, but non-Kyrgyz citizens exerted pressure to have Russian assigned near-equal status, as was the case in neighboring Kazakstan, where Russian had been declared the "official language of interethnic communication." The issue of property ownership was warmly debated, with strong sentiment expressed against permitting land to be owned or sold. Another important question was the role of the president within the new state structure. *

The proposed constitution was supposed to be debated by the full Supreme Soviet (as the new nation's parliament continued to call itself after independence) and by a specially convened body of prominent citizens before its acceptance as law. However, some members of the democratic opposition argued that a special assembly of Kyrgyz elders, called a kuraltai , should be convened to consider the document. A final draft of the constitution was passed by the Supreme Soviet in May 1993, apparently without involvement of a kuraltai. *

In drafting a final document, the Supreme Soviet addressed some of the most controversial issues that had arisen in predraft discussions. Specific passages dealt with transfer and ownership of property, the role of religion in the government, the powers of the president, and the official language of the country. *

Akayev had spoken of the need to have a presidential system of government--and, indeed, the constitution sets the presidency outside the three branches of government, to act as a sort of overseer ensuring the smooth functioning of all three. However, by the mid-1990s dissatisfaction with the strong presidential model of government and with the president himself was growing. With economic resources diminished, political infighting became commonplace. Although the prime minister and others received blame for controversial or unsuccessful policy initiatives, President Akayev nonetheless found himself increasingly isolated politically amid growing opposition forces. *

New Constitution of 2010

In June 2010, Kyrgyzstan approved a new constitution following a nationwide referendum. CNN reported: “The Kyrgyz government's interim head, Roza Otunbeava, told reporters that the referendum took place without any reported incidents, paving the way for democratic rule. "We believe the referendum is valid. The new constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic has been approved," Otunbaeva said. According to Otunbaeva, the turnout was high at 65.1 percent or 1.7 million voters, the Kyrgyz news agency Kabar reported. [Source: CNN, June 27, 2010]

The new 2010 constitution shifted power away from the president towards parliament, making parliament the main decision-making body and giving Kyrgyzstan a mixed presidential-parliamentary system. Under the 2010 constitution, the President can disband parliament and call an early election if the assembly fails to elect a new premier in three consecutive votes.

Reid Standish wrote in Foreign Policy Magzine: “Kyrgyzstan’s new constitution was not inspired by democratic idealism. It is deeply rooted in cold pragmatism. “The document was written on the assumption that all politicians are greedy and corrupt and that safeguards are needed to prevent any politician or party from concentrating too much power,” said Erica Marat, a Central Asia expert and an assistant professor at the National Defense University. “Kyrgyzstan has chosen democracy by default.” [Source:Reid Standish, Foreign Policy, April 7, 2015]

Andrei Richter of the Moscow Media Law and Policy Centre wrote: “On 27 June 2010 a new Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic was adopted via a national referendum. It replaces the previous edition of the act that was adopted on 21 October 2007. The 2007 Constitution replaced in its turn the 2006 edition. Unlike the earlier 1993 Constitution all later editions including the new one did not forbid censorship (although such a ban still exists in the 1992 mass media law). The new edition no longer forbids parliament to adopt a statute which would limit freedom of speech and of the press. Other guarantees of freedom of expression and of the press remain in place. [Source: Andrei Richter, Moscow Media Law and Policy Centre ||||]

“The new Constitution expands the notion of freedom of information and adds the right to seek information to the existing right of everyone to freely receive, obtain, keep and use information, and to disseminate it in oral, written or any other form (para. 1 Art. 33). It also guarantees everyone access to information on the activity of governmental and local bodies, their officials, entities with governmental participation, as well as any entity funded from the national or local budget (para. 3 Art. 33). Para. 4 of Art. 33 stipulates that everyone is guaranteed access to information kept by governmental and local bodies and their officials in the order stipulated by a statute (such a statute was indeed adopted in 2006). |The Constitution outlaws criminal defamation by stipulating that no one shall be prosecuted under criminal law for disseminating information that is defamatory or denigrating to one’s honour and dignity (para. 4 Art. 34). Thus Kyrgyzstan becomes the first country in Central Asia to ban criminal prrosecution for defamation.” ||||

Structure of the Kyrgyzstan Government

The Kyrgyz government is basically democratic, with three governmental branches: the president and his advisers; a unicameral 120-seat Supreme Council or Jogorku Kengesh; and the courts. In February 1996 a referendum was passed that expanded the president's powers with respect to Parliament, but Parliament has shown its ability to function separately from the president. The 2010 Constitution reduced the powers of the President and gave more to the parliament.

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The Kyrgyz Republic has a parliamentary form of government intended to limit presidential power and enhance the role of parliament and the prime minister. Voters elected the parliament in 2010 and the president a year later. In the 2011 presidential election, Almazbek Atambayev, then serving as prime minister, received 63 percent of the vote. Independent observers considered the election generally transparent and competitive, despite some irregularities. Authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over the security forces, particularly in the provinces of Jalal-Abad, Osh, and Batken, commonly referred to as the South. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kyrgyzstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

Although the 1993 constitution called for a government of three branches, in practice the presidency was the strongest government office. As economic and social conditions deteriorated in the early 1990s, President Akayev sought extraconstitutional authority in dealing with a series of crises. Under these conditions, Akayev faced occasional opposition from parliament, and pockets of local resistance grew stronger in the southern provinces.[Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The Constitution of 1993 prescribed three branches; executive strongest and reinforced with special powers assumed by President Askar Akayev. The Council of Ministers, nominally administering the executive branch, is subservient to president. A bicameral parliament of 105 (upper house 35, convened full-time; lower house 70 members, convening twice yearly) was established 1994. Members are elected to five-year terms. Judges are appointed by the president with parliamentary approval. Some local governments have strong power bases. *

Head of the Government in Kyrgyzstan

The president is the head of state. He or she is elected to a six year term, and, according to the Constitution, is supposed to serve a maximum of one terms (the president used to be allowed to serve two five-year terms. The powers of the president were expanded at the expense of the legislature in a 1996 referendum. Constitutional changes made in 2003 gave the President sweeping powers over the parliament and made it almost impossible to impeach him. A new constitution introduced in 2010 reduced the powers of the president.

Chief of state: President Almazbek Atambaev (since 1 December 2011). Head of government: Prime Minister Temir Sariyev (since 1 May 2015); First Deputy Prime Minister Tayyrbek Sarpashev (since 2 April 2014); Deputy Prime Ministers Valeriy Dil (since 2 April 2014), Abdyrakhman Mamataliev (since 2 April 2014), Damira Niyazalieva (since 26 December 2014). [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Presidential election results in 2011: Almazbek Atambaev was elected president. Percent of vote - Almazbek Atambaev: 63.2 percent; Adakhan Madumarov: 14.7 percent; Kamchybek Tashiev: 14.3 percent; other: 7.8 percent. Temir Sariyev was elected prime minister by parliamentary vote of 97 to 2. =

Presidential power increased as the result of a 2003 referendum, the conduct of which received international criticism. The president’s two-term limitation was circumvented by Akayev in a 1998 referendum. In the early 2000s, Akayev’s informal power base among the business elite and younger politicians eroded as he increasingly favored the clans of the north (his region) over those of the south. In early 2005, energized by manifestly unfair parliamentary elections, opposition demonstrations in the cities brought about Akayev’s resignation in what became known as the Tulip Revolution. His successor, former prime minister Kurmanbek Bakiyev, pledged in 2005 to restore some powers to the legislative branch. Upon election he retained most of the acting cabinet that he had selected on Akayev’s resignation. The choice of former security chief Feliks Kulov as prime minister symbolically united Kyrgyzstan’s opposing regions: Bakiyev is from the south, Kulov from the north. The two officials maintained an uneasy truce throughout 2006. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

Kurmanbek Bakiyev won a landslide victory in presidential election in 2005 following Akayev's departure, and initially said he favoured reducing the powers of the president and transferring them to the legislature. But most of his former allies turned against him, accusing him of failing to tackle corruption and create a government based on democratic principles. Bakiyev himself was ousted in a people power style revolt in 2010.

The new 2010 constitution shifted power away from the president towards parliament, making parliament the main decision-making body and giving Kyrgyzstan a mixed presidential-parliamentary system. Under the 2010 constitution, the President can disband parliament and call an early election if the assembly fails to elect a new premier in three consecutive votes.

Executive Branch of Kyrgyzstan

The prime minister is appointed by the president and approved by the parliament. The executive branch is made up of the cabinet and state committees. The members of these are appointed by the prime minister and approved by the president and the parliament. The Cabinet of Ministers is proposed by the prime minister and appointed by the president. Ministers in charge of defense and security are appointed solely by the president.

Presidential elections: the president elected by popular vote for one six-year term. Elections were last held on October 30, 2011 (next to be held in 2017). The prime is minister nominated by the parliamentary party holding more than 50 percent of the seats; if no such party exists, the president selects the party that will form a coalition majority and government. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

The executive branch comprises the president, the prime minister, and a cabinet consisting of four deputy prime ministers, 13 ministers, the general prosecutor, and the heads of six national agencies, commissions, and committees. Following the constitutional reform of 2006, the prime minister is appointed by the party receiving a plurality in the latest parliamentary elections. That reform also deprived the president of the right to dismiss parliament. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

In the 1990s, Akayev was able to act as he did because under the 1993 constitution the president stood outside the three-branch system in the capacity of guarantor of the constitutional functioning of all three branches. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

President and Council of Ministers of Kyrgyzstan

The president names the prime minister and the Council of Ministers, subject to legislative confirmation. According to the constitution, the president is to be elected from among citizens who are between thirty-five and sixty-five years of age, who have lived at least fifteen years in the republic, and who are fluent in the state language, which is Kyrgyz. There is no vice president. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The Council of Ministers nominally is entrusted with day-to-day administration of the government. In general, however, the office of the presidency has dominated policy making; in most cases, Akayev's prerogative of appointing the prime minister and all cabinet positions has not been effectively balanced by the nominal veto power of parliament over such appointments. The new parliament of 1995 showed considerably more independence by vetoing several key Akayev administrative appointments. *

In February 1996, the government resigned following the approval of Akayev's constitutional amendments. The new government that Akayev appointed in March 1996 included fifteen ministries: agriculture, communications, culture, defense, economy, education and science, finance, foreign affairs, health, industry and trade, internal affairs, justice, labor and social welfare, transportation, and water resources, plus deputy prime ministers for agrarian policy, sociocultural policy, and industrial policy and the chairmen of nine committees and agencies. Many individuals retained their positions from the preceding government; changes occurred mainly in agencies dealing with social affairs and the economy. *

Legislature of Kyrgyzstan

Legislative branch: a unicameral Supreme Council or Jogorku Kengesh (120 seats; members directly elected in a single nationwide constituency by proportional representation vote to serve five-year terms). Parliamentary elections were held in 2015 (next to be held in 2020). 2010 election results: Supreme Council; seats by party - Ata-Jurt 28, SDPK 26, A. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

The 120-seat single-chamber parliament is known as the Jogorku Kenesh (Zhogorku Kenesh, Supreme Council). The members of the Jogorku Kenesh are called deputies. They serve five year terms. All are elected directly. The head of the Jogorku Kenesh is called the Toraga and is the equivalent of speaker of the parliament. He or she is elected through a closed ballot by the deputies of the Jogorku Kenesh.

Before for the 2005 election the legislature was a 105-seat body comprised of two houses: the 35-seat Legislative Assembly, elected nationally, and the 70-seat People’s Assembly, including representatives selected proportionally based on the performance of their party in the nationwide vote. The change to a one house parliament was made in a 2003 referendum pushed by Akayev, who critics said made the changes to weaken the opposition.

The legislature was originally a one house with 350 seats, Akayev reduced it to 105 members divided into two houses. The opposition charged him with creating a small legislature that he could manipulate. Akayev said that he made the changes to get rid of the Soviet era hardliners who made reform impossible and who wanted to keep power in their hands.

Members of the Supreme Council are directly elected to five-year terms. In 2006 there were no women in the Supreme Council. A referendum in 1998 substantially weakened the Supreme Council’s power to block legislative proposals of the president. In 2003 a referendum changed the legislature’s structure from bicameral to unicameral, after a referendum in 1994 had established a bicameral legislature in place of the much larger unicameral legislature that had been established by the 1993 constitution. Both changes aimed to increase presidential power at the expense of the legislative branch. Pursuant to the referendum of 2003, the disputed elections of early 2005 seated a new 75-member unicameral legislature. After his election in mid-2005, Bakiyev did not call for new parliamentary elections, despite the irregularities of the previous vote. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

Monkeying with the Kyrgyzstan Legislature in the 1990s

In October 1994, Akayev took the legally questionable step of holding a referendum to ask public approval for bypassing legal requirements to amend the constitution. The referendum asked permission to amend the constitution to establish a bicameral legislature that would include an upper chamber, called the Legislative House, which would have only thirty-five members. Those deputies would receive government salaries and would sit in permanent session. A lower chamber, the House of National Representatives, would have seventy members and would convene more irregularly. Akayev's plan also provided that deputies in this new parliament would not be able to hold other government positions, a clause that caused most of the republic's prominent politicians to drop out of consideration for election to parliament. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In the elections to the new parliament that began in February 1995, only sixteen deputies managed to get clear mandates on the first round of balloting. Second-round voting also proved indecisive. When the parliament was convened for the first time, in March 1995, fifteen seats remained unfilled; two important provinces (Naryn and Talas) had no deputies in the upper house at all, prompting angry cries that regional interests were not being properly represented when the two houses elected their respective speakers. A later round of elections, which extended into May, was marked by widespread accusations of fraud, ballot-stuffing, and government manipulation. *

Such circumstances aroused strong doubts about the legislative competency of the parliament. Only six of the deputies have previous parliamentary experience, and a number of prominent political figures, including Medetkan Sherymkulov, speaker of the 1990-94 parliament, failed to win what had been assumed were "safe" seats. Even more serious were concerns about the incomplete mandate of the new legislative system. The constitutional modifications voted on by referendum did not specify what the duties and limitations of the two houses would be. Thus, the early sessions of 1995 were preoccupied by procedural wranglings over the respective rights and responsibilities of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Because little business of substance was conducted in that session, several deputies threatened that this parliament, like the previous one, might "self-dissolve." However, the body remained intact as of mid-1996. *

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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