The referendum of contention: why Kyrgyzstan’s new Constitution

Sunday in Kyrgyzstan will hold a referendum on changing the Constitution of the Republic, adopted after the revolution of 2010. Supporters of the changes claim that these changes will make the political system in the country is more stable, I suspect opponents of President Almazbek Atambayev that he intends to retain control over what is happening in politics after his retirement.

The purpose of the referendum

A referendum on amendments to the Constitution will be held simultaneously with the elections to the local councils. The developers of the changes said that only 36 introduces amendments to Chapter 24 of the Constitution and in the preamble, recalls “Interfax”.

The current Constitution was adopted after the 2010 revolution, one of whose leaders was Atambayev. It was the modified political model of the country, and Kyrgyzstan became the only Central Asian parliamentary Republic.

The reform of the Constitution was initiated by the leaders of the Social democratic party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) leader before being elected President in 2011 was Atambayev. Itself the social democratic party in Parliament is 38 out of 120 parliamentary seats, but the coalition of parliamentary factions “bir Bol” (12 seats) and “Kyrgyzstan” (18) is the ruling majority in Parliament.

The most significant changes in the Constitution relate to the powers of the Prime Minister of the Republic, which will be significantly expanded. The reform provides that the head of government can appoint and dismiss Ministers without the approval of the President and without the involvement of local councils. After the adoption of the new Constitution the Prime Minister in case of delay of more than five days with the signing of the decree on dismissal of the members of the government from the President will have the opportunity to dismiss members of the Cabinet in its decision.

The Prime Minister also may qualify to block the bills, which include increasing the spending budget, bringing them back to the Parliament. In addition, the Prime Minister and his deputies will have the right to retain the parliamentary mandate, which will allow them to return to his seat in Parliament after the resignation.

In addition, the new Constitution complicated the procedure for expression of no confidence in the government, the Parliament will need the support of at least two thirds of deputies, and not by a simple majority. The amendments also tighten the rules out of the factions of the parliamentary majority coalition.

The proposed reform and the judicial system. In the new edition of the Constitution of Kyrgyzstan the President of the country receives the right to present candidates for judges of the Constitutional chamber (constitutional court of the Republic) and to remove them from office if two thirds of Parliament will support this proposal.

It is also proposed to abolish the Statute of limitations on serious crimes related to ecocide, genocide, and abuse in the development of Kyrgyzstan’s largest gold Deposit, Kumtor, permission for development which under President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was awarded to Cameco Corporation. The current government of Kyrgyzstan think it is obviously disadvantageous to the government and want to reconsider.

Another innovation concerns the rule of international law. The new text of the Constitution, on the one hand, reaffirms the commitment of the country to build state, “the highest value” which is “the man, his life, health, rights and freedoms”, and on the other — eliminates the priority of international treaties on human rights, which propose to define the laws of Kyrgyzstan. In addition, introduced a paragraph that defines marriage as “the Union of man and women” and also the amendment that allows for deprivation of nationality.

The referendum of discord

Articles that expand the powers of the Prime Minister, will not take effect until December 2017, i.e. after the end of the presidential term Atambayev. By law, the President can be elected for only one six-year term, but an unlimited number of times can apply for the post of Prime Minister. Critics of the new law fear that Atambayev, the leader of one of the largest parties in the country, leading political forces in the Parliament will become Prime Minister and will have control over the entire Executive branch of Kyrgyzstan.

Eight people, who together with Atambayev was part of the interim government established in Kyrgyzstan after the 2010 revolution, in August 2016, wrote an open letter urging the President to abandon the idea to hold a referendum. Among those who put their signatures under the document, the President of Kyrgyzstan of the transitional period Roza Otunbayeva, who ruled the country from July 2010 until the election of Atambaev in December 2011.

They indicate that the text of the new Constitution significantly limits the rights and freedoms of citizens, deprives the courts of independence from the President and the government and puts the country on the danger of usurpation of power. In addition, they drew attention to the fact that the current Constitution has passed international expertise of the Venice Commission and other recognized international organizations, and the new text of the Basic law such examinations were not subjected to.

Atambayev in response, said that his “slander” and called the accusations in an attempt to usurp the power of the “vile lie”. According to him, former colleagues in the interim government were motivated by “envy” and “malice,” due to the fact that he gave them “special conditions” and high positions, and in the text of the Constitution 2010 established “conditions for totalitarianism,” and that’s because it needs to be changed.

Opponents of the referendum also indicated that changing the Constitution is impossible until 2020 (such a rule contained in the act of acceptance).

The purpose of the amendments to the Constitution of Kyrgyzstan to make the power system more resilient, said Sergey Masaulov, the head of the Kyrgyz Center for advanced studies. Since 2010, in Parliament seven times apart the majority coalition, which is not conducive to political stability. In order to stabilize the system, it is necessary to expand the powers of the Prime Minister and to ensure the preservation behind it of the Deputy mandate, but also to tighten the rules leaving the coalition in the Parliament. It’s too easy to destroy a majority coalition, leading to the resignation of the government and slow down, says Masaulov.

The expert said that, according to a study conducted by the Centre for policy studies, in the country now there is no protest potential in order to unhappy with the referendum, the residents took to the streets, but the opposition will probably use the referendum to Express themselves. Masaulov does not exclude that a surge of protest activity is possible at the end of February to March.

On Moscow’s relations with Bishkek, the referendum result will not be affected, said a Russian expert Azhdar Kurtov. He points out that in Kyrgyzstan, has repeatedly changed the Constitution, but to qualitative changes is not caused. Kyrgyzstan, he said, is going through a difficult period: the economy failed to improve, despite the entry into the Eurasian economic Union, there is a change of elites.

According to the poll conducted in October of 2016, “the Coalition for democracy and civil society” among those who plan to participate in the voting, 60% support the change.