21 May 2022

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BLAST FROM THE PAST

What will be the logical outcome of the third ‘revolution’ in Kyrgyzstan?

Author:

01.02.2021

After ten years of discussions, polemics and intra-social debates, Kyrgyzstan returns to a presidential form of government with the head of state receiving the largest vote of confidence.

Early presidential elections in the Kyrgyz Republic and a referendum on the form of government took place on the same day, January 10. As a result, Sadyr Japarov won the election, with the new form of government in Kyrgyzstan be presidential.

 

Ideas of the ‘third Kyrgyz revolution’

The (early) elections and referendum were a direct consequence of the events that shocked the country in the fall of 2020 called the ‘third Kyrgyz revolution’, while the first two occurred in 2005 and 2010 and led to the change of two presidents – Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev. On both occasions, it was the abuse of power by former leaders, such as the concentration of political power under a single official – the president of the country, that caused public discontent in Kyrgyzstan. Ultimately, the successors had to hold a referendum on the form of governance. On June 27, 2010, at the referendum held in Kyrgyzstan, citizens voted for the introduction of a parliamentary form of governance.

Under the classical parliamentary form of government, the president, as the head of state, has only nominal, representative power. He only approves the decisions approved by the Prime Minister. What did happen in practice in Kyrgyzstan?

Experts believe that a hybrid system has actually developed in the country, which combines the presidential and parliamentary forms of governance. Under this system, all decisions are made by the prime minister. But the president, being the leader of the ruling party with a parliamentary majority, could indirectly and even directly influence personnel decisions in the country.

President Almazbek Atambayev, who controlled the majority in the parliament (Jogorku Kenesh) of the 5th and 6th convocations, used this for his own advantage. Kyrgyz experts critical about Atambayev's policy regarded the situation as a "game of democracy" that led to the destruction of the country's political elite, strengthening of oligarchs and bureaucrats, increase of foreign debt, and damaged the political party. In addition, the effectiveness of power has dropped significantly. Indeed, in the conditions of parliamentarism, the adoption of urgent decisions as a result of various approvals and consultations took months and years.

Thus, the management system has become ineffective, with the political system becoming prone to crisis phenomena. In this situation, even the departure of President Atambayev and his succession by the fellow party member Sooronbai Jeenbekov did not and could not change anything.

 

Collapse of Kyrgyz parliamentarism

Jeenbekov came to power in 2017 as the democratically elected successor to Atambayev and the successor to his policies. But they soon parted ways. The new president began to get rid of the influence of his predecessor. Observers claim that it all started with a personal conflict between the two presidents.

Ambitious Atambayev resigned as president, but remained the leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan. He tried to remain the shadow leader of the country and influence the main decisions made in the country. Meanwhile, Jeenbekov turned out to be an independent politician and, in defending his positions, went to confrontation with his ex-boss. He was supported by political groups and tribal clans. At the same time, representatives of Atambayev's team have explicitly opposed the line of the new head of state.

The conflict escalated into open confrontation after several people from Atambayev's team were arrested on criminal charges, including two former prime ministers of the country.

Then Jeenbekov signed a law allowing him to hold former presidents accountable for indicted criminal charges. Soon Atambayev faced charges of corruption.

The parliament deprived Atambayev of immunity, and he was summoned for interrogation as a witness. Atambayev called the accusations absurd and politically motivated. His trial has become one of the loudest political scandals of the decade accompanied by high-profile exposures of influential Kyrgyz officials. As a result, the ex-president was taken into custody together with his associates.

Although the trial of Atambayev strengthened Jeenbekov's power, it was an irreparable blow to the reputation of the authorities. The credibility of the political system was severely undermined. Therefore, in the fall of 2020, during the development of the next protest movement in Kyrgyzstan, citizens protested against the key people in Kyrgyz leadership and the political system of the country.

 

New reforms in a crisis

Meanwhile, an economic crisis had been growing in the country amidst the turbulent political system of Kyrgyzstan. The pandemic and its implications have only exacerbated the difficult situation.

A joint study by the Asian Development Bank, the UN Development Program and the Institute for Economic Policy Research published last summer contains a disappointing forecast for the development of the Kyrgyz economy. Thus, according to the worst-case scenario, the unemployment rate in Kyrgyzstan can reach 21%, with significant decline in key sectors of the economy, including tourism, trade, consumer services and construction. Many of informal employees are not covered by social protection.

The study also shows that small-size businesses, people with disabilities and large families are particularly vulnerable to the socio-economic impact of the pandemic.

At the same time, the country's government does not yet have an adequate response to these challenges. At a press conference after the election, new president Sadyr Japarov said that he was going to "bring migrants home" and promised to bring Kyrgyzstan out of the economic crisis in the next three years.

Under the previous government, Japarov was in prison. He decided to fix all the flaws in the parliamentary form of government as soon as possible. For the time being, he is going to strengthen the presidential power and has already announced a constitutional reform. "After the constitutional reform, there will be a new government, a new parliament, which will be elected by a mixed system – by party lists and single-mandate constituencies," Japarov said. According to the plans, all reforms should be completed by June 1.

Kyrgyz society seems to be tired of frequent political upheavals and the uncertainty caused by them. It cherishes hopes for a new government and new perspectives. Time will show whether they are rosy or meet the expectations of millions of Kyrgyz.



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