Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev announced in July that he does not intend to run for another term as head of state. Indeed, he is constitutionally forbidden from doing so. But a group of prominent Kyrgyz businesspeople is calling on Akaev to do just that in 2005, raising the specter of constitutional changes to permit such an outcome. As RFE/RL reports, Central Asia is no stranger to such maneuverings.
Prague, 2 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The speaker of the upper house of Kyrgyzstan's parliament yesterday sought to dispel concerns that President Askar Akaev might seek another term in office in elections in 2005.
Altai Borubaev said at a news conference in the capital, Bishkek, that the Kyrgyz Constitution simply does not permit a president to remain in office for more than two terms. "I would draw your attention to Article 43 [of the constitution]," he said. "The first point of the article says, 'The president of the Kyrgyz Republic is elected for five years.' Secondly, 'A person cannot be elected president of the Kyrgyz Republic for more than two terms.' The deeply respected Askar Akaevich Akaev has spoken about these [constitutional] articles on several occasions. This is understandable to all. I don't know what else I can add."
But in Central Asia -- and in Kyrgyzstan itself -- there are enough examples to show that constitutions do not always prove to be guarantors of when presidents will leave office.
On 26 September, the Association of Entrepreneurs of Kirghizia called on Akaev, who was attending the association's congress in Bishkek, to run for another term in office. One of the organization's leaders, Sergei Voronin, said during a speech that Akaev had started the reform process in Kyrgyzstan and should continue in office until those reforms are fully implemented.
"The Association of Entrepreneurs has charged me to express their opinion. Considerable progress has been made in implementing market reforms, but a lot more needs to be done. Kyrgyz businessmen believe that launched reforms should be completed. In light of the president's enormous contribution to the development of a sovereign Kyrgyzstan and his ongoing support of businesses, we are asking you [Askar Akaev] to be the president of our state for another five-year term," Voronin said.
Civic organizations in Central Asia often make such calls on behalf of governments. Public reaction is carefully gauged. If the notion being put forward seems to either catch the public's fancy or is ignored altogether, other civic groups may begin repeating the call.
In the case of Kyrgyzstan, the entrepreneurs' call drew an angry response from Emil Aliyev of the opposition Ar-Namys party. Aliyev said the association is pushing Akaev to break the law. Aliyev said this was not the first such call and that he believes they are being made on the initiative of the president's office.
"The campaign [for Akaev's re-election] started even before, in Osh. Now, the businessmen are continuing to spread such proposals. I am sure the process will be continued. These proposals have been organized by the [Kyrgyz] White House," Aliyev said.
Akaev was elected president of Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic in October 1990 and president of the independent Republic of Kyrgyzstan in October 1991, December 1995, and October 2000.
On 13 July 1998, Kyrgyzstan's Constitutional Court ruled that Akaev was eligible to stand in presidential elections in 2000 because the country's first post-Soviet constitution was adopted in 1993 and that elections in 1990 and 1991 therefore did not count.
Such constitutional rulings and amendments have not only benefited Akaev. In October 1998, Kazakhstan's parliament increased the term of office for president from five to seven years, but more importantly lifted the two-term restriction in office, as well as the maximum age a president can be. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev was a Soviet-era republican leader who has served as president of independent Kazakhstan since 1991.
In Tajikistan, amendments passed earlier this year to that country's constitution could give incumbent President Imomali Rakhmonov another 14 years in office. He has served as Tajik head of state since 1992.
Referendums also have been used to extend time in office. In January 1994, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov extended his time in office by eight years through a referendum. Since then, parliament has amended the constitution to make Niyazov president for life.
In March 1995, Uzbekistan held a referendum to extend Uzbek President Islam Karimov's time in office by almost four years. Re-elected for his second five-year term in January 2000, Karimov gained an extra two years on his term through a referendum held in January 2002.
In April 1995, a national referendum in Kazakhstan extended Nazarbaev's time in office, bypassing elections scheduled for 1996. He was re-elected president in early elections in January 1999.
With Central Asia's history full of such examples, Akaev's July pledge to step down in 2005 rings hollow for many citizens, including one Kyrgyz man who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity: "[Akaev] says that he will leave. He always says that he will do this, he will do that, but it is all lies. When his terms comes close to the end, he will announce, 'According to the wishes of the people, who want me to stay in power....' I think his current efforts show that he is going in that direction."
(Tyntychbek Tchoroev of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)