WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 472, 23 November, 2006
MAKING KYRGYZSTAN'S CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM STICK The new constitution offers a
real prospect of more accountable government, but political leaders may try to
undermine the reform. By Cholpon Orozobekova in Bishkek
UNCERTAINTY DOGS ANDIJAN REFUGEES Most of the Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan are in a
legal no-man's land with no legal status as refugees and the ever-present risk
of deportation. By Aziza Turdueva in Bishkek
ROAD RAGE IN KAZAKSTAN Owners of right-hand drive cars are outraged at a
government plan to ban such vehicles. By Filip Prokudin in Almaty
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MAKING KYRGYZSTAN'S CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM STICK
The new constitution offers a real prospect of more accountable government, but
political leaders may try to undermine the reform.
By Cholpon Orozobekova in Bishkek
Nearly two weeks after Kyrgyzstan's constitution came into force, rushed
through in a deal between the government and its opponents, people are waiting
to see whether it will bring a close to a prolonged period of political
Some opposition politicians worry that the country's leaders show signs of
carrying on as if nothing has really changed.
The constitution, signed into law by President Kurmanbek Bakiev on November 9,
was a compromise between the authorities and the opposition forces which had
held a week-long rally demanding fundamental changes to the way the country is
run. The document was drafted by pro- and anti-Bakiev factions in parliament as
the street demonstrations threatened to tip over into violence, with riot
police using batons and tear gas to separate rival groups of protesters.
The new constitution curtails some of the powers of the Kyrgyz president, and
for the first time allows the dominant party in parliament to choose a prime
minister and government. Parliament itself grows from 75 to 90 seats, half of
them filled by proportional representation rather than the first-past-the-post
system, a change the opposition sought as a way of reducing the chance of
fixing elections in advance.
The peaceful resolution to what looked like a dangerous confrontation has been
welcomed by many in Kyrgyzstan.
"This new constitution is far from ideal, but in the circumstances it
represents two steps forward," said Asiya Sasykbaeva of Interbilim, a
non-government group. "Everyone is happy that the conflict was resolved in a
positive manner and without bloodshed."
Sultan Urmanaev, a member of the opposition Movement for Reforms, agreed,
saying, "I believe that the constitution will take the country out of crisis.
It's a step towards democracy. It's given us a strong government. Whereas in
the past the government always looked to the president before doing anything,
now it is like a bird that has broken free."
However, the rushed drafting process has also led to claims that the
constitution contains inconsistencies and leaves unresolved questions about who
has the right to do what in the political structure. This is all the more true
since it was decided that in the interests of stability, the current government
should stay on and parliament should see out its term, so that neither body
reflects the constitutional arrangements that so far, exist only on paper.
Amangeldi Muraliev, a former prime minister, argues that further tensions are
"New conflicts are to be expected now that the constitution has been passed,"
he said. "According to the constitution, there should be a change of government
to fit with the new structure, yet it's been agreed that all these top
officials should remain in situ until 2010. But will the nation put up with
them until then? And more importantly, will they be able to put up with each
At the moment, both sides appear to be still recovering from their
confrontation and coming to terms with the surprise deal that ended it.
"The battle between the [two] forces has not stopped," said Kubatbek Baibolov,
leader of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces. "Those who didn't want
this new constitution are probing for its shortcomings and inconsistencies,
while those who did want it are looking for its good points."
Baibolov includes President Bakiev among those reluctant to accept
constitutional reform. "He wanted to live and rule like [Askar] Akaev," said
Baibolov, referring to the former president ousted in March 2005 by an
opposition movement that included both Bakiev and his current opponents - many
of who have defected from his administration over the last year, disappointed
at what they saw as his failure to tackle key reforms.
"We forced him into this, and now a reassessment is taking place inside
Government House. Many people there do not want to live under this constitution
but are forced to do so, and they don't know how," said Baibolov.
Another opposition leader, Melis Eshimkanov of the Movement for Reforms,
complained that the text of the constitution had not been published. "There's
talk that it's being changed. I don't believe it can take that long to correct
grammatical mistakes," he said.
Eshimkanov added, "I fear that the president, who never wanted this reform at
all, is now deliberately flouting the constitution." As evidence of this
charge, he cited a November 13 decree from Bakiev sacking Turgunbek Kulmurzaev
as governor of Chui region and replacing him with Kubanychbek Syydanov.
Kulmurzaev had taken part in the opposition's street protests.
According to Eshimkanov, the president can only make this kind of personnel
change on the instructions of Prime Minister Felix Kulov. "We've made
enquiries, and there's been no such order," he said.
Edil Baisalov, another Movement for Reforms member, believes the Bakiev
administration has not woken up to what the constitutional changes mean, and
may seek to circumvent them when they do.
"I suspect that when the president and his team find out they've been deprived
of numerous powers, they will look at various ways out of the situation," he
said. "One possible option is that matters are brought to a head, a new reform
is launched, and a referendum held.... Another is that they delay the passage
of laws, the president rules [as before] and says which laws are to go through,
Erkindik party leader Topchubek Turgunaliev, who aligned himself with the
president during the recent turmoil, agrees with those opposition politicians
who argue that signing up to the constitution merely marks "the start of a new
phase in the struggle for power".
But in contrast to their views, Turgunaliev accuses the opposition, not the
president, of continuing to stoke tensions.
At the start of the November 2-8 rally, the opposition called for the
resignation of both Bakiev and Kulov. As Turgunaliev noted, the pressure seems
to be off the president at the moment.
"The opposition is seeking the resignation of the government, and after that it
will pursue the removal of the president again," he said. "It's a very
difficult situation. The opposition isn't going to stop. Constitutional reform
may prove to have been a pretext for a bid for the presidency."
The Movement for Reforms called on Kulov to step down on November 14, arguing
that his government should have the support of most members of parliament.
Baibolov told IWPR that he wants to see the government step down to make way
for a new line-up that "enjoys the nation's trust" - although he accepts many
of the existing faces would reappear in a new cabinet.
"We are not demanding resignations, but the government does need to undergo
significant changes," he said.
The prime minister is understood to be preparing a new cabinet list which would
go to parliament for approval.
Many analysts believe Kulov will survive - not least because Bakiev's
administration is founded on the "tandem", the sometimes difficult political
coalition the two men have forged.
Tamerlan Ibraimov, director of the Centre for Political and Legal Studies, made
the point that there is currently no dominant political party in parliament
that could take on the role of choosing a cabinet, so that technically
President Bakiev still has the final say over the selection.
On November 21, RFE/RL reported that the NGO Coalition for Democracy and Civil
Society issued a renewed call for the constitution to be published. The hold-up
is said to be in translating the document from the Russian original into
Kyrgyz, the state language.
Cholpon Orozobekova is a correspondent for Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of
UNCERTAINTY DOGS ANDIJAN REFUGEES
Most of the Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan are in a legal no-man's land with no legal
status as refugees and the ever-present risk of deportation.
By Aziza Turdueva in Bishkek
Refugees who fled to Kyrgyzstan following violence in the Uzbek city of Andijan
last year face an uncertain future in their new homeland, with many living in
poverty and in fear that they will be forced back to Uzbekistan.
At least 800 refugees crossed the border in the days following May 13, 2005,
when Uzbek troops opened fire on unarmed protesters.
So far, 440 have since been sent to other countries including Romania, the
United States, Canada and Australia. The rest remain in Kyrgyzstan with 114
people - mainly opposition members, human rights activists and journalists -
formally registered as refugees by the State Committee for Migration and
Among the 114, there are 40 to whom the Bishkek office of the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, has accorded its own refugee status, and
another 50 who have applications pending with the agency.
An estimated 350 others, however, have not acquired refugee status and live in
the shadows, earning money as unskilled labourers.
The registered refugees say the aid provided by the UNHCR - each individual
gets ten kilogrammes of flour and rice, four kg of cooking oil and the same of
sugar, and the equivalent of 12 US dollars in cash to last them a period of
three months - is not enough to live on.
Turgun Rahimov, a pensioner and long-time member of the Uzbek opposition party
Birlik, lives in Tokmak, 100 kilometres from Bishkek. Like many of his
counterparts, he says he hasn't got enough to eat and earns spare cash by
collecting empty bottles for the deposit.
The refugees also live in fear of being sent back to Uzbekistan. Many say the
reason why they do not seek formal refugee status is that they are worried this
could bring unwelcome attention from the authorities.
Although the government was praised for allowing 440 refugees to leave for
third countries, human rights activists in Kyrgyzstan and abroad have accused
it of failing its obligation to protect those who remain.
The UNHCR representative in Bishkek, Vitaly Maslovsky, says the government has
delayed the process of granting the Uzbeks legal status as refugees.
There are concerns among refugees and domestic and international human rights
groups that the Kyrgyz authorities are quietly returning refugees and
asylum-seekers to Uzbekistan in contravention of international law.
The Kyrgyz government has sought to reassure Uzbekistan of its commitment to
clamping down on Islamic radicalism in the Fergana Valley, shared by both
countries. Kyrgyz security forces mounted a major sweep in southern parts of
the country over the summer which resulted in arrests and a number of deaths,
including those of a suspected militant leader and a prominent Muslim cleric.
In late August, UNHCR said it was worried about the fate of four individuals
who had disappeared from the city of Osh. All four had been registered by the
Kyrgyz government's migration agency.
UNHCR said it had credible information that at least two of them were now in
custody across the border in Andijan.
At the same time, the United States embassy noted that a different group
consisting of four registered refugees and one applicant had earlier been
extradited to Uzbekistan.
Kyrgyzstan's prosecution service said it had received no extradition requests
for people who had applied for refugee status, but it later acknowledged that
the four whose cases were raised by the UNHCR plus another man with a pending
asylum application were no longer in the country.
Adilet, a local human rights group which helps protect refugees' rights, now
says it is aware of 17 Uzbeks who have disappeared without a trace.
Maslovsky of UNHCR said that such cases show that "Kyrgyzstan is not fulfilling
its obligations on refugee rights in full".
Police in Osh denied detaining the five who disappeared from the city, and
began an investigation. However, there is concern both among refugees and in
the human rights community, including Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir Uulu, the
police themselves are implicated in such abductions.
"When four Uzbek [other] refugees disappeared without trace, we immediately
voiced our suspicions that they might have been kidnapped by our [Kyrgyz]
law-enforcement bodies and handed over to the Uzbek authorities. And now this
suspicion has been confirmed by reports that three of them are being held in
Andijan prisons," said Aziza Abdrasulova, the head of the human rights
organisation Kylym Shamy, referring to a different group of people from those
whose cases the UNHCR raised.
Many of the Uzbek refugees originally based in southern Kyrgyzstan have since
moved north to Bishkek, where they hope they will be less vulnerable to
predatory security officers.
Even when he lived in Bishkek, Rahimov said he was followed by people who told
him they worked for the Kyrgyz law-enforcement services. "There have been
several attempts to remove me. Strangers come to the apartment. So I often have
to change my place of residence. This is difficult for me as I am over 60," he
Another Birlik member, Anvar Akilov, who has been living in Bishkek since the
Andijan violence, says he has approached repeatedly by strangers who tell him
he should go back to Uzbekistan.
"It's a kind of threat. I am afraid for my children," he said.
Many refugees, however, are afraid to speak out against the Karimov government,
because their families must live with the consequences if they do.
Mahmud Ilhomov, who also lives in Bishkek, told IWPR that after he was
interviewed on the radio, his relatives began to be persecuted back in
Uzbekistan. "My sister rang me and asked me with tears in her eyes to stop
giving interviews," he said.
Aziza Turdueva is an independent journalist in Bishkek.
(The names of interviewees have been changed out of concern for their safety.)
ROAD RAGE IN KAZAKSTAN
Owners of right-hand drive cars are outraged at a government plan to ban such
By Filip Prokudin in Almaty
"This is a real blow below the belt. What am I supposed to do?" asked Timur,
complaining of a recent government decision that many people in Kazakstan feel
is an infringement of their basic freedoms.
The issue is not politics or human rights, but which side a car's steering
wheel should be on.
Most cars in Kazakstan, as in Russia and other countries where traffic drives
on the right, have their steering wheels on the left-hand side. But Timur is
among a growing band of drivers who have acquired right-hand drive cars,
purchased second-hand in Japan and sold at affordable prices.
"Cars of the model I have are manufactured in Japan with a diesel engine for
the domestic market only, and so they come with right-hand steering," he
In a November 13 ruling, Kazakstan's Security Council banned such vehicles,
saying they cause too many accidents.
No right-hand drive vehicles can be imported from January next year, and even
more controversially, all those already in the country will have to be off the
road by 2009.
The head of Kazakstan's traffic police, Omurzak Tusumov, said road safety
concerns had forced the move.
"Three thousand people die in car accidents every year in Kazakstan," he said.
Interior ministry statistics show the number of deaths involving right-hand
drive cars so far this year has risen by 100 per cent compared with the same
period last year.
"The figures speak for themselves," said Tusumov, citing a study commissioned
from Kazakstan's transport academy. "The technical disadvantage of these cars
is that their headlights point to the left and dazzle oncoming drivers."
Car journalist Diaz Abylkasov, who works for the Virazh dealership which mostly
sells new Russian-made cars, believes the authorities were right to enforce a
ban on used right-hand vehicles.
"These cars are usually over seven years old, so they are dirtier to run. I
think it's part of an environmental programme.... But the main reason is the
danger these cars pose. Their drivers have to swing right out into the other
lane and often fail to react to an oncoming car. I have friends who've had
crashes in these cars," he said.
Right-hand drivers dispute such claims, saying the dangers are exaggerated.
"Cars with right-hand steering wheels are only inconvenient in two situations -
overtaking and turning left at an intersection. To avoid accidents, you can fit
special overtaking mirrors, which I've done," said Timur. "And right-hand drive
can be more convenient - when I park the car I can get right out on to the
Another driver, who did not want to be named, told IWPR how he joined a
demonstration mounted by owners angered at the prospect of losing their cars in
"About 500 cars took part," he said. "First we protested in our cars - we drove
along, flashed our indicators, and obstructed cars with left-handed steering.
Then we marched on foot."
This man, who believes "someone in Astana needs to have his head examined",
said it was unfair to pick on cars made for the Japanese market, which he said
were cheaper, safer and more eco-friendly than equivalent models imported from
Although the centres of its big cities may be congested, Kazakstan has only 12
cars per 100 people, compared with around 15 in Russia and over 50 in Germany.
There is no domestic car industry, and in the last decade the Russian-made
Volgas and Ladas that were once ubiquitous have increasingly been displaced by
Shiny new Mercedes and Jeeps are common sights in the big cities, but represent
an insignificant elite market segment. Of the 240,000 cars imported last year,
less than 40,000 were new, and most of the rest were over seven years old,
according to trade ministry data.
The second-hand cars are either brought over from Europe or imported from Japan
- the source of all right-hand drive vehicles. Over the past four years,
800,000 used models have been imported into Kazakstan, which has just over 1.5
million cars. Tusumov told the Security Council meeting that there are now
117,000 right-hand drive motors in the country.
There is a perception that the proposed ban will unfairly punish the emerging
middle class in Kazakstan, who can just about afford to buy a Japanese import
on their modest budgets. Running these models is cheap, too, with Chinese-made
spare parts readily available.
Despite the safety reasons cited by the government, the proposed ban has
sparked conspiracy theories - for example that powerful business groups wanted
to stem the flow of cheap imports so as to tighten their control over car
While the import ban seems likely to be enforced next year, it is possible the
government may yet reconsider or soften its decision to outlaw right-hand cars
on Kazakstan's roads in two years' time. The interior ministry's recommendation
to the Security Council meeting which took the decision only proposed stopping
new vehicle registrations after a certain deadline.
Filip Prokudin is an independent journalist in Almaty.
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