Kyrgyz lawmakers unveiled a new constitution on Tuesday, drawing criticism over the expansion of presidential powers.
Shortly after a draft of the document was released, politicians and activists expressed concerns that it would lead to full-blown authoritarianism. Among the many changes, it reduces the size and power of parliament. Any responsibilities taken from parliament were transferred to the presidency. Significant differences exist between the Russian and Kyrgyz language versions, making it unclear whether the president could serve one or two terms. It would also establish a People’s Kurultai, an ad hoc body consisting of members of the public that would propose policy changes. The drafters insist that the body would promote popular representation. Critics view it as easy to manipulate. They also question the necessity, given that parliament already consists of elected representatives. Kyrgyzstan uses a proportional representation system. Seats in parliament are apportioned between the parties based on the percentage of the national popular vote received.
One section banning anything that contravenes the “generally recognized moral values and the traditions of the people of Kyrgyzstan” has raised human rights concerns. In March a group of men violently attacked a demonstration protesting violence against women. Others worry about the censorship of the press and artistic expression.
Some opponents have voiced concerns about returning to a presidential system. The current constitution and thus organization of the government came after a revolution and referendum in 2010.
The proposed constitution also faces several legitimacy issues. Some of those allegedly involved in drafting the document did not learn of the contents until after its release. Further, Sadyr Japarov is among those pushing for the new constitution. Japarov briefly served as acting president after escaping jail during unrest after the October 4 parliamentary elections. While serving as acting president, he attempted to force through drastic changes to the constitution. He did not succeed and resigned to run as president. Under the current constitution, anyone currently serving as acting president cannot run for the office.
Adding to the uncertainty, after the October 4 elections, the Central Election Commission annulled the results. New elections have not yet been held. As such, the Parliament of Kyrgyzstan exists in a legal gray area. The Commission annulled the results due to questions of legitimacy after the results showed victory for the current government and their allies, despite widespread public dissatisfaction. The Central Election Commission attempted to reschedule the elections for December but was unable to do so.
The people of Kyrgyzstan will have the opportunity to vote on the constitution on January 10. On that day they will also choose a new president. New parliamentary elections are expected to be held in mid-2021.