Zainidin Kurmanov, a political scientist from Kyrgyzstan, historian and ex-speaker of the parliament, shared his opinion on the development of parliamentarism in the country, constitutional reform and how to maintain a balance among the branches of government, in an interview for CABAR.asia.
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CABAR.asia: According to the 2010 Constitution, Kyrgyzstan is considered a country with a parliamentary form of government. How much does it live up to its name? What are its main pros and cons?
There were some signs of a parliamentary form of government, such as a coalition of the majority, factions proposed and approved the candidacy of the prime minister, ministers, etc. The president was deprived of many powers, the right to deliver messages to the people, except for control over the power bloc, etc. however, everything remained the same, no appointment could take place without the consent of the president, without his agreement. It was the same under previous presidents when we had Constitutions with a semi-presidential form of government. So, what is the matter if everything remains the same? How can this be called a parliamentary form of government? Therefore, the 2010 Constitution did not introduce any parliamentarism. Absolute power was in the hands of the president, who had interfered into all affairs, but was not responsible for anything.
There was a parliament, a government, a court, a constitutional chamber, and other institutions, but all matters were decided in the presidential apparatus: the president personally, his driver, adviser, bodyguard, secretary and even his servants. Or not? And after that, how did politicians and experts could call this disgrace a parliamentary form of government?
In a parliamentary form of government, the president is the head of state and has nominal, representative power. He is a respected person, but he cannot take a step without the Prime Minister’s permission.
The people were deceived, and an old commodity has been imposed upon them once again. This commodity is called a semi-presidential form of government, where the president has titanic powers but is not responsible for anything. Such a system is not practiced even in a classical version of a presidential republic.
This happened not withstanding with the fact that, according to the 2010 Constitution, almost all levers of power were taken from the president. Atambayev became a dictator due to control over the power bloc and the unsuitable composition of the Jogorku Kenesh of the 5th and 6th convocations and the stability of his office, in contrast to the instability of other branches of government. How many prime ministers and speakers have we changed over the past 10 years? Theory is one thing, practice is another. When the theorists wrote the new Constitution, they probably did not think that politicians would just step over it. Therefore, we thought that we would succeed in parliamentarianism. As you can see, it did not work out.
What are the advantages and disadvantages that I can mention? Advantages – they played democracy when they created empty and useless coalitions. Disadvantages – the huge degradation of the country. The political elite and the political party building have been destroyed, elections are separated from voters and nothing depends on them, tycoonization (oligarchization), bureaucratization, a huge external debt, corruption has reached indecent proportions, the growth of white-collar crime, etc. The country needs to be practically rebuilt from scratch.
Parliamentarism has one significant drawback – the period of the decision-making procedure. This and various approvals take months and years. Everything is much easier and faster under presidentialism. Parliamentarism was developed in the well-fed and prosperous countries of Europe, which owned vast colonies. Presidentialism first appeared in the United States, in a former British colony. It was necessary to develop quickly and the American founding fathers Madison, Adams, Lincoln offered their citizens a presidential model that best suited the historical goals and objectives of the country. And they coped with it. The American president has a lot of power, but there are also obstacles to prevent abuse of authority – the federal structure of the country, an independent court, and a strong parliament. They provide a good counterbalance to the dictatorial ambitions of the presidents. The American rule states: “The USA can live without a president (impeachment), but it cannot live without a parliament for a minute.” An American president can be dismissed by Congress, but the president cannot dissolve the Congress. ”
This is how practical Americans decided. There is an opinion in Kyrgyzstan that parliamentarism is better suited for us and will lead us to the bright path faster. I have a different opinion, but I do not want to deprive our citizens of their illusions. Smart people learn from the mistakes of others.
Along with the presidential elections in January 2021, Kyrgyzstan will host a referendum on determining the state structure of the country. The issue of changing the Constitution gave rise to heated debates in society. How do you feel about this project?
What is my attitude towards changing the form of government? If everything could change only by rewriting the Constitution, all countries would be rich and happy. Wealth is created by the overwork and skill of each person. Do not believe in magic tablecloth and flying carpets. Miracles happen only in fairy tales.
A certain part of the society in Kyrgyzstan is worried that the new constitution will lead to a super-presidential form of government and the usurpation of power. Does the presidential system necessarily lead to autocracy? How to comply with the system of checks and balances?
We have long been living in a super-presidential regime. This is also what political science calls the “semi-presidential form of power”. Now we are experiencing a crisis of this form of power in the CIS space.
Wherever a presidential or semi-presidential form is established, we see different types of dictatorship, the fight against pluralism, restriction of human rights, criminalization, bureaucratization, oligarchization, poverty, the flourishing of corruption, permissiveness, etc.
Any power, if it is not limited by various obstacles and barriers, can become authoritarian, dictatorial. This is the tendency that it follows. Therefore, one must be able to create checks and balances, and not just talk about them. Balances should be not only between the branches of government, but also within the branches in favor of collegial bodies. In the executive branch of power, the power structures are very strong, where culture and education are exhausted. Balances should be built between the interests of the individual, society, and the state, between foreign and domestic politics, between business and the state, between the state and civil society, between central and local authorities, etc.
During the independent history of Kyrgyzstan, the country’s Constitution was rewritten several times, but the citizens did not start living better from this action. To what extent can the Constitution influence the lives of ordinary people? Is the “root of the matter” in this document is so that the society is divided into opponents and supporters of the fundamental law?
If all citizens honor and sacredly observe the Constitution and the laws, decrees and resolutions arising from it, we all live according to the law, and not step over it, then life will definitely change for the better.
This can be achieved through repression, this is a shortcut, but not for long, however, it can be done through education. But it’s a long way to go. The “root of the matter” is in our bad upbringing.
This material has been 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 board or the donor.