“During the period of the current parliament, political parties built into the state system did not evolve from the machines to attract votes during elections to the organizations that could successfully operate between elections, conduct a systematic and effective communication with the electorate. The credibility of the parties, according to the survey of the population in recent years, either increased or decreased, but, on average, less than half of the respondents trusted this political institution”, said Medet Tiulegenov, Head of “International and Comparative Politics» department at the AUCA, in an article written exclusively for cabar.asia.
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On the 10th of November 2010, the Kyrgyz parliament, elected under the new Constitution, gathered for the first meeting after a very acute struggle in the early parliamentary elections. This meant not only the end of institutional uncertainty, but also the beginning of some hopes for a transition to a new political system in which the central role was to be played by the country’s parliament.
The Parliament of Kyrgyzstan was rarely able to play a significant role in the politics of the country. After the so-called “legendary Parliament”, which started the “gold scandal”, and which could potentially lead to the impeachment of Askar Akayev, all Presidents tried to somehow tame the highest legislative body (though they failed to do it completely). The change in the structure of the parliament from unicameral to bicameral and vice versa, the change in the number of deputies, changed electoral system from a mixed majority to proportional system introduced a variety of ways to control access to the elections and their results. The Parliament was often a refuge for the institutional opposition, but almost never a structure that could have a serious impact on the country’s politics.
The situation has changed to some extent after 2010 with the adoption of a new constitution that enshrined the considerable powers of the parliament in the aftermath of the April and June events of that year, which affected the balance of power among the various political groups who participated in the parliamentary elections in the autumn of 2010. In 2015, the term of the activities of the parliament is coming to its end, and the five-year period in the political life of the country was marked by different moments.
This period was a rare case of constitutional stability and the longest period when the basic law of the country was not modified (previously, it was changed in average every two and a half years). This was the time when all the political players were getting used to working in a coalition majority, the change of which did not lead to significant crises. During this time, a lot of protests happened, but there were few large-scale opposition demonstrations, as it happened many times before 2010. This was a period of adaptation of the main political groups to the new rules laid down in the new constitution.
PARLIAMENT, weak power and election
The parliament was elected under the constitution, adopted by referendum in the summer of 2010, which was actually the first completely new constitution since the adoption of the first post-Soviet constitution in 1993. The constitution laid greater powers for the Parliament in law-making, appointment and dismissal of the government, and the determination of the internal and foreign policy, while the President lost much of its authority – legislative initiative, the appointment and removal of the government and the right of final veto. The new constitution made the Parliament a very attractive place to participate in elections at almost any cost. And besides, the government at the time of the election was very weak, thus increasing the subjective perception of a chance to get into parliament for many parties.
The Parliament was elected in a desperate and unprecedented competition in 2010. 29 political parties participated in the elections, and, as a result, five parties that were elected to Parliament in total took up 37.5% of the vote. This led to a weak electoral base of the new parliamentary convocation. However, despite this, major political leaders were in the Parliament, and the activity of non-parliamentary opposition was quite low during almost five years.
This increased competition was partly the result of the weakness of the government at that time, as yesterday’s opposition that had come to power did not have full power, especially after the events of June 2010. This led to the fact that the party of “Ata-Jurt” won more seats in the new parliament than other party, although with a small margin. The weakness of the government during the election campaign created a big enough window of opportunity for many politicians, which led not only to the large number of parties participating in the elections, but also to the fact that the parties, created a few months before the election, could get into the parliament (as in the case with the parties of “Ata-Jurt” and “Respublika”).
A noticeable revival of party building after the parliamentary elections has not been noticed. Parties have not yet become regular functioning organizations (as tax inspection reported, 10 parties paid taxes in the amount of 80 thousand soms, or about $1200 for 2014), and still remain pre-election machines hibernating between elections. Although the country has gone through the second election under the proportional system, in 2010, there was the first experience of competition of parties, and it was different from previous elections in 2007, which brought the party of “Ak Zhol” of the President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to the dominance in the parliament.
Almazbek Atambayev was also a member of the Parliament during a short period of time. He then became the Prime Minister and a year later, he became the President. It was almost the first time, when a person came to the presidential position from the Parliament, which, in general, potentially positioned the highest legislative body as a springboard to the presidency in the future. During the reign of the President of transition period Roza Otunbayeva, it was mainly aimed at ensuring a shaky balance between the branches of government. When Atambayev became the President, the question of consolidation of power rose more sharply. On the one hand, there took place a number of actions on the formal consolidation of the coordinating powers of the President, such as in the case of adoption of the law in 2012 “On the interaction of state bodies in the sphere of foreign policy of the Kyrgyz Republic”. On the other hand, after the collapse of the First Coalition, led by the party of “Ata-Jurt”, the President could increasingly control the Parliament through his party. Moreover, in recent years, the increasing pressure on the number of MPs through the criminal cases against them also enhances the concentration of power by the President. The increased incidence of exit of deputies from the ranks of factions has also contributed to it.
REVITALIZATION OF PARLIAMENT
The Parliament was very active in the implementation of norm-setting functions. The amount of bills and resolutions was big enough for this convocation. According to a recent (2015) report by “the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society”, for the period of 2011 to February 2015, the number of bills initiated by the government was 18.5%. Four out of five of all bills discussed were initiated by the parliament deputies, calling into question the effectiveness of cooperation between the Parliament, or rather of the parliamentary majority, and the government.
The number of resolutions adopted by the Parliament was also very large. If from 1990 to 2009, the Parliament produced in average approximately 450 decisions per year, after 2010, this number had risen to 930 decisions a year. This reflected the changes of functions and powers under the new constitution, and the result of the changed balance of power after the elections and the rise of populism in parliamentary politics.
The highest peak of activity of the parliament in the production of bills and regulations, as well as in the formation of various parliamentary committees, was during the period of the First Coalition. If the first coalition produced more than 100 orders and established more than two commissions a month, the fourth coalition produced slightly more than 70 orders and established 0.5 commissions. Probably, the original activity could be explained by the lack of experience of legislative work and by the whole activity of the work in the beginning of convocation. Also, to a certain extent, it is explained by the activity of the political opposition of the parliamentary leadership (led by the representative of the faction of “Ata-Jurt”) to the former provisional government. The temporary parliamentary commission under the first coalition were formed for the issues of: decrees of the Provisional Government, political assessment of the events of April and June 2010, activities of the State residence of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, after the speech of the former Prosecutor General Baibolov, etc. The subjects of discussion ranged from the study of schemes of fuel supplies to the airbase “Manas” to the change of flags of the country. In general, we see a tendency when the work of the commissions becomes a way of working for the parliamentary opposition. For example, “Ata Jurt”, being a member of the First Coalition and having its deputy as the Speaker of parliament, did not direct any commissions, but began to do so in the next two coalitions.
While the functions of policy-making in different areas of public administration “flowed” to the President (whose Office has actually coordinated the establishment of the National Sustainable Development Strategy for 2013-2017), parliamentary activity was mainly expressed in enhancing legislative and control functions that often acquired the features of the policy of populism.
Preparation for the autumn elections in 2015 is taking place in quite unusual conditions for Kyrgyzstan. This is actually the first election to be held, in practice, according to the same rules as the previous election. Prior to that, every election was preceded by some change: the electoral system changed from the majority to the mixed and then back to majority, and eventually to proportionate, the structure of the parliament changed from unicameral to bicameral, or vice versa. It is also the first election, which has not yet been preceded by a change in the Constitution, and the current parliament is actually the first parliament, during convening of which the basic law was not changed (although discussions are underway to amend the country’s Constitution). Thus, the current parliament was part of the political stability, demonstrated by the unchanged basic rules of politics in the country. In many ways, the reasons for this can be seen in the new political system, which gave our Parliament a new role and enhanced powers. What lessons can be learned from the first and is still too fresh experience of the functioning of the Parliament on the new system?
Firstly, the negotiability of political elites in the Parliament was quite high. The political adversarial position, at times sharp, took place after 2010, too, but unlike in previous years, it has rarely taken the form of acute confrontation. The country has continued to see a lot of protest rallies, but rarely any of them were large-scale and organized by politicians at the national level. The exceptions are a demonstration on the 3d of October 2012, organized by some of the leaders of the party “Ata-Jurt”, which resulted in a spontaneous march to the Government House and trying to get into its building by climbing over the fence, and a multi-day road blockade by supporters of the former Speaker A. Keldibekov, a member of the same political party, in 2013. The latter and some other similar protests, however, have shown a lack of support among the opposition-minded elites in terms of solving problems this way.
Parliamentarians pretty quickly adapted to functioning as part of coalitions that arose and broke and then were quite quickly recreated in the new configuration. On the one hand, the rules of coalition associations pushed parliament deputies to function, at least, within the framework of formal joint agreements. On the other hand, the activities of almost all the deputies have become quite autonomous, and there was not any urgent need to unite against someone. This need did not arise even when the President’s anti-corruption campaign began to affect a number of MPs. The system of access to resources in the new political system, which allowed MPs to leave (in this regard, the rotation among the deputies of this convocation was pretty frequent) or appoint someone to posts in the executive or other power structures has also contributed to this.
Secondly, the problem of the weakness of political parties was not solved during this convocation. In 2010, there was actually the first competitive election under the proportional electoral system, introduced in 2007, when the electoral rules were changed for building a dominant party of Bakiyev. The importance of political parties increased during the next election. The election of 2010, though had shown that it was not necessary to be engaged in a long-term party building (two of the five parties in parliament were created just before the election), made parties symbolically very significant.
However, over the lifetime of the current parliament does not become party of the machines to attract votes during the elections to the organization that can successfully operate between elections. The credibility of the parties, according to the survey of the population in recent years, the increases and decreases, and, nevertheless, remained on average less than half of the respondents trust the political institutions (according to a survey in 2015, only the police, the courts and election commissions enjoy less trust).
Thirdly, the effectiveness of building relationships with other government institutions (the President, the Government and the judiciary) in this convocation was low. The relationships with the President were difficult during the presidency of Roza Otunbayeva, which coincided with the leadership of the faction “Ata Jurt” in the majority coalition in the parliament, which referred to the so-called group of “revenge-seekers” opposing the so-called “Revolutionaries” from the Provisional Government. This period was marked by the activity of this fraction, and of the Parliament as a whole, in issuing regulations and establishment of commissions, which would consolidate the new powers of the legislative body. When Atambayev became the President, the coalition activity slightly decreased, and the Parliament was not able to effectively fulfill its mandate to determine the internal and external policies, the powers that formally and informally were delegated to the President. The relationship with the government, appointed by the Parliament, did not help improve the effectiveness of its work, due to the quota system of appointments, the lack of a clear program during its formation, the evaluation criteria as the cabinet as a whole and its individual members, superficial and populist performance by the parliament of its control functions, etc.
Fourth, the parliamentary opposition did not demonstrate its skills to work on the new institutional rules in new conditions not shown. The new Constitution has laid down certain powers for the operation of the opposition in our Parliament, such as: management of important committees (the Budget and the rule of law), the quota for the appointment of the Central Election Commission and the Council on the Selection of Judges. However, the opposition in the parliament has not played an important role in parliamentary politics, although the first two coalitions had one opposition faction (“Ata Meken” and “Ata-Jurt”), and the next two coalitions had two opposition factions (“Ata-Jurt” and “Respublika”). While this can be partly explained by pressure from law enforcement agencies in relation to a number of deputies from opposition factions, however, the existing formal powers of the opposition were used more in the short-term interests rather than in the program interests of the factions in relations with the majority coalition.
The very concept of opposition has undergone some changes in the period since 2010. The contours of confrontation of “government-opposition” were blurred, as the nature of power had changed, it ceased to be formally clearly centralized. Since 2012, many informal powers were returned to the President, but as the “family rule” or “monopolization of power” could no longer be used as the main reason for protest rallies, the opposition forces cannot find any other strong reasons to protest. Confrontation at the program level, too, was impossible because program platforms of the majority coalition parties and the opposition parties were almost similar.
Summing up the work of the Jogorku Kenesh of the current convocation, it may be noted that the parliament deputies to be elected in the autumn of 2015 will continue the search for their right place in the new system. The current convocation has achieved considerable results: it helped maintain political stability in the country, laid the foundations for the functioning of the Parliament under the new rules (formation of coalitions, appointment of the government, etc.), tried to understand the principles of faction work. However, many things remained incomplete, and among many reasons for that, there is the lack of time, which is required for the political elites to adapt to new rules of the game. In 2010, the rules were new, but the majority of players were old. In 2015, the situation will not radically change in this regard, but it is possible that there will be new understanding of the system of coordinates in which the parliament should work.
Medet Tiulegenov, Head of the “International and Comparative Politics” Department, AUCA The views of the author may not necessarily represent those of CABAR