WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 529 Part 2, February 2, 2008
CHANGES TO KYRGYZ ASSEMBLY MUZZLE DEPUTIES The government says it only wants
to streamline parliaments work, but the opposition says the real aim is to
silence debate. By Yrys Kadykeev in Bishkek
WOOING KARIMOV HURTS DEMOCRACY IN CENTRAL ASIA The West may have sound
practical reasons for re-engaging with the Uzbek regime but activists say its
certainly not helping democracy. By IWPR staff in Central Asia
TAJIKS PULL THE PLUG ON CAFÉS Candles make comeback in Tajikistan, where the
authorities have cut the power to cafes, restaurants and shops in a move to
save electricity. By Nafisa Pisarejeva in Dushanbe
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CHANGES TO KYRGYZ ASSEMBLY MUZZLE DEPUTIES
The government says it only wants to streamline parliaments work, but the
opposition says the real aim is to silence debate.
By Yrys Kadykeev in Bishkek
Legislative amendments affecting the new parliament of Kyrgyzstan have curbed
its members democratic rights to speak, critics say.
After parliament approved changes to legislation governing the way parliament
works on January 24, President Kurmanbek Bakiev signed the bill into law the
next day. The assembly had passed the amendments by 63 of the 90 votes.
The need for a rule change came about because a new electoral system was
introduced in October under which all 90 seats in an expanded legislature are
filled by proportional representation, drawing on party candidate lists, rather
than the first-past-the-post system used in past ballots.
The proportional method was applied in the December election, in which the
pro-presidential Ak Jol party won an outright majority, despite being set up
only two months beforehand.
The new regulations contain a controversial stipulation that the number of
members of parliament allowed to speak in any legislative debate is
predetermined by the amount of seats each party holds.
The parliamentary leader of each of the three parties represented will get to
address the chamber on new pieces of legislation, and then Ak Jol will be able
to field a further nine speakers, as it holds 71 seats. However, the Social
Democrats, who have 11 seats, will only be able to put forward three speakers,
and the Communists just two, on behalf of their eight seats.
In previous incarnations of the Kyrgyz parliament, all members had the right to
make their views felt when bills were under discussion.
Alisher Sabirov, who chairs the parliamentary committee for ethics and
regulations which drafted the amendments, said they reflected suggestions made
by several parliamentary groups, and also the practical experience of other
legislatures in Russia, Kazakstan, Moldova and Ukraine.
Sabirov accepted that the restrictions might appear to curb members rights to
speak freely, but he insisted the point was that political parties count, not
individual members. He envisions that the parties parliamentary groups will
meet separately and discuss draft legislation, come to a common view on it, and
then have this articulated by however many speakers they are allotted.
The voters did not pick individual candidates, but parties and programmes, he
said. The effectiveness and success of parliaments work wont be shaped by
brilliant orators but by the professional decisions that it makes.
Unsurprisingly, pro-government deputies agree with him. Zainiddin Kurmanov of
Ak Jol said the regulations would help parliament exercise its legislative and
supervisory powers more effectively.
The majoritarian parliament we had before only discussed problems, but there
was no action and no results, he said. The point is for members to discuss an
issue in a professional manner, propose what do to, and get a real outcome.
Miroslav Niazov, formerly secretary of the Security Council of Kyrgyzstan,
agreed that this was no more than an attempt to streamline legislators work.
The previous parliament had a low efficiency ratio but it made a lot of
noise, he said.
Opposition deputies disagree, saying the real aim is to silence dissenting
voices to make life easier for the executive.
The Social Democrats have complained the loudest, with one member, Damira
Niazalieva, warning that members of parliament were being robbed of their right
to express an opinion.
Deputies are being turned into voting machines, she concluded.
Murat Juraev, also from the Social Democrats, insists that thorough discussion
is a prerequisite for good law-making, and that each of the 90 members should
have the right to make their views felt.
There have also been expressions of concern at other changes that have become
law, not least a rule that members deemed to be misbehaving and disturbing the
session will find that their microphones are switched off and they face
Furthermore, the rules have been changed so that a mere simple majority of 46
people is needed for a quorum, unlike earlier times when parliament could only
hold sessions when two-thirds of its members were present.
Some deputies are insisting that the real goal of all these changes is to
ensure that even unpopular bills get passed without any fuss.
Rahat Irsaliev, a Social Democrat deputy, told IWPR he believed the regulations
were changed specifically with a view to rushing through the privatisation of
After years of discussion and half-measures, the privatisation process is now
slated for completion this year. The old parliament which had a difficult
relationship with President Bakiev from his election in July 2005 to its own
dissolution last year repeatedly questioned the denationalisation of Kyrgyz
power companies, arguing that the process was flawed and lacked transparency.
Now, deputies who dont agree with these laws will not even be able to express
their views at a session, complained Irsaliev. People will remain unaware of
laws that are adopted and how they will impact on their lives.
Azimbek Beknazarov, a leading politician who was a member of the last
parliament, said the new body had already revealed itself to be tame and
subservient to the president. Now it has become even more manageable and
obedient, he said.
Independent observers of the political scene in Kyrgyzstan have some sympathy
with opposition complaints about the changes to the way parliament works.
Political scientist Nur Omarov says although the government claims the new
rules will increase parliaments efficiency, there is a danger that the
restrictions will make it increasingly redundant.
It is the only large public forum where important political and economic
processes can be discussed, he said. Restrictions of this kind are unlikely
to encourage more effective work; on the contrary, they just make parliament
more dependent on decisions made by the president.
Erkin Alymbekov, who was deputy speaker in the last parliament, echoes Omarovs
Limiting the deputies right of free expression will reduce the authority of
parliament, he maintained. It will become possible to push anything through
without any public discussion, simply by arranging it with the speaker of
parliament, who represents the dominant party.
Yrys Kadykeev is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.
WOOING KARIMOV HURTS DEMOCRACY IN CENTRAL ASIA
The West may have sound practical reasons for re-engaging with the Uzbek regime
but activists say its certainly not helping democracy.
By IWPR staff in Central Asia
Western attempts to forge a rapprochement with the authoritarian government in
Uzbekistan are a blow to the democratic reform movement throughout Central
Asia, say local and international analysts.
Both the United States and the European Union have recently stepped up efforts
to re-engage with the strategically important Central Asian nation after
relationships soured following a human rights dispute three years ago.
On January 24, the Commander of US Central Command, Admiral William Fallon,
paid a visit to Uzbekistan designed, in the words of the US embassy in
Tashkent, to renew dialogue with an important regional player.
While little is known about details of the visit, during which Fallon met
President Islam Karimov and senior Uzbek security officials, it offered further
evidence that both parties are keen to mend fences.
We regard your visit to Uzbekistan as a remarkable event in the mutual
relationship between the US and Uzbekistan, Karimov was quoted as telling the
American defence official.
Relations between the US and Uzbekistan, once strategic partners, went downhill
after Washington condemned a harsh crackdown on protests in the eastern city of
Andijan in May 2005 and demanded an independent probe into the events.
Shortly after the bloodshed in Andijan, which left hundreds dead, the Uzbek
government expelled the US military from the Khanabad air base which had been
used for flights into neighbouring Afghanistan. In retaliation, the US excluded
Uzbekistan from its foreign military assistance programme.
Toshpolat Yoldoshev, a Tashkent-based political analyst and a former Soviet
diplomat, says the rekindling of ties has been on the cards since a new US
ambassador, Richard Norland, was sent to Tashkent.
The main impetus [for the rapprochement] is coming from the West, he told
Yoldoshev said renewed cooperation that ignored the continuing repression and
human rights violations in Uzbekistan would be a threat to democratic forces in
When it improves ties with such a blatant dictator, the US is letting it be
known that it doesnt care who it deals with and that it always puts practical
interests first, he said.
Fallons January 24 visit, which came less than a month after Karimov was
re-elected president, is not the only indication that the West is wooing
On January 17, a day after Karimovs inauguration, the EU Special
Representative for Central Asia, Pierre Morel, met the president and told him
the 25-nation bloc considers Uzbekistan a reliable partner and supports
strengthening and expanding further cooperation.
Last year, the EU lifted a visa ban on top Uzbek officials, thus ending the
sanctions it imposed following the Andijan violence.
Another Tashkent-based observer, who asked to be not named, said he feared the
West was letting itself be pushed around.
Uzbekistan well understands its strategic importance to Europe and the US, and
is simply manipulating them, playing the role of blushing bride, and demanding
an apology and gentle stroking, he said. And in order to return to the
region, the West seems ready both to seek forgiveness and to stroke
Analysts worry that a rapprochement with Uzbekistan, considered one of the most
authoritarian regimes in the world, may be seen in other regional states as a
signal that democratic principles can safely be sidelined.
Throughout the region, the US appears anxious to re-establish itself as a
close friend to Central Asian governments, said Acacia Shields, a New
York-based expert on Central Asian human rights.
When this is done without regard to the horrendous human rights records and
authoritarian tendencies of some of these governments, such a policy can be
Uzbekistan has much to gain from a thaw in relations with the West. With more
than 60,000 service personnel, it possesses the largest armed forces in Central
Asia, but its military equipment drastically needs updating.
Uzbekistan and the US also share a common interest in stabilising Afghanistan
and in rooting out Islamic militants opposed to Karimovs secular regime.
Shields said Fallon should have used his leverage to demand that Uzbekistan
comply with international human rights standards before offering any defence
Conditions should have been put on this visit, requiring that the Karimov
government deliver real cooperation on human rights before receiving such an
honour, she said.
TAJIKS PULL THE PLUG ON CAFÉS
Candles make comeback in Tajikistan, where the authorities have cut the power
to cafes, restaurants and shops in a move to save electricity.
By Nafisa Pisarejeva in Dushanbe
In the Tajik capital Dushanbe, the sight of flickering candles casting their
golden glow inside the citys few working restaurants is not a sign that
romantic dinners are again in fashion.
They are a consequence of a government decision on January 26 to cut the
electricity supply to places of entertainment to meet the worst power shortage
Since then, such establishments have closed their doors entirely, or soldiered
on by candlelight. Those with coal-fired stoves or private generators are
considered lucky indeed.
For café and restaurant owners, Tajikistans endemic power crises are a
nightmare. This winter the shortage of electricity has been even worse than
usual as exceptionally cold weather has increased demand across Central Asia.
(See IWPR reports on this: Cold Snap Wreaks Havoc on Central Asian Power, RCA
No. 529, 31-Jan-08, and Sparks Fly as Tajiks Endure Power Cuts, RCA No. 528,
Abdusattor, the owner of a now half-empty café, said he had been forced to lay
off staff because his income had fallen by half.
Evenings are normally the times when cafes make most of their money. But now
the power cuts have driven away customers, and Abdusattors menu has been cut
down to just a few hot dishes and salads.
Even if this is only temporary, it's still going to hit the pockets of my
staff, he said. They all have five or six children, and there are women who
are the sole breadwinners for their families.
Abdusattor said he would at least try to keep his doors open. Many other cafés
and restaurants have simply shut and will not reopen until spring.
Zarina, 34, a waitress in the café, says she hopes she is not one of the
unlucky ones who will be sent on an involuntary vacation.
She has two children to look after while her husband is away working in Russia.
He does not send money home on a regular basis.
With her small daily salary and the snacks that she and the other workers are
allowed to take home, Zarina can just about support her family.
It is not just cafés, restaurants and nightclubs that are suffering from the
government decree. The restrictions also apply to shops, chemists shops,
markets and public bathhouses.
Even the street lighting has gone, plunging the country into total darkness
The few lights visible in the evenings belong to factories, the fortunate
owners of generators, or people who have broken the law by tapping into working
Life in the dark has brought new fears for peoples safety. Sharifamo, a young
mother in Dushanbe, is worried about her children as they make their way home
from school in the unlit streets.
Each evening, she goes to the bus stop near their house to meet them from
school. Her children study in a second, afternoon shift at school and the
schoolhouse is far from home, so they get back late.
It's dangerous to go out in the evening now, she said. Yesterday one woman
was hit by a car; Im scared for my kids lives.
Sharifamo added, They should leave some street lights on till around 9 pm and
only then turn them off.
Shopkeepers and trading working uneven hours are also suffering economically
from the power cuts.
Akram, who trades in the local flat bread, has seen his income drop markedly.
He buys his bread wholesale from the nearest bakery and delivers it piping hot
by car to his customers. But now the bakery has slashed production because of
the lack of electricity, and Akram has to tell his clients he is running short
Many bakeries are closed entirely. The city authorities in Dushanbe say that
they have repeatedly urged bakers to switch to coal fires, but that their
advice has been ignored.
Akram complains that he was unable to supply his sick daughter with medicine
recently because the all-night chemists shop which until recently had carried
on by candlelight was now closed in the evenings.
Some friendly neighbours managed to help Akram find the medicines he needed.
I wish the chemists werent closed at night because both adults and children
are getting ill in this cold weather, he said.
Not everyone is complaining about the governments action, however. Some
families that had been without any power for weeks have seen their lights and
heaters come back on after electricity was diverted away from retail businesses
to domestic consumers.
Avvalmo Davlatshoeva, who lives in a residential district of Dushanbe, says she
went for three weeks without power, but for the past week the lights in her
apartment block have been back on.
They did the right thing by closing these restaurants, she said. When we had
no light, they were brightly lit and played loud music.
Meanwhile, the population watches and waits to see when the crisis will finally
Most of the countrys electricity comes from hydroelectric power stations that
in turn rely on full reservoirs. But the rise in consumption over the harsh
winter has drained the reservoirs. Energy sector representatives say the water
in the giant Nurek reservoir, for example, has fallen to a mere six metres, a
worryingly low level.
Eventually, glacial and snowmelt water will start flowing into mountain rivers,
relieving the situation. But this will not take place until March or April.
In the meantime, there is talk of extending the current austerity regime beyond
the initial February 10 deadline.
That may be too late for small businessmen like Akram. The authorities always
get something wrong. They make these mistakes and its mainly ordinary people
who suffer, he lamented.
Nafisa Pisarejeva is an IWPR contributor in Dushanbe.
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