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Kyrgyzstan: President Akayev Proposes Constitutional Revisions

By Naryn Idinov

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, 4 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev has issued a decree proposing constitutional revisions that would enlarge parliament's Legislative Assembly, provide for private ownership of land, and limit parliamentary immunity to activities connected with parliamentary duties.

The official Slovo Kyrgyzstana daily in Bishkek published the new constitutional draft Wednesday. Akayev had signed it Tuesday without public notice.

The president's decree says that his administration is offering the draft to the public for discussion. The government is to organize broad discussion of the draft among business employee groups and at community organizations. Akayev announced at a news conference yesterday in Bishkek that he is ordering a nationwide referendum for mid-October on the constitutional changes.

Akeyev has appointed an 18-member select commission on the constitution draft to collect and compile suggestions, and amend the draft by October 5. Eight of the members are government officials and four are parliamentarians, two from the Legislative Assembly and two from the People's Assembly.

The government convened a conference in June on reforming the electoral system, and announced the main points of the current draft, but the parliament hasn't had an opportunity for formal comment.

The present constitution confers on the president the right of legislative initiative, but his public espousal of significant constitutional changes without consultation caught many in parliament by surprise.

The Legislative Assembly began its autumn session Tuesday after a summer recess. and few parliamentarians knew about the draft. On the Legislative Assembly's second day in session, members interrupted their legislative routine for a long and heated debate on Akayev's unexpected initiative.

Some members called the decree a humiliation for the parliament. The assembly has scheduled a parliamentary hearing on the issue for next Tuesday.

Last July, a special parliamentary committee sought a meeting with the president to discuss electoral system and constitution changes. Akayev declined to meet with the committee.

Electoral changes prepared by the Central Electoral Commission and included in the Akayev draft would add 32 members to the Legislative Assembly and reduce the People's Assembly. Candidates for election to parliament would be required to establish three years' residency in their constituencies and at least five years in the country.

The draft contains a clause prohibiting parliament from legislating limitations on freedom of speech or of the press. The proposed constitution would establish private land >ownership, long opposed by the parliament.

President Akayev said the draft would make parliament, in his phrase, "a locomotive of reforms."

Sulaiman Imanbaev, chairman of the Central Electoral Commission, said in Bishkek late in June that a referendum to consider electoral system changes and other matters might be held. In a television address to the nation over State TV Tuesday evening, Akayev alluded to a referendum but didn't suggest a date. The October referendum will be the third Kyrgyz referendum on constitutional changes in four years. Member of Parliament Adaham Madumarov Wednesday denounced the Akayev initiative, saying the president had made major decisions without consulting the parliament. Member of Parliament Abyt Ibraimov called the president's decree a slap in the face of parliament.

Dosbol Nur Uulu, a member of the special committee on electoral changes, said his committee will renew efforts to meet with the president to discuss the issue.

Klara Agibekova, deputy chairwoman of the Communist Party, said this week that the Communists support Akayev's proposals except for private land ownership. Usen Sydykov, chairman of the Agrarian-Labor party, announced a like position for his party.