Crossroads Asia | Politics | Central Asia

Kyrgyz Constitutional Chamber Nixes Petition to Undo Parliamentary Election Delay

The Kyrgyz Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber determined that parliament acted legally in extending its term and kicking parliamentary elections into 2021.

Catherine Putz
Kyrgyz Constitutional Chamber Nixes Petition to Undo Parliamentary Election Delay
Credit: Flickr / Dan Lundberg

As it stands now, Kyrgyzstan is headed for a presidential election and probably some kind of referendum on January 10 and parliamentary elections sometime before the summer of 2021.

Earlier this week, Colleen Wood noted that Kyrgyzstan’s “institutional checks and balances have yet to play their cards.” 

Those cards have now been played.

The Constitutional Chamber of the Kyrgyz Supreme Court nixed the hopes of activists and politicians on December 2 with a ruling that the parliament did not violate the constitution in October when it extended its own term and punted a re-run of the mangled parliamentary election into 2021, after a presidential election and a constitutional referendum.

The appeal that the chamber considered had two sources: Klara Sooronkulova, a former Constitutional Chamber judge and leader of the Reforma party, and a pair of lawyers, Taalaibek Usubaliev and Nurbek Kasymbekov. The core of the petition was that when the parliament voted on October 22 to suspend two articles of the constitutional law regarding elections it violated the constitution. The bill in question extended parliament’s mandate beyond its set expiration date in late October and delayed a new parliamentary election until after constitutional reform. Curiously, while the bill also, in theory, delayed the presidential election too, that election has been scheduled for the same day as a constitutional referendum — which has since also shifted to a referendum on government type while the uproar continues over the proposed draft of a new constitution.

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The October 22 motion was carried through three readings at once without public discussion and signed into law the same day by then-Acting President Sadyr Japarov. 

In November, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, an advisory body made up of constitutional law experts, issued a brief in response to a request from the head of the Kyrgyz Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber “on comparative law with respect to postponement of parliamentary elections motivated by constitutional reform.” In its careful analysis of specific legal questions, the commission noted that “The postponement of parliamentary elections beyond the time limit determined by the constitutional duration of the mandate of the outgoing parliament… should be supported by special justifications and extraordinary circumstances.” 

The commission states that when the law was approved, Kyrgyzstan was not in a state of emergency.

It went on to note that, “The constitutional law approved by the Kyrgyz Parliament on October 22 does not reflect genuine democratic principles, although it does not openly violate any explicit constitutional provision..”

The entirely of the conclusion reads, to me (admittedly, not a lawyer), as urging as light a hand as possible. The conclusion stresses that any suspension of elections “should be for the smallest time possible” and that “except for punctual and technical reform necessary to conduct the new election, any other constitutional reform cannot be initiated after the postponement of the regular elections.”

In essence, a parliament past its due date should only do what’s necessary to maintain the functioning of the state and elect a parliament with a full mandate from the people.

Nevertheless, the Kyrgyz Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber sided with the parliament, which argued that the country had been left without leadership, thus the prioritization of the presidential elections, and that people were demanding constitutional reforms. The chamber deemed the current circumstances extreme enough to justify the delay in parliamentary elections. In essence, the chamber folded its cards — allowing the political realm to churn on as it wishes. 

Parliament has since put forward a draft constitution that drew severe criticism. It was expected that on January 10 there would be a referendum to consider the draft constitution but Japarov since proposed that the referendum merely consider the question of what kind of government — parliamentary or presidential — Kyrgyz citizens want. 

On December 3, the parliament was supposed to vote on a bill calling for the referendum Japarov suggested. But the body could not constitute a quorum — RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service reported that fewer than 40 MPs were in the room — and thus it has not voted on the bill yet.