WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 513 Part 2, October 29, 2007
NEW PARTY MAY DOMINATE KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT Critics of recent changes warn that
Kyrgyzstan could end up with a one-party legislature that exists solely to
rubberstamp the presidents decisions. By Joldon Kutmanaliev and Tolkunbek
Turdubaev in Bishkek
TURKMENISTANS DISAPPOINTING PRISON AMNESTY A mass release of convicts is not
in itself a sign of liberalisation. By Elina Karakulova in Bishkek
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NEW PARTY MAY DOMINATE KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT
Critics of recent changes warn that Kyrgyzstan could end up with a one-party
legislature that exists solely to rubberstamp the presidents decisions.
By Joldon Kutmanaliev and Tolkunbek Turdubaev in Bishkek
Changes to the way political parties contest for parliamentary seats in
Kyrgyzstan could result in a political system like those of Kazakstan and
Russia, where pro-presidential parties dominate and there is no effective
On October 21, voters in a national referendum approved a new constitution
which strengthens the role parties play in parliament and government.
Announcing the results the next day, President Kurmanbek Bakiev dissolved the
current legislature and called an election for December 16.
The new-shape legislature will have 90 seats, all filled by proportional
representation, using party lists. The current parliament was elected on a
first-past-the post basis, a system which has been criticised for encouraging
vote-rigging and allowing local strongmen to win easily.
In anticipation of the change, Bakiev announced the creation of a new party,
the Ak Jol Peoples Party, on October 15, saying that although Kyrgyzstan had
some 100 parties already, many of them were so small as to be insignificant.
Very few of them take on any responsibility at best, they just criticise the
authorities, he said. As yet there hasnt been any party that sets about
doing actual work. So I have taken a decision myself to create a new political
force, a party of construction, responsibility and action.
The day after he was elected head of Ak Jol on October 16, Bakiev laid down his
powers as party chairman temporarily, explaining that as head of state he could
not participate in party politics.
In theory, the new constitution is a step forward for Kyrgyzstan, in that it
gives political parties a real say in forming a government. Any party that wins
over half of the 90 seats can pick a prime minister, who then selects the
cabinet members. If no individual party gets a majority, the president can
nominate any of them to pick a government.
Bakievs intention is clearly that Ak Jol will swallow up many of the political
parties that favour him, and rapidly grow into a force capable of winning an
outright majority in the election.
If Ak Jol takes off, analysts warn that it will give Bakiev the power to get
bills through parliament unopposed, and could place Kyrgyzstan on the slippery
slope to the kind of authoritarian systems that characterise the rest of the
Central Asia countries, where one man is in absolute control, backed by a
That would spell an end to Kyrgyzstans reputation as the most democratic, if
sometimes chaotic Central Asian state, where no one party dominates, a
diversity of political viewpoints can be expressed, and civil society is fairly
Some analysts warn that the country is now going the same way as Russia and
Kazakstan, each of which has a range of political parties but is dominated by a
pro-presidential force. Kazak president Nursultan Nazarbaev's Nur-Otan holds
every seat in parliament, and there are worse cases like Uzbekistan and
Turkmenistan where no opposition is countenanced.
This constitution is a facade. Having a party-based parliament in a
presidential republic is a road leading straight to authoritarianism, said
Daniyar Tokobaev, a political scientist who teaches at the department for
social and humanitarian sciences at the International University of Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan is following in the footsteps of Russia and Kazakstan. In Russia,
the authorities created the clone parties United Russia and Fair Russia, which
are vehicles for the presidents policies.
Tokobaev argues that President Bakiev has adopted this new line because he is
politically in a weak position. Following the March 2005 revolt which ousted
his predecessor Askar Akaev, Bakiev won an election in July that year thanks to
a tactical alliance with Felix Kulov, whom he made his prime minister when he
himself became president.
Kulov enjoyed significant support in northern Kyrgyzstan, while Bakievs
support-base is in the south, and the two men agreed to an arrangement which
became known as the tandem, to avoid splitting the vote along regional lines.
In reality, this is an effort to legitimise Bakievs authority because during
the presidential election, people were not voting for him [alone] but for the
tandem, said Tokobaev.
In early 2007, Kulov left government and joined the opposition, where he
quickly became a leading figure and highly critical of his former ally.
Not everyone agrees the Kazak and Russian comparisons are applicable.
Its wrong to draw parallels we are not Kazakstan and we are not Russia,
said Kubatbek Baybolov, co-chairman of the opposition Ak Shumkar party. Those
countries have unlimited financial, material and technological resources, and
the authoritarian model of constructing a hierarchy of power is possible there.
Kyrgyzstan doesnt have those kinds of resources and its impossible to
construct the same kind of rigid hierarchy founded on an authoritarian regime.
Ishenbay Abdurazakov, who formerly held the senior post of State Secretary, is
concerned that too much power will be concentrated in the hands of one man.
Its quite obvious that this constitution concentrates even more power in the
hands of president. History tells us that if one person with unlimited power
approaches matters in a rational manner, it will promote social development,
he said. But there is virtually no guarantee that the president will tackle
pressing issues the right way.
I personally have ceased to believe in the idea of an enlightened ruler. A
democratic system would suit our requirements better.
Abdurazakov says there is no guarantee that Ak Jol would win in a fair
If the election is fair and honest, and the opposition succeeds in
consolidating its forces and setting out a coordinated programme of how it
would address current problems, the authorities might lose, he said. But that
will depend on what tactics the opposition adopt, and on their ability to run
an election campaign.
And there is no guarantee that the playing-field will be level. The last
parliamentary election, held in early 2005, saw so many complaints of
vote-rigging that it sparked widespread protests which in turn led to
ex-president Akaevs downfall.
According to the OSCE, the recent constitutional referendum was marred by many
violations ranging from stuffing ballot-boxes to transporting voters to the
Abdurazakov fears the new electoral system will simply see one set of corrupt
practices replaced by another.
At least the constitution solves one inflammatory problem, that of
[first-past-the-post] single-mandate elections, where there was bribery of
voters, rivalry between clans, and the ensuing political instability. But
theres no guarantee that bribery wont shift to the parties, and people will
buy places on the party lists, he said.
Political scientist Karybek Baibosunov takes a different view he welcomes a
strong presidency precisely because the outgoing parliament had such a
turbulent relationship with the executive.
The new constitution makes Kyrgyzstan a presidential republic. Thats a good
thing because now we can move in the same direction, and unite around a common
idea, he said in a recent television interview.
Prior to this, we had anarchy, not democracy. Parliament wouldnt allow
government to work, and its sessions were reminiscent of gangland battles
majoritarian system encouraged our feudal tendencies.
With only two months to go, the various pro-presidential parties have been
joining Bakievs super-party or in some cases deciding to stay separate in hope
of winning ground independently. The opposition, too, has got the message and
is trying to form bigger alliances ahead of the polls.
The shift of focus from individual candidates to proportional representation
presents parties with a new challenge - hitting the five per cent threshold
needed if they are to be allocated a share of the seats in parliament. In
addition to that nationwide percentage, they also need to win at least 0.5 per
cent of the vote in each of Kyrgyzstans administrative regions, in a clear
effort to filter out groups whose interests are local, even clan-based.
Only a few political parties will overcome this barrier, warned Omurbek
Tekebaev, a former speaker of parliament who now heads the opposition Ata-Meken
Socialist Party. Of course they will be parties with access to the
administrative and financial resources of the regime, even if they have to
break the law to get over the threshold.
Tekebaev believes a lower threshold would have allowed a wider range of views
to be represented in parliament.
The requirement has provoked particular anger among politicians from the
substantial ethnic Uzbek minority, which is heavily concentrated in the south
Davron Sobirov, a former member of parliament who heads the Uzbek community
body for Osh region, sees the mandatory threshold as discriminatory. He
describes it as the most mistaken and anti-constitutional measure in
Kyrgyzstans recent history.
Sobirov said the Vatan party, which largely draws its support from Uzbeks in
the south, has little chance of surmounting either the national threshold or
in the north of Kyrgyzstan the lower regional hurdle.
I therefore regard this parliamentary quota system as a deliberate move to
create obstacles in the way of our party, and of ethnic minorities as a whole,
However, some commentators argue that five per cent is just about the right
compromise between imposing an over-exacting requirement and allowing a
free-for-all which would lead to a fragmented parliament.
Ak Jols deputy chairperson, Elmira Ibraimova, has no problem with the barrier,
saying an election race that included all the countrys many political parties
would leave no conclusive winner.
Sania Sagnaeva, a senior political analyst with the International Crisis Group,
points out that other countries apply higher thresholds. In her view, the real
problem is that the parties have little time left to prepare for the election
because of the short advance notice.
Joldon Kutmanaliev is an IWPR contributor and Tolkunbek Turdubaev a BBC
correspondent in Bishkek
TURKMENISTANS DISAPPOINTING PRISON AMNESTY
A mass release of convicts is not in itself a sign of liberalisation.
By Elina Karakulova in Bishkek
A recent prison amnesty which failed to include high-profile political
prisoners in Turkmenistan has disappointed human rights groups, who say the
occasional release of large numbers of prisoners does nothing to address the
problems of a deeply flawed justice system.
They argue that far from liberalising the penal system, President Gurbanguly
Berdymuhammedov is perpetuating the practices of his predecessor Saparmurat
Every year since 1999, the authorities have announced a mass amnesty for Laylat
ul-Qadr, an important date in the Muslim calendar that was marked on October 9
in Turkmenistan this year.
The list of people released named about 9,000 people, but did not include major
political figures known to be in prison, notably former foreign minister Boris
Shikhmuradov, who was given a life sentence for allegedly playing a leading
role in an assassination attempt against Niyazov in late 2002.
Despite the expectations of many, the list of those pardoned excluded
prisoners of conscience and those referred to as political prisoners, said a
press release from the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, TIHR, an émigré
Unofficial estimates suggest that under Niazov, some 10,000 people were sent to
jail every year. Using the official list of those amnestied, TIHR calculated
that 5,000 of them had been convicted in 2007, which suggests that the courts
are continuing to convict far too many people despite the change of regime.
After Niazov died last December, Berdymuhammedov became acting head of state
before being elected president in February.
The Turkmen Helsinki Fund, another human rights organisation based abroad, says
it knows of 4,000 political prisoners who it says were convicted unlawfully.
The country is in dire need of serious judicial reform, said the funds head,
Tajigul Begmedova. Under Niazov, there was never a single not-guilty verdict,
and it is a common practice for courts to hand out the maximum possible term.
She added that while hard-core criminals were often released under the annual
amnesties, while political prisoners were left to serve their long sentences.
Vyacheslav Mamedov, head of the emigre Civic Democratic Union of Turkmenistan,
said the government is forced to order mass annual amnesties to ease
overcrowding, so this years releases cannot be seen a step towards
Despite reforms in other areas such as education and pensions, Mamedov argues
that the October amnesty was at best an attempt to improve the Turkmen
leaderships image abroad.
There is no doubt that this is a one-off PR action. They didnt even release
those imprisoned for the  assassination attempt against Niazov, he said.
When we talk about the liberalisation of this regime, we will be able to
define its starting point quite easily. It will come when citizens are given an
opportunity to make real use of the rights and freedoms that arise from
international conventions freedom of expression and conscience, the right to
assemble and stage demonstrations. None of that is happening in Turkmenistan.
So this amnesty has an underlying political cause and is a one-off event; it
does not affect society as a whole.
Hopes of a wide-ranging amnesty were raised when 11 individuals who clearly did
fall into the political prisoner category were freed in August.
They included the former chief Muslim cleric of Turkmenistan, Nasrullah ibn
Ibadullah, who was not only released but awarded a senior position with the
presidents Council for Religious Affairs.
In March 2004 Ibadullah was sentenced to 22 years in the assassination plot
case which saw so many other convictions. In fact, Ibadullah had spoke out
against earlier convictions, as well as against Niazovs attempt to impose his
own book, the Ruhnama, on mosques as if it were of equivalent status to the
Ibadullahs release was interpreted by many as a public exercise move just
before a United States delegation arrived in Turkmenistan.
Acacia Shields, a human rights consultant and long-term observer of Central
Asia, argues that whatever its motive, the August release of political
prisoners sent a positive signal, certainly more so than the subsequent amnesty.
I see the release of political prisoners as a more significant sign of
political liberalisation than the general amnesty, she said. Many governments
all over the world comply with human rights standards just to look good, but as
long as they comply with human rights standards, its OK.
An Ashgabad resident, who did not want to be named, was pessimistic, asking,
How is it possible to talk about a political thaw, if cases continue to be
fabricated against people seen as troublemakers? In this country, there is a
functioning system for persecuting dissidents and journalists of all kinds.
Elina Karakulova is an IWPR editor in Bishkek.
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