Kyrgyzstan: ‘authoritarian’ new constitution unveiled

kyrgyzstan

Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan unveiled a new constitution on Nov. 17, drawing criticism over the expansion of presidential powers. Shortly after a draft of the document was released, politicians and activists expressed concerns that it would lead to full-blown authoritarianism. Among the many changes, it reduces the size and power of parliament. Any responsibilities taken from parliament were transferred to the presidency. Significant differences exist between the Russian and Kyrgyz language versions, making it unclear whether the president could serve one or two terms. It would also establish a People’s Kurultai, an ad hoc body consisting of members of the public that would propose policy changes. The drafters insist that the body would promote popular representation. Critics view it as potentially easy to manipulate. They also question the necessity, given that parliament already consists of elected representatives. Kyrgyzstan uses a proportional representation system, with seats apportioned between the parties based on the percentage of the national popular vote received.

Some have voiced opposition over the move to a presidential system. The current constitution and thus organization of the government came after a revolution and referendum in 2010.

One section banning anything that contravenes the “generally recognized moral values and the traditions of the people of Kyrgyzstan” has especially raised human rights concerns. Earlier this year, a group of men violently attacked a demonstration protesting violence against women. Others worry about censorship of the press and artistic expression.

The proposed constitutional process itself faces several legitimacy issues. Among those pushing for the new charter is Sadyr Japarov, who briefly served as acting president after escaping from prison during unrest in the wake of the October parliamentary elections. While serving as acting president, he attempted to force through drastic changes to the constitution. He did not succeed and resigned to run for president. Under the current constitution, anyone currently serving as acting president cannot run for the office.

Adding to the uncertainty, after the Oct. 4 elections, the Central Election Commission annulled the results. New elections have not yet been held. As such, the Parliament of Kyrgyzstan exists in a legal gray area. The Commission annulled the elections due to questions of legitimacy after the results showed victory for the incumbent government despite widespread public dissatisfaction. Elections for both the presidency and approval of the constitution are to be held on Jan. 10. New parliamentary elections are expected to be held in mid-2021.

From Jurist, Nov. 20. Used with permission.

Note: The October uprising ousted a regime that had been tilting to the West, whereas Sadyr Japarov in his time in power emphasized Russia’s “special role” as Kyrgyzstan’s “main strategic partner.” The opposition is now assailing the proposed new charter as a “Khanstitution” for the power it would concentrate in the hands of the executive.

Map: Perry-Castañeda Library