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Kyrgyzstan: Battle Over The New Constitution Continues To Rage

  • Bruce Pannier

http://gdb.rferl.org/62E467D6-4722-419B-B1B3-700F485CB8BB_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/62E467D6-4722-419B-B1B3-700F485CB8BB_mw800_mh600.jpg Kyrgyz opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev in September (Courtesy Photo) December 28, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev is due to address parliament on December 30 amid the latest political crisis in the country.


Pro-presidential deputies tried several times recently to introduce amendments to the new constitution, which was finally adopted November 8 as thousands of people stood outside the government building in Bishkek demanding that Bakiev accept it.


Too Hastily Written?


In the days leading up to that, Prime Minister Feliks Kulov warned that a hastily adopted constitution would bring more problems than it would solve. He may have been prophetic in this belief, but in any case he and his government resigned last week as the battle between the executive and legislative branches of power intensified.

Many still feel the government's resignation was simply an attempt to force a final battle between the president and the parliament. The final round of that battle may come during Bakiev's December 30 speech to parliament.

Omurbek Tekebaev, the leader of the opposition Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party and a former speaker of parliament, spoke out against any changes to the constitution and gave procedural reasons why the issue cannot be considered.


"Any changes or additions to the current constitution should be made in accordance with the rules set by the constitution itself," he said. "According to these rules, a bill [to amend the constitution] can be considered after a period of three months since [it was proposed], following a ruling by the Constitutional Court. This term is given in order to prevent the decision from being influenced by short-term political considerations."


Although the new constitution takes some powers away from the executive branch and gives them to the legislative branch, there is a perception among opposition deputies and others that Bakiev does not want to see the powers of the presidency limited.


Increasing Presidential Powers


Bakiev has said publicly that he has nothing to do with deputies' attempts now to strengthen the powers of the executive branch.


Pro-presidential lawmaker Kamchybek Tashiev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that he and other deputies support Bakiev and are prepared to reintroduce the proposed amendments. And Tashiev said there are enough deputies supporting the proposals to force the issue onto the parliament's agenda.


"We have prepared a new version of the [Kyrgyz] Constitution," he said. "Now we are gathering supporting signatures again. If there would be 38 lawmakers this will give an opportunity [to include it to the parliament session agenda]. Then we will [formally] propose it."


Opposition lawmaker Temir Sariev told RFE/RL that the pro-presidential deputies are leading the country back to the system that existed under former President Askar Akaev, who was chased from power by demonstrations in March 2005 after parliamentary elections were widely regarded as rigged.


"Now the matter is not about some controversies in the constitution," Sariev said. "They are trying to revise the constitution that we adopted on November 8, and to introduce an authoritarian, one-family led-, one-person led-state. We are against it. I believe the [implementation of] the current constitution has to be carried out."


Deputy Muratbek Mukashev read a statement from the For Reforms movement warning of dire consequences if the political fighting continues.


"The Kyrgyz Constitution belongs neither to the president, nor to the government, nor to parliament," he said. "It belongs to the people of the country. The authorities have no right to continue political games endlessly or manipulate the fundamental law. Such games will lead to no good."


Defending The Constitution


Mukashev said that to continue along the current path is to risk another period of instability.


A protest against the HIPC program in Bishkek earlier this month (RFE/RL)

"In January or February 2007 we plan to begin a political action -- not limited in time -- in defense of the current constitution and against Kyrgyzstan's joining the [Heavily Indebted Poor Countries] program," he said. "We are against khan-like authority in Kyrgyzstan and against joining countries that are unable to govern themselves independently. The time has come for each of us to come to the defense of our country and the new constitution."


Kyrgyzstan's possible entry in the World Bank-supported HIPC program has also faced stiff resistance in Kyrgyzstan.


It was those two issues -- the controversy around the new constitution and entry into the HIPC program -- that seems to have prompted Kulov and the government to resign on December 19. But many still feel the resignations were simply an attempt to force a final battle between the president and the parliament. The final round of that battle may come during Bakiev's December 30 speech to parliament.


There are some who feel a call for early parliamentary elections next year is unavoidable, and that raises the stakes for many political figures in Kyrgyzstan. The new constitution states that the parliament should have 90 seats instead of the current 75 and that at least 50 percent of the deputies should be chosen by party lists. The current deputies were all elected by single-mandate districts.


The opposition is not against early elections -- as several leaders have publicly stated. But some are against dissolving parliament before constitutional regulations on elections are included in the country's election code, something that is not yet done. The opposition is also concerned that if parliament is dissolved and there is no new government in place, it leaves only the president and judiciary.


(Tynchtykbek Tchoroev, Aidanbek Tashkenbaev, and Ulan Eshmatov of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)

Understanding Kyrgyzstan

Workers preparing for celebrations of the constitutional compromise in Bishkek on November 9 (RFE/RL)

A STABLE FOUNDATION? On November 9, RFE/RL's Washington office hosted a briefing featuring RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service Director Tyntchtykbek Tchoroev and RFE/RL analyst Daniel Kimmage.


LISTEN

Listen to the complete discussion (about 80 minutes):
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