Embarrassment as plans to buy comfortable seats for parliament have to be shelved. Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has reversed plans to buy new leather seating for the chamber after an outcry about the cost. A broader campaign to cut the benefits members get, and remove their immunity from prosecution, is still under way.
After a tender for work to refurbish the parliament was announced, campaigners called for the money to go to worthier causes like cancer treatment. The tender was withdrawn on October 13.
The campaign is being led by a pressure group set up earlier this year, the Movement for Abolition of Parliamentary Privilege. Ahead of the October 4 parliamentary election, it succeeded in getting nine parties to sign up to a pledge to support legislation abolishing members’ privileges. Three of them made it into parliament in the end – Respublika-Ata Jurt, Kyrgyzstan and Bir Bol, agreed with the propositions and signed the document.
Speaking on behalf of the campaign group, Tamerlan Ibraimov told IWPR that the other parties did not sign because they did not agree with all the proposals, or because they could not be contacted in time. The Social Democrats, who won the most votes, was among them.
“In developed democracies, parliamentarians go to work on foot or public transport, and that’s seen as OK,” he continued. “I think it is unacceptable that members of parliament have been funded so much by government.”
Commentator Orozbek Duyshenaliev notes that parliamentary immunity was abolished in 2000. “But after that, some members of parliament fell victim to political machinations. For instance, Azimbek Beknazarov, who was battling the regime at that time, was jailed.”
The immunity rule was later restored to protect members from persecution.
Political analyst Toktogul Kakchekeev doubts parliamentarians will vote to reduce their own rights.
Tursunbay Bakir-Uulu, a former ombudsman who sat in the outgoing parliament, said claims of lavish travel spending were unfair. He said that none of the trips that members of the last parliament made were paid for by the taxpayer, as all expenses were underwritten by the hosts.
Aytunuk Nurdinova is an IWPR contributor in Kyrgyzstan.