Constitutional Vote Too Hurried

Constitutional Vote Too Hurried

Wednesday, 26 September, 2007
Critics of the proposed new Kyrgyz constitution which goes to a referendum next month will have neither the time nor the legal mechanisms needed to suggest amendments, say NBCentralAsia analysts.

On September 24, the new draft that President Kurmanbek Bakiev has put forward for a nationwide ballot on October 21 was discussed and analysed at a forum attended by non-government groups, political parties, members of parliament and businesspeople.

One of several criticisms was that if the this draft of the constitution goes through, it will make it almost impossible to impeach the president. Any charges that parliament might bring against him must be authorised by the prosecutor general, who is hired and fired by the president.

Another problem identified by participants is that parliament can pass a motion of no confidence in cabinet ministers, but not in the prime minister - a discrepancy that could lead to confrontation between legislators and the government.

They also said that local court judges will not be independent because the president has sole authority to prosecute them.

NBCentralAsia analysts say there is not enough time left to propose and introduce changes to the draft constitution.

Political scientist Marat Kazakpaev says opponents of holding a referendum have no legal way of blocking it. “The only thing they can do is mount a public campaign for a no vote,” he said.

Inflation has affected the whole of Central Asia this summer and the price of essential items like food has risen by up to 30 per cent in Kyrgyzstan over the past three months. Kazakpaev is concerned that people are preoccupied with this economic instability and are not well-informed about the constitutional reform. He would like to see more time and a government-supported media campaign to raise public awareness of the issues before a referendum is held.

Tamerlan Ibraimov, the director of the Centre for Political and Legal Studies, agrees that one month is too little time to hold a national discussion on such an important matter. He believes it would make more sense to have parliament pass the constitution and an accompanying bill on elections, since “the public won’t discuss them in any case”.

However, parliamentarian Avazbek Momunkulov argues that President Bakiev may not get his constitution passed so easily.

“The authorities can no longer rely on using its administrative resources [to secure a yes vote] as it could before. Some voters are unhappy with the new draft constitution the president has proposed, and will make their views felt with a protest vote even if administrative resources are put into action,” he said.

Kyrgyzstan has been discussing constitutional reform ever since former president Askar Akaev and his government were ousted by a popular revolt in March 2005.

In November 2006, under pressure from large opposition demonstrations, the Kyrgyz parliament adopted changes to the constitution which strengthened the role of parliament and limited the president’s authority. However, a month later, parliament approved a different version of the constitution which largely re-established the status quo and restored most of the president’s powers.

On September 14 this year, the Constitutional Court ruled that both the November and December documents were null and void. Kyrgyzstan has therefore reverted temporarily to the constitution of 2003.

Valentin Bogatyrev, who heads the Association of Political Scientists of Kyrgyzstan, believes the public has had plenty of opportunities to influence the process of constitutional reform – and still has a free choice in the upcoming referendum.

“Those who are against the new constitution should exercise their right to vote against it,” he said. “That’s possible in Kyrgyzstan, unlike other Central Asian states.”

(NBCentralAsia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)

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