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 president’s decisions.  By Joldon Kutmanaliev and Tolkunbek 
Turdubaev in Bishkek

in itself a sign of liberalisation.  By Elina Karakulova in Bishkek


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Critics of recent changes warn that Kyrgyzstan could end up with a one-party 
legislature that exists solely to rubberstamp the president’s 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 People’s 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 hasn’t 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. 

Bakiev’s 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 
compliant legislature. 

That would spell an end to Kyrgyzstan’s 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 president’s 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 Bakiev’s 
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 Bakiev’s 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. 

“It’s 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 doesn’t have those kinds of resources and it’s 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.

“It’s 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 Akaev’s downfall. 

According to the OSCE, the recent constitutional referendum was marred by many 
violations ranging from stuffing ballot-boxes to transporting voters to the 
polling stations.

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 
there’s no guarantee that bribery won’t 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. That’s 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 wouldn’t allow 
government to work, and its sessions were reminiscent of gangland battles… The 
majoritarian system encouraged our feudal tendencies. 

With only two months to go, the various pro-presidential parties have been 
joining Bakiev’s 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 Kyrgyzstan’s 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 
of Kyrgyzstan. 

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 
Kyrgyzstan’s 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,” 
he said. 

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 Jol’s deputy chairperson, Elmira Ibraimova, has no problem with the barrier, 
saying an election race that included all the country’s 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


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 fund’s 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 year’s 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 
leadership’s image abroad.

“There is no doubt that this is a one-off PR action. They didn’t even release 
those imprisoned for the [2002] 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 
president’s 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 Niazov’s attempt to impose his 
own book, the Ruhnama, on mosques as if it were of equivalent status to the 

Ibadullah’s 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, it’s 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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