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Kyrgyzstan Wants to Take Kurultai to the Next Level. Here’s Why

If people support this initiative, the Kurultai and its decisions will become binding. However, this initiative has a lot of opponents.

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At the suggestion of prominent politician, presidential nominee Sadyr Zhaparov, the society was again discussing the role and importance of the universal people assembly, or Kurultai, in the political life of the country this autumn. At his suggestion, the paragraph about holding of the Kurultai was introduced to the new draft of the constitution. A separate article in the draft of the basic law describes the role and activity of this assembly in detail. The members of the constitutional council, activists, media and social media are actively discussing the idea that causes bitter disputes and discussions.

The current version of the constitution, namely article 52, reads that citizens may hold kurultai regarding important worthwhile issues and its decisions serve as recommendations to state bodies. Authors of the constitution suggest making the People’s Kurultai a supreme advisory, consultative and coordinating body of democracy.

Here’s the explanation of what Kurultai is and why it became another bone of contention for the people of Kyrgyzstan.

What is a Kurultai?
A Kurultai is a council of the ruling elite in Turkic and Mongolian clans that solved major domestic issues, resolved vital contradictions, made important foreign political decisions. Heads of tribes, clans, representatives of the noble men from all parts of the country took part in the kurultai. The kurultai was mentioned for the first time during the times of Genghis Khan, when he united the heads of Mongolian tribes in early 12th century (approximately in 1200) and declared himself the khan of all Mongols. In the history of the Kyrgyz people, there are facts that in 1847 Ormon Khan convened the kurultai with participation of the heads of some Kyrgyz tribes and declared himself the khan.
Arguments by supporters of the initiative
According to supporters, this initiative could stimulate development of the regions as some districts have no representative in the national parliament (Zhogorku Kenesh) and their problems are not voiced and remain unsolved.

The supporters believe that the kurultai can assess work of the president, parliament, government, judges and other state bodies objectively and independently. The initiative suggests that the members of the kurultai may pass a no-confidence motion against the government if the majority of members show a red card. The kurultai may pass a no-confidence motion against the president by showing a yellow card twice and then a red one. The parliament won’t be able to pass a no-confidence motion against the government and president; it will have only a law-making function.

How delegates will be selected for the Kurultai?
Every village will hold meetings – a local kurultai, where they will discuss all problems of the village. A delegate of the village will be selected at this meeting. Then, the meeting will be held at the level of aiyl okmotu (village council). Then, a similar kurultai will be held to discuss the problems of the district at the district level. Their secretariat will be recording the progress of the kurultai.

The people’s kurultai will submit suggestions to the president regarding key strands of domestic and foreign state policy, hear the report of the chair of the People’s Kurultai, president, speaker of the Zhogorku Kenesh. Decisions of the people’s kurultai will be submitted to relevant authorities as recommendations.

What do opponents say?
The kurultai is not a representational body, so it does not have powers as the parliament has, and its decisions serve as recommendations only.

The kurultai may not calm social tensions, as it is not a representational body.

There is a chance that this initiative disguises an attempt to centralise power in the hands of the president with “puppet parliament and ostensible people’s kurultai.”

Another stumbling stone is the archaism. According to the draft law opponents, there is no need to turn back time, but it’s time to seek new modern approaches to solve arising problems.

What is the stage of the discussion now and what will happen next?
Currently, the session of the Constitutional Council is being held and it discusses the draft of the new Constitution, the status and functions of the People’s Kurultai. Some say the kurultai must be socially oriented, others say it must be political.

The referendum on amendments to the Constitution is scheduled for January 10, 2021.

How much money is needed for participation in the Kurultai?
No budgetary funds will be spent to hold the kurultai. Some expenses will be provided for the maintenance of the secretariat. As the kurultai is the people’s assembly, every selected delegate will cover their own transportation costs, accommodation costs, etc. According to the initiators, the draft law does not provide for kurultai expenses.
Have there been kurultais in the Kyrgyz Republic before?
It is not the first time that Kyrgyzstan wants to enforce the institution of kurultai. Back in 2019, members of Zhogorku Kenesh, Almazbek Akmatov and Iskander Gaipkulov, drafted a law that was meant to enforce the institution of kurultai.

A task force was created for this purpose. They discussed amendments to the constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic, namely, the abandonment of democratic values that, according to some members of the task force, failed during the independence period. However, the parliamentarians did not support the draft law.

Back in 2010, ex-president Kurmanbek Bakiev announced the establishment of the Kurultai of Accord as the body designed to ensure civic consolidation and a balance of interests in decision-making. It contained 750 citizens, by one delegate from 441 rural districts and 18 township councils, three delegates from each of 23 towns, ten delegates from Bishkek and seven delegates from Osh.

Moreover, 35 fellow countrymen were elected as delegates among migrant workers abroad, 20 delegates represented various religions, and 150 persons represented prominent public figures, research and artistic intelligentsia, and ethnic and cultural associations. The first kurultai of accord was held on March 23, 2010. On April 7 of the same year, the regime of President Kurmanbek Bakiev was brought down during civil unrest.

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