Proportional Representation Will Force Party Mergers

Proportional Representation Will Force Party Mergers

Despite the introduction of proportional representation in last November’s revised constitution, Kyrgyzstan’s numerous political parties will still struggle to gain parliamentary seats, according to NBCentralAsia political experts.

The new constitution adopted in November and revised in December last year stipulates that half of parliament’s 90 members will be elected by proportional representation from party lists, and the rest by the first-past-the-post system. If one political party wins half of all 90 seats, it can name a prime minister and a cabinet, with approval from the president.

But experts suggest that even though proportional representation gives smaller parties a chance to gain parliamentary seats, many of them currently lack the support base or clear vision that will enable them to capitalise on these changes.

Alybek Akunov, a professor of political science, suggests that political parties will group together in order to gain strength.

There are around 85 official political parties in Kyrgyzstan, many of which were formed in the aftermath of the revolution in March 2005 when President Askar Akayev was overthrown.

Roza Aknazarova, coordinator of the Parliament of Political Parties, PPP, an organisation currently working to strengthen 15 parties, suggests that they will inevitably merge according to shared political views and beliefs.

The PPP is already working with individual parties to identify their position and clarify policies in order to create the compromises needed for mergers.

But parties also need to win the support of the electorate who currently know very little about them.

Political scientist Zainidin Kurmanov, member of political council of the Moya Strana party, told NBCentralAsia, “All the parties now have similar agendas. It will be difficult for voters to differentiate between them. It is now up to each party to familiarise the electorate with its policies and explain how it differ from the rest,”

The situation is aggravated by the fact that “during the last presidential and parliamentary elections, the electorate voted because they were given cash handouts, not according to their convictions,” said Aknazarova.

Furthermore, the experts says that if the current government employs the institutions of state to influence elections, opposition parties will find it difficult to get into parliament.

“The parties that support the current authorities are likely to win seats in the upcoming election,” said Akunov.

Aside from the opposition, Kyrgyzstan’s newer parties are also at a disadvantage. Kurmanov believes parliament will be dominated by old established parties, because voters are unfamiliar with the more recently established parties, despite the PR campaigns such groups have been running.

The lack of legislation to regulate how political parties operate has also been blamed for the challenges they face.

Gulnara Iskakova, a lecturer at American University in Central Asia, argues that Kyrgyzstan is not ready for elections based on the party-list system. She would like to see changes to the election code to incorporate the proportional representation system, and also a new law that defines the threshold for the number of votes needed to win a parliamentary seat and other electoral procedures.

(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)

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