28 December 2005

Kyrgyzstan Referendum

I haven’t seen much mention around the Central Asia blogs of the suggested referendum in Kyrgyzstan on the structure of the government. Bakiev has suggested that a referendum be held sometime next year where the people of Kyrgyzstan could vote on the basic system of government in Kyrgyzstan. The current thinking is that it would choose among a presidential, presidential-parliamentary, or parliamentary system; whether immunity should be removed for members of the government; and judicial reform.

There are some in the Kenesh who support the referendum and some who don’t. We’ve been told by several people that Beknazarov (he was elected to Parliament after being fired as the general prosecutor- don't miss this article about Kyrgyz election politics) is promoting an early date for the referendum- as early as February 26th. However, the Kenesh wouldn’t set the date, Bakiev would; and he prefers a late summer or autumn referendum. Detractors say (not unreasonably) the government would effectively control the referendum and it would be worthless.

The current set of constitutional reforms that I wrote about earlier have pretty much died. Bakiev is now saying the current constitution (dating from 2003) needs more time to be tested and that reforms shouldn’t take place till 2009. The 2003 amendments generally made the president stronger by weakening the Kenesh.

I do have concerns about a referendum if one is actually held. I have heard far too many people in Kyrgyzstan promote a strong presidential system- Putin is generally admired here, and we’ve even heard Pinochet- Pinochet!- touted as an excellent example of a good super-presidential regime. Certainly Central Asia is afflicted with super-presidential systems. At least most people I talk to think Turkmenistan’s Niyazov (he recently ordered the entire government to become fluent in English within 6 months) and Uzbekistan’s Karimov aren’t good leaders.

But there is definitely envy of Kazakhstan. While Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev can’t be considered a democratic leader (depending on how you define democracy, but that’s another post) since he ignored the constitution to run for re-election, he is far less severe than Niyazov. Turkmenistan also has a lot of natural resources but the Turkmen government’s policies have made economic growth practically impossible. But it’s hard to say that democracy is important for economic development when the rest of Central Asia looks at Kazakhstan and doesn’t see the correlation.
A referendum on judicial reform would be interesting. I’ve not been able to pin down exactly what that means. The judicial system has very little power here and I don’t know that any reforms would make much of a difference.

More and more people are clearly becoming disillusioned with Bakiev and his government. The revolution has been very difficult for many people. The economy of Kyrgyzstan is struggling. There was real hope for change a few months ago, but it looks more and more like Bakiev will just return to the same old system.

If that happens, I wonder if the people of Kyrgyzstan would be interested in another revolution.

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