Crossroads Asia | Politics | Central Asia

Kyrgyzstan Punts on Elections to Pursue Constitutional Reforms

The Kyrgyz parliament voted to cancel forthcoming new parliament and presidential elections to make way for constitutional reforms.

Catherine Putz
Kyrgyzstan Punts on Elections to Pursue Constitutional Reforms
Credit: Pixabay

Without discussion or a public hearing, the current Kyrgyz parliament adopted amendments to the law on elections in three readings at once to suspend the articles that mandate the timing of elections for president and parliament until constitutional reforms are accomplished, but no later than June 2021.

Yesterday, the Central Election Commission had set the date for new parliamentary elections to December 20 — only to walk that back today. 

The parliament, which has extended its own shelf-life through June 2021, also voted to lower the national electoral threshold from 7 percent to 3 percent and abolish the use of Form No. 2. Form No. 2 allowed Kyrgyz voters to register to cast their ballots outside of their official home districts. Intended to allow migrant workers to vote where they worked, a record-breaking number of Form No. 2 ballots were cast on October 4 — with many critics alleging the forms were abused to manipulate where votes were cast for sheer political gain. 

These are some of the latest twists in a political fiasco kicked off by the October 4 parliamentary election, marred by massive accusations of vote-buying and other abuses. The targets of the bulk of the allegations — Birimdik and Mekenim Kyrgyzstan — are parties associated with, respectively, now former President Sooronbay Jeenbekov and the Matraimov family.

Jeenbekov resigned on October 15, and Sadyr Japarov — who had already become prime minister days after being broken from jail — maneuvered himself into the position of acting president. But an acting president cannot, under the current constitution, run for the actual presidency so Japarov floated, on October 19, the idea of having a referendum to change the constitution

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Meanwhile, the notorious Raimbek Matraimov was arrested this week by the State Committee on National Security (GKNB), following pledges from Japarov’s government to crack down on corruption. The speed with which Matraimov was arrested, agreed to cooperate with the investigation, agreed to pay 2 billion Kyrgyz soms ($24.6 million) to the Kyrgyz state, and then was released on something less than house arrest generated considerable suspicion.

Then Japarov made an announcement on October 21 giving Kyrgyzstan’s corrupt officials 30 days to take advantage of what he’s branded an “economic amnesty.” In brief, corrupt officials have a chance to fess up, pay up, and go about their lives. Japarov advertised the move as a way to fill Kyrgyzstan’s chronically depleted coffers and set a new course. Whether anyone will take up the offer is unclear, but the offer of complete exception from punishment is, on the surface, attractive. 

And then on October 22 another notorious Kyrgyz crime boss, Kamchy Kolbayev, was dramatically detained in Bishkek. Kolbayev was designated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) under Executive Order (E.O.) 13581 in February 2012 for acting for or on behalf of the Brothers’ Circle — a drug trafficking and criminal enterprise rooted in Russia. The U.S. later went on to offer a reward of up to $1 million for information “leading to the disruption of the financial mechanisms” of his network. The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek welcomed his arrest.

And so, Kyrgyzstan’s political upheaval roils on. Discussions will turn to the content of constitutional reforms, hopefully with input from a wider array of Kyrgyz citizens. The speed and nature of the recent developments spark plenty of cause for concerns. Discussions around what the constitutional reforms will be are just beginning, but the likely debate will center on whether to give more power to the presidency or the parliament. Kyrgyzstan is Central Asia’s only parliamentary democracy, but even after becoming thus following 2010’s constitutional reforms it has struggled with powerful presidents and weak parliaments.