Opinion Head

Politics in Kyrgyzstan: overlooking the economic issues

LONDON (TCA) — Politicians letting their personal interests prevail over ideological and public issues is a global phenomenon. Kyrgyzstan’s democratic parliament excels in it, and threatens what the system is meant for. A party with a perhaps controversial but daring and radical formula to get the country out of its economic deadlock would beyond doubt harvest success, on condition that once in power it decidedly proceeds. But such a party lacks ground in Kyrgyzstan’s current political life.

What makes Kyrgyzstan’s current situation so remarkable is that no clear reason has been given why the pro-presidential Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) has withdrawn from the ruling parliamentary coalition which led to the latter’s break-up and the Cabinet’s resignation. Meanwhile, on December 11, the country is going to the polls (coinciding with elections for local councils) to vote in a referendum for constitutional amendments. But no one knows yet what the revised Constitution looks like, and some draft versions which have been publicised show only some highly cosmetic-looking amendments.

‘More powers to the prime minister’

According to most sideliners, the most tangible reason for the row consists of the intended changes in the constitution. “Kyrgyzstan’s government resigned on Wednesday after President Almazbek Atambayev’s party quit the ruling majority coalition earlier this week, deepening a rift between the pro-Russian leader and his former allies,” Reuters reported the following day. “The Social Democratic party, the biggest party in parliament, broke up with its coalition partners on Monday over their refusal to back proposed constitutional reforms. The proposed changes would strengthen the powers of the prime minister, a role which Atambayev could in theory take after stepping down as president next year, although he said in August he had no such plan.”

A comment posted by Newsweek on the event points in the same direction: “The upcoming constitutional vote could erode several checks established in the 2010 constitution that were designed to prevent Kyrgyzstan from reverting to authoritarian rule. Based on previous discussions in parliament, it is likely the new document will see the president cede more powers to the prime minister.” Briefly: the entire issue is about individuals’ positions in upper circles of Kyrgyzstan’s state and political system.

The only issue that matters

The real issues, namely whether or not to nationalise major industrial assets in the country and whether or not to stay within the Eurasian Economic Union, appear to play no role whatsoever in either the constitutional amendments or the cabinet crisis and ongoing talks to form a new coalition. This means that a new coalition, whoever takes part in it next to the inevitable SDPK, will leave things as they are and is most unlikely to see any significant shift in the only issue that matters for Kyrgyzstan: the economy.

In the first three quarters of this year, Kyrgyzstan’s gross domestic product increased by 2.9 per cent year-on-year to 310 billion som – or a meagre-looking 4.5 billion US dollar on a population of 6 million. Without taking the largest moneymaker, the Kumtor gold mine, into account, GDP over the period was no more than 286 billion som, a 3.1 per cent on-year increase. Industrial output in the first nine months, however, lost 4.7 per cent on-year and amounted to 135 billion som. It may look strange, but not a sign of discord in Parliament over the budget has been reported.

Clashes over personal careers

And little is set to change. “Forecasts say that the real GDP growth of Kyrgyzstan will be 2.9 per cent in 2017, Kabar news agency quoted Prime Minister Sooronbay Jeenbekov as saying on October 24,” in the words of an article posted by Human Rights Watch following the cabinet break-up. “The prime minister noted that the risks which can affect the GDP growth in 2017 are: instability of the global economy, dependence of the economy on world prices for gold and energy resources, risks for increase of inflation due to the growth of food prices and others. At the same time, Kyrgyz government will work on maintaining the macroeconomic stability and ensuring the sustainability of the economic growth, said the report. Kyrgyzstan’s budget revenues will be 126.8 billion som, the expenditures will stand at 150.1 billion som, while the deficit will be 23.3 billion som, according to the country’s draft 2017 budget.”

The growing deficit is accompanied by an increasing external national debt which now exceeds $4 billion. A daring, drastic series of measures is needed to get the dozens of large-scale factories now standing idle and rotting away while what should be the working population is now condemned to make a modest living on petty trade. Generating large amounts of income is what Kyrgyzstan needs, and a new coalition should put that on top of the agenda instead of squabbling over what looks very much like a series of clashes over personal careers. This could eventually make people indifferent towards politics.

In the latest parliamentary elections, the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan won 27.56 percent of the votes (38 seats), Respublika Ata-Jurt – 20.26 percent (28 seats), Kyrgyzstan – 13.07 percent (18 seats), Onuguu-Progress – 9.39 percent (13 seats), Bir Bol – 8.59 percent (12 seats) and Ata-Meken – 7.08 percent (11 seats). That means that the parties have to agree to form a ruling coalition that appoints the Cabinet.

Bir Bol is the only party represented in Parliament which openly advocates a return to presidential rule in Kyrgyzstan, while the Respublika/Ata-Jurt tandem remains ambiguous (and divided) on the issue. All other parties adhere to the existing system. And the SDPK has declared that its decision to break up the coalition is mainly due to the fact that some partners kept “following instructions” from the two previous regimes. This makes Bir Bol the least likely partner for a new coalition.

The most obvious choice is a coalition with Respublika/Ata-Jurt. According to local news agencies, negotiations between Almazbek Baatyrbekov, who chairs the Respublika wing of the tandem with Ata-Jurt’s fraction in Parliament, have been held into the weekend. But a separate deal with Respublika, which is considered to obtain most of its support from the Kyrgyz business community, would require a third party: either Onuguu or Ata-Meken.