Pros and cons of proposed constitutional amendments in Kyrgyzstan

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BISHKEK (TCA) — The initiative of Kyrgyzstan’s Parliament to amend the Constitution by a referendum is now the most discussed topic in the country. The proposed referendum may take place this coming fall.

On July 29, four parliamentary factions including Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), Respublika – Ata-Jurt, Onuguu–Progress, and Kyrgyzstan submitted proposed constitutional amendments for public discussion. The fifth faction, Ata Meken, headed by Omurbek Tekebayev, did not participate in drafting the amendments because Tekebayev does not believe that the current Constitution, created by him in 2010, is imperfect.

It is proposed to amend 29 articles of the Constitution.

Proposed changes

The amendments will affect the Government and the judicial system. According to the leader of pro-presidential SDPK party Isa Omurkulov, the amendments will eliminate shortcomings of the current Constitution and are aimed at maintaining a balance between all government branches.

The amendments have been introduced “to remove the mines” planted in the text of the current Constitution, President Almazbek Atambayev said, adding that he is not going to become a prime minister after his term of office expires.

One of the main objectives of the amendments is to make Kyrgyzstan’s judicial system not dependent on international organizations, Atambayev said. It is proposed to remove the second paragraph from Article 41, as there should not be such a situation that the UN could abolish a decision of the Supreme Court of a sovereign country, he said referring to Azimjan Askarov’s case.

Even experienced politicians were surprised to hear that Kyrgyzstan is obliged to fulfill the decision of a UN Committee and release human rights activist Azimjan Askarov, who was given a life sentence for killing a police officer during the tragic events in the south of Kyrgyzstan in 2010.

The initiators of the amendments say the current Constitution lacks clear mechanisms of revocation of ministers from their posts. The Government posts became a kind of ownership of the parliamentary factions, and they are shared by a quota. Battles with intrigue and blackmail are taking place in the Parliament for Cabinet posts. Ministers appointed under this scheme often sabotage collegial decisions of the Government and ignore Prime Minister’s orders. The President recalled the situation when Temir Sariev, then Prime Minister, could not dismiss Argynbek Malabaev from the post of Transport Minister because of the prime minister’s “cut-down” powers. According to the amendments, the Prime Minister will be able to initiate resignation of any cabinet member, with the exception of those in charge of defense and national security who are appointed by President.

The Parliament Speaker will be in direct dependence on the ruling majority. If the parliamentary coalition falls apart as a result of political intrigues, not only ministers and the prime minister but also the Parliament speaker will have to resign.

The Prime Minister will also control investigation, including in corruption cases.

Highest values

According to the proposed wording of Article 1 of the Constitution, a person is declared the supreme value of the State. Kyrgyz citizens are obliged to defend the State’s ‘highest values”, and no ideology can be aimed at undermining them.

A total of 34 higher values have been introduced, such as a person, his/her life, the pursuit of happiness, health, care of parents, and respect of elders.

Words about higher values are only good for TV talk shows, the opposition politician Adil Turdukulov believes. The Constitution is a legal document, and it should not be vague, fuzzy, or interpreted in two ways. Blurred rules may lead to unpredictable consequences including violation of human rights and freedoms.

Amendments also concern the institute of marriage. The article which states that “individuals have the right to marry” was amended so as to clarify that a family can only be created by a man and a woman.

Background

The current Constitution, adopted after the second revolution in 2010 and the bloody inter-ethnic conflict in the south of Kyrgyzstan, caused many disputes. The Constitution declared a moratorium on constitutional changes until 2020. In 2014 the Parliament proposed to amend the document but the dissatisfaction of public organizations and politicians forced President Atambayev to veto the initiative.

To justify the current changes, their initiators claim that the Constitution was adopted in haste and there are many shortcomings to be eliminated. But these amendments have also been drafted in a hurry and it is still unclear who of the lawyers and politicians participated in it. In addition, 30 days set for public discussion in the height of the summer holidays is not enough to discuss the changes.

Pros and cons

Experts have carefully analyzed the proposed amendments, and many of them believe that the proposed referendum is aimed at usurpation of power and the amendments should not be made.

The proposed changes would weaken the Parliament, and the judicial system would be totally dependent on it and the President. This should not be done, as the country has committed itself to the parliamentary system, MP Cholpon Jakupova said. All the constitutional procedures are being violated even at the initiative stage, and there is the impression that there were no lawyers among the amendments’ authors, she added.

According to the former judge of the Constitutional Chamber Clara Sooronkulova, the amendments were not written openly, and some Parliament deputies did not even know about their preparation. Moreover, there were no consultations with the Constitutional Chamber. She is not against amending the Constitution but there are no social or political conditions to change it so urgently.

Political scientist Mars Sariev believes the amendments are being made because Kyrgyz society is not ready for the parliamentary form of government. The President made it clear that future Government and Parliament (after he steps down as President in a year and three months) may act like [former Presidents] Akayev and Bakiyev to usurp the state power. So it is necessary to create a balance between the three branches of government, and some functions should be passed over to Prime Minister.

Kyrgyzstan citizens would have to decide themselves if the changes to the Constitution are necessary when they vote in the referendum, if it will take place. And still, the moratorium on amending the Constitution is in force until 2020.