BISHKEK (TCA) — The Constitution Day passed unnoticed in Kyrgyzstan this year. The holiday, annually celebrated on May 5 as a non-working day for more than a quarter of a century, was marked in the midst of the self-isolation regime due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In his brief address, President Sooronbai Jeenbekov congratulated the Kyrgyz people on the holiday, stressing that "the Constitution plays a special role in the life of the country, determining the development path of the sovereign state".
“Before 2010, due to contradictory policies of the authorities, several amendments were made to the Constitution to suit the interests of the ruling elite. But our freedom-loving people overthrew such authorities twice, and eventually chose a legitimate democracy,” Parliament Speaker Dastanbek Jumabekov said, referring to the regimes of former presidents Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
Kyrgyz Constitution’s history
According to historical documents, the first Constitution in Kyrgyzstan’s history was adopted in 1929 on the basis of the Russian Constitution. Prior to that, the Kyrgyz state did not have any constitution.
On May 5, 1993, the new Constitution of independent Kyrgyzstan was adopted by the so-called "legendary parliament" that began working under the Soviet regime, and ended with self-dissolution as a result of the parliamentary crisis in the summer of 1994.
The Constitution included the main trends of modern constitutionalism — the principles of separation of powers, private property and its inviolability, open society and personal inviolability, and equality of all citizens before the law.
Under the first President of Kyrgyzstan, Askar Akayev, the Constitution was revised four times. Dissatisfaction with its latest version was one of the reasons for the protests that led to the overthrow of Akayev in March 2005.
Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who replaced Akayev, also began a constitutional reform in late 2006. According to the Parliament’s decision, two versions of the Constitution were simultaneously adopted: “parliamentary” and “presidential”. But the opposition protested against the changes. The Kyrgyz Constitutional Court declared both versions unconstitutional, and in October 2007, at the President’s initiative, a referendum adopted amendments to the Constitution, which strengthened the powers and role of the President. This was one of the reasons for the overthrow of Bakiyev in April 2010.
After the April revolution, the new authorities rewrote the Constitution, and at a referendum in June 2010, citizens voted in favor of a new version, according to which the Kyrgyz Republic switched from a presidential to a parliamentary governance (in fact, it was a mixed parliamentary-presidential form of government).
The Constitution of May 5, 1993 was declared invalid, but the then government decided to retain the date of its adoption as a public holiday.
The redrawing of the Constitution is traditionally a favorite manipulation of the authorities in Kyrgyzstan.
In 2016, then-President Almazbek Atambayev decided to expand the powers of the Prime Minister, apparently expecting to occupy this post after his presidency was over, experts said. If not for subsequent events, the forecasts of analysts would most likely come true. But on June 27, 2019, Atambayev was stripped of his ex-president status and, therefore, of immunity. On August 8, 2019, he was arrested and charged with abuse of authority, illicit enrichment, murder, hostage-taking and rioting. The trial of the Atambayev case continues.
Numerous constitutional reforms were among the reasons for the spread of legal nihilism in Kyrgyz society. Meanwhile, the centuries-long experience of many developed states proves that constitutions should not be changed too often. The problem is not to look for flaws in the Constitution, but to learn how to use this tool correctly, politicians say. First of all, it is necessary to find out whether there is an objective need for constitutional reform.
At the end of last year, a working group was created in the Kyrgyz Parliament, which had to study the initiative to hold another referendum on changing the Constitution. MPs explained that more than 10 thousand people signed up for the initiative. By law, this is enough to consider a document in the Parliament.
The author of the initiative, the executive committee of the Kurultai (national assembly) led by well-known politician Azimbek Beknazarov, proposed to decide what kind of government should be in Kyrgyzstan — full presidential or full parliamentary.
The Parliament’s decision to consider Beknazarov’s initiative was made against the backdrop of his appointment as Kyrgyzstan’s ambassador to Malaysia. The appointment gave rise to the assumption that the authorities thus tried to neutralize Beknazarov, who was at the head of the previous two revolutions in the country.
On April 28, 2020, a bill to amend the constitutional law on election of the Parliament deputies was submitted for public discussion. According to the bill’s author, MP Bakyt Torobaev, the Parliament’s effective legislative activity largely depends on its professional potential.
Within the current judicial reform, it is necessary to draft about 200 bills and 600 government resolutions to remove conflicts and gaps in the new codes. The bill proposes to provide a special professional quota for MPs having higher legal, financial and economic education and at least 15 years of experience in the specialty.
The country also discussed the electoral threshold. Several bills were developed at once to reduce the electoral threshold to 5 percent or to 7 percent (currently it is 9 percent). According to the bills’ authors, it is necessary to eliminate the monopoly of political forces in the Parliament, and to attract new ones. Lowering the threshold barrier would increase voter representation.
Saving public funds
Kyrgyzstan is to hold the next parliamentary election in the fall of 2020, and 1.2 billion soms were planned from the state budget for its holding. Before the election, it was planned to conduct a census, as well elections to local councils, but they have been postponed due to the epidemic.
Deputies of the current, sixth convocation of the Parliament are subjected to numerous criticisms of the public. There are 120 deputies in the current unicameral Parliament, but the effectiveness of their work is often questioned.
MP Dastan Bekeshev proposes to postpone the parliamentary election for the spring of 2021 and to reduce the number of deputies of the next, seventh convocation to 90 people as it was in 2005. This will be a good saving of public funds in the unprecedented economic crisis.
Not all MPs supported the idea, saying that the fewer parliamentarians, the easier it would be to bribe them. A small number of people is easier to persuade to lobby the interests of some individuals and groups, they said.
As a result of quarantine restrictions on the operation of enterprises in the state of emergency, the national budget is losing billions of soms in unpaid taxes and customs duties. By the end of the year, the loss of the state revenue may exceed 30 billion soms, Finance Minister Baktygul Jeenbaeva said.
After the coronavirus pandemic, layoffs are planned in all government agencies, and this may also affect the Parliament.