Is Kyrgyzstan moving away from parliamentary democracy?

The author is a UK-based analyst and has worked with universities in three Central Asian states.


In the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, where voters choose a new president on Sunday, most importantly, they will also decide the shape of future governance. Along with the presidential elections, the referendum is underway, whether the country is to remain a parliamentary republic or switch to the presidential system.

While Sadyr Japarov, the favorite candidate of the fray, is in favor of consolidating the power of the president following the neighboring Central Asian states, there are many voices who want to continue with the existing parliamentary system, where powers are divided between the president and the prime minister.

Three months ago, Japarov rode the wave of discontent and protest against extensive corruption and mismanagement that President Sooronbay Jeenbekov’s administration has proven ineffective in dealing with. Following reports of widespread rigging during the elections of October 4, 2020, popular demonstrations broke out in the central squares of the capital Bishkek. This further compromised the position of Jeenbekov, who failed to contain these protests.

At this point, Japarov stepped in to fill the leadership void by claiming to be the honest and daring voice of those protesting against the establishment. He promised to give power back to the people, once elected.

In the referendum, if more than 50% of the voters refuse to favor one of the proposed options of the parliamentary or presidential system of governance, then Kyrgyzstan will continue with the existing constitution. After the inauguration of the elected president, the 400 local councils and the parliament will go to the polls at the beginning of the summer.

If the majority of voters in the referendum vote for parliamentary democracy, then significant changes will be made to the constitution, where the president will become a titular figure, who will be elected by parliament. All power will be concentrated in the hands of the prime minister, who will also be approved by members of parliament.

If the referendum favors the presidential system of governance, then the new constitutional amendments will give parliament the power to pass laws and the country’s budget but lose the right to appoint the prime minister and his ministers. The deputies will have the right to remove the president, and the latter can in turn dissolve parliament. The seats in parliament will also be reduced. To further dilute parliamentary scrutiny, a parallel body, namely the Consultative Council for Constitutional Affairs, is proposed whose members will be appointed by the President.

Switching to a stable system

It appears that the Kyrgyz authorities are inclined to shift the country’s political system from its current phase of unpredictability to a stable one. Such a turning point will mark a break with the last 10 years of experimentation with the parliamentary system. In addition, some circles in the country fear the shrinking space for civil society and the media.

While the move to the presidential system may not adequately address the long-standing disparities between trading communities in the north and farming communities in southern Kyrgyzstan, it could nonetheless put an end to the sudden top-down changes that have taken place. in 2005, 2010, and more recently in October 2020.

Presidential favorite Japarov comes from Issyk-Kul, the easternmost province of Kyrgyzstan. It is surrounded by the province of Almaty in Kazakhstan to the north, the province of Naryn to the southwest of Kyrgyzstan and to the southeast by Chinese Xinjiang.

His rise to power would promote the interests of the clans in the north of the country, but he also enjoys the support of certain elements in the south. At a time when the leaders of the last two governments are fighting to weaken each other, Japarov could benefit from the blessings of supporters of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev who was in power from 2005 to 2010. Japarov had initially been an adviser to the ‘former president from 2007 to 2009 before becoming the head of the country’s anti-corruption agency, where he served until 2010.

* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Anadolu Agency.

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