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Kyrgyzstan: Why Should the High 9% Threshold for Parties Be Lowered?

«Lowering the high electoral threshold can significantly reduce the number of votes that can get “lost” if the elected party did not reach the high threshold. When the electoral threshold is below four percent, the proportional system elections facilitates the election of parties for which these votes were cast», – notes a human rights activist Dinara Oshurakhunova in her article for CABAR.asia.


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The electoral threshold is artificially high and will significantly limit the possibilities of most political parties in the upcoming 2020 elections to the Parliament of the Kyrgyz Republic. Photo: kenesh.kg

Kyrgyzstan will go to polls in the fall of 2020. On the eve of parliamentary elections, country’s parliament initiated amendments to the electoral law, thus continuing reforms in the electoral system.

Various changes – from minor to dramatic – have been proposed. Among them are the deputies’ initiatives to reduce the existing electoral deposit from five million KGS to one million in order to facilitate the opportunities for parties that do not have large financial resources. Deputies also propose lowering the national electoral threshold from nine percent to five. Moreover, they argue that the introduction of a preferential voting system, when the voter votes not only for the party, but also within the list, will determine deserving candidates for the mandate.

In their turn, civil society and young politicians also raise issues of simplifying election rules so that new powers and politicians can come to the parliament.

Despite the many progressive proposals, the parliament itself is in no hurry to change the rules introduced after the parliamentary elections in 2015. Civic activists and independent experts have expressed concerns that the existing rules are convenient for political groups that have large financial and administrative resources but may become a significant obstacle to the entry of new political forces into parliament. One of the biggest obstacles is the nine percent electoral threshold. In this article, we will consider the risks that it carries, and the problems associated with the formation of party-lists.

How did the 9% electoral threshold emerge and how can it influence the results?

The 2015 parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan allowed 6 political parties entering the parliament in the 6th convocation.[1]

The national vote distributed votes and mandates between the parties as follows:

In 2017, deputies of the Jogorku Kenesh (JK KR) initiated amendments to the Constitutional Law of the Kyrgyz Republic “On Elections of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic and Deputies of the Jogorku Kenesh”, in which the seven-percent electoral threshold was raised to nine percent.

It is noteworthy that the proposal to raise the electoral threshold to 10% was made by the Republic Ata-Zhurt (led by Omurbek Babanov)[2], which received 19.69% of the vote in the last parliamentary elections. Now, when Babanov is forced to leave political life because of the criminal case brought against him and lay down his leadership, the faction members are uncertain if they will reach the 9% threshold in the upcoming elections.

In May 2019, the leader of the Onuguu-Progress parliamentary faction, Bakyt Torobaev, proposed lowering the election threshold to five percent. He argued that nine percent is a high threshold that could lead to the monopolization of the legislative and executive branches of government “in the hands” of one political force. This can lead to monopolization of the decision-making in parliament by one political group.[3]

However, deputies and political parties, including non-parliamentary parties, although acknowledged the argument, did not organize discussions and further promote it. This is especially confusing since all current parties from previous parliamentary elections risk of not reaching this threshold. The threshold is artificially high and will significantly limit the possibilities of most political parties participating in the 2020 elections to the Parliament of the Kyrgyz Republic.

Briefly on the election system in Kyrgyzstan

A proportional election system was introduced in Kyrgyzstan by the constitutional reform and the reform of the electoral law in 2007. After the April Revolution and the June events in 2010, the Osh referendum transitioned the country from a presidential to a parliamentary system of government. In 2013, by the will of the President Atambayev, the National Strategy for Sustainable Development was adopted and developed, with the electoral system reform as one of the main directions for it.

The Jogorku Kenesh in Kyrgyzstan were elected as follows:

From 1993 to 2005, MPs are elected by the majority system;

In 2005 – MPs are elected according to the mixed system – by districts and party lists;

From 2007 to the present – MPs are elected according to the proportional system.

Thus, Kyrgyzstan has experienced all three electoral systems – majority, mixed and current proportional.

In anticipation of the parliamentary elections to be held in the fall of 2020, it is more important to focus on the problems that still exist in Kyrgyzstan’s electoral system and which are increasingly voiced by the political parties and the public. What rules are now set for elections to the JK KR and do they facilitate fair democratic elections?

According to the Constitutional Law “On Elections of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic and Deputies of the Jogorku Kenesh of the Kyrgyz Republic” (hereinafter the Election Law) and the Law “On Election Commissions for the Conduct of Elections and Referendums” of 2011, the deputies of the JK KR are elected in the single national constituency for 5 years by the proportional system and closed party-list.

In order to obtain parliamentary seats, a political party must compile a list of candidates as per required 30% gender quota and receive at least nine percent of the valid votes cast throughout the republic and at least 0.7% of the valid votes cast in each from seven regions, as well as in Bishkek and Osh.

The presence of national and regional thresholds is a double threshold for passing, which significantly complicates the entry for parties and limits their participation in elections.

We must clarify that the presence of national and regional thresholds is a double threshold for passing, which significantly complicates the entry for parties and limits their participation in elections. This, in turn, undermines the competitiveness of elections. The double threshold norm has been often criticized by the OSCE ODIHR Mission that recommended that it be removed to ensure equal opportunities for all parties.[4]

The Constitution restricts a party getting more than 65 out of 120 seats in the Parliament.

Pros and cons of a high electoral threshold

The leader of the Ar-Namys parliamentary faction and MP in the fifth convocation Felix Kulov back in the spring of 2015 proposed increasing the electoral deposit. He accounted high electoral threshold for the political party growth, which in turn has a positive effect on the development of parliamentarism. [5]This is so far the one and only argument voiced by those supporting high threshold of nine percent.

His fellow deputies did not support the initiative back then, believing that a high electoral threshold would lead to the use of administrative resources and the bribing of voters.

Nevertheless, the current VI convocation, having already arrived in parliament, raised the electoral threshold from seven to nine percent.

Let’s consider other countries with a proportional election system for comparison:

At the same time, MPs of the VI convocation did not consider that Kyrgyzstan is a member of PACE (the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe), which recommends that the percentage barrier for parliamentary elections be set at no more than three percent.

Independent experts criticize the nine percent threshold, arguing that an artificially high threshold leads to the loss of a sufficiently large percentage of the votes, which will be lost along with non-passing parties. Experts suggest that this percentage can range from 30 to 50% of the votes cast.

For instance, a constitutional law expert and lawyer Murat Ukushov asserts that if the “nine percent” were applied in the 2015 elections, the “Bir Bol” and “Ata-Meken” parties would not have come to parliament. In that case, the 258,930 voters could be left without their representatives in the Jogorku Kenesh. He brings to the conclusion that the higher the electoral threshold, the greater the number of voters “disappearing” in the election[6]. Other experts and political scientists also emphasize this statement.

A high electoral threshold indeed carries risks when almost half of the votes cast can remain unrepresented in parliament. To confirm, I can give two illustrative examples of the election results in Turkey (10%) and Russia (5%).

Turkey: regarding the 2002 elections, the party in power decided to introduce a 10 percent threshold for the votes cast, probably to ensure Kurdish party not getting a representation. At the same time, the ruling party could not predict that itself would not pass this figure and that the so-called “proportional” system would produce the following interesting results:

We can observe that 46.3% of the voters were deprived of representation, and the parties elected obtained twice as many seats in percentage as the percentage of votes they received, and thus the proportional system turned into majority one.

Russia: a five percent threshold was set in 1995 for half of the Duma deputies elected on a proportional basis. This gave the following results:

As you can see, such a high threshold provides the parliament entry for two or three large political parties only, which we currently do not have in Kyrgyzstan. Over the last three convocations of the JK KR elected by the proportional system, we have observed preserving fragmentation rather than growth of political parties. We continue to observe the rapid emergence and disappearance of new parties, their transformation and mergence into other parties. Hence, political parties in Kyrgyzstan are in the initial stage of party building.

That is why the argument that a high percentage leads to the political party growth is invalid as for now, given the inconsistent loyalty of candidates to their political parties. This is proved by the number of acting parliamentarians who in different years were re-elected in the lists from other political parties.

Besides, to reach the nine percent threshold, parties need to have authority among and be supported by the public, which appears problematic. Or use large financial or administrative resources, or both simultaneously.

Based on the results of the 2015 parliamentary elections, we can already assume that political parties will bribe voters and use administrative resources to reach such a high threshold. This is the only way to reach the nine percent threshold.

This creates an urgent need to lower the electoral threshold to reasonable figures (3 to 4 %) since at early stages of party-building in our country, reaching even the 5% threshold is difficult for political parties.

Pros of Lowering the High Electoral Threshold

We cannot certainly proclaim that a low threshold will automatically facilitate the election of a high-quality parliament or the full representation of the interest of the voters’ majority. However, in the case of Kyrgyzstan, where there is still a high probability of bribing voters or using administrative resources, lowering the threshold would help to attract more parties and ensure competitive elections.

Lowering the high electoral threshold can significantly reduce the number of votes that can get “lost” if the elected party did not reach the high threshold. When the electoral threshold is below four percent, the proportional system elections facilitates election of the parties for which these votes were cast.

In addition, lowering the electoral threshold would facilitate the representation of different parties in parliament. If the electoral threshold is not excessively high or the size of the district is not too small, then any party, even with a small percentage of the votes cast, can get seats in the legislative body. This embodies the principle of inclusivity, which might be a key to stability in a highly fragmented society.

It is believed that proportional systems through the provision of representation in the legislative bodies to all interested parties bring more hope that decision-making will be public and with great involvement of different segments of the society.

Party lists

The next issue in the election process is the compilation of party lists and the distribution of mandates. In 2015, the country’s voters witnessed situation when top candidates on the party-list, including famous politicians in the country, refused the mandate, and it was granted to the unknown candidates from the lower list. Voters expressed dissatisfaction, believing that they had been deceived. Voters remember the scandalous story with the “oaths” of the Republic-Ata-Zhurt party candidates on voluntary withdrawal of the candidacy when the party-list candidates in advance wrote a letter of refusal from the mandates in case the party gets seats in the parliament.

The most scandalous story turned out to be involving The Republic-Ata-Zhurt (RAZ) candidates that were expelled from the party the day after the election, where the party took the second place. The party candidate asserted that he was removed from the list without his consent. The statement that the signatures had been falsified was supported by other representatives of RAZ and Onuguu-Progress (judiciary received 15 such statements in total). The party leadership commented that the party members who had left the party-list signed the resignation with their own hands.

Nevertheless, the Central Election Commission after the parliamentary elections excluded 70 candidates from the political party “Republic – Ata Zhurt”, 16 candidates from “Onuguu-Progress”, 47 candidates from “Kyrgyzstan”, two candidates from “Ata Meken”, three – from the “SDPK” with the official wording that they leave the party and voluntary refuse seats.

This also affected compliance with the 30% gender quota resulting in number of female MPs in 6th convocation being less than 20% instead of 30%.

Thus, while Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic requires direct elections, the 2015 election of political parties turned out to be indirect. The voter chose the party. And the party leadership decided to whom distribute the mandates received.

Professor, lawyer and historian Zainiddin Kurmanov referred to this negative trend as one of the weaknesses of the current electoral system in Kyrgyzstan. This, in his opinion, leads to random people, who do not possess political skills and dignity, entering a parliament, what is observed in the current parliament of Kyrgyzstan.[7]

Post-election manipulation of party-lists has led to the fact that MPs of the 6th convocation are experiencing strong criticism, sometimes coming to calls to dissolve the parliament, from public who believes that the 6th convocation does not represent either their vote or their interests.

Here we need to consider the initiative of a number of MPs (Zhanar Akayev, Iskhak Masaliev, Almambet Shykmamatov) to introduce a preferential voting.

In May 2019, in addition to Bakyt Torobaev’s proposal to lower the election threshold, another deputy proposed excluding the monopoly role of the faction leader in the distribution of mandates[8]. Preferential voting, which could enable the voter to not only vote for the party, but also directly vote for an individual candidate within the party-list.

In this case, the candidates on the list who received the most votes could obtain a mandate regardless of the party leader’s preferences. This voting system brings candidates closer to the electorate and minimizes the role of the faction leader in the distribution of mandates. Besides, it minimizes the possibilities for corrupt transactions in the mandate distribution.

This initiative could significantly reduce the manipulation of candidate lists by party leaders.

In addition to the above problems, there are certainly others that also affect the quality of the election process and reduce the level of confidence in the elected parliament. This is a lack of awareness-raising events for voters and citizens in general about the activities of the Parliament, voting rights, the state of the media, the rules and timing of campaigning, the quality of election programs, debates, and other.

Conclusion

Exactly one year is left before the parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan. It is imperative that Parliament considers and adopts rules that could lower the threshold from nine to four percent and introduce the principle of preferential voting for party-lists. This could facilitate the competitive and fair democratic parliamentary elections that meet the international obligations of Kyrgyzstan in the framework of OSCE membership.

This would significantly reduce the number of lost votes. When the electoral threshold is low, the proportional system elections facilitates election of the parties for which these votes were cast.

A low electoral threshold facilitates the representation of small parties in the Parliament.

If the electoral threshold is not excessively high or the size of the district is not too small, then any party, even with a small percentage of the votes cast, can get seats in the legislative body. This embodies the principle of inclusivity, which might be a key to stability in a highly fragmented society.

It is believed that proportional systems through the provision of representation in the legislative bodies to all interested parties bring more hope that decision-making will be public and with great involvement of different segments of the society.

The manipulation of party-lists by the party leader after the election is excluded. Proportional systems also allow the voter to implement the principle of direct vote, when he cannot influence the choice of certain candidates within the list. The preferential voting gives him this opportunity.

This, in turn, gives a parliament entry to new political forces updating the next convocation, brings MPs closer to voters and helps strengthening parliamentary democracy.


This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.


[1] Summing up the results of the MPs election – https://shailoo.gov.kg/ru/news/1037/

[2]  https://24.kg/vlast/37087_povyishenie_izbiratelnogo_poroga_nalogovyie_poslableniya_i_nedopuschenie_opg_-_kak_v_raj_predlagayut_izmenit_vyiboryi/

[3] https://rus.azattyk.org/a/29944618.html

[4] https://www.osce.org/ru/odihr/elections/kyrgyzstan/222521?download=true

[5]  https://www.vb.kg/doc/304758_predlagaemyy_izbiratelnyy_porog_ponizili_do_9.html

[6] https://elgezit.kg/2019/07/02/pochemu-sleduet-snizit-izbiratelnyj-porog-na-vyborah-v-zhogorku-kenesh-i-nelzya-sokrashhat-kolichestvo-deputatov-parlamenta/

[7] https://center.kg/article/145

[8] https://rus.azattyk.org/a/kyrgyzstan-parliament-election/29813184.html

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