June 27, 2010 saw the overwhelming majority of Kyrgyz voters approve the new constitution, transforming Kyrgyzstan to a parliamentary republic. The news was received with mixed sentiments of hope and uncertainty. This analysis of perspectives looks at how the transition to Parliamentary Republic is being received in Central Asia, and what it could mean for the future of Kyrgyzstan.
Rosa Otunbayeva, former caretaker of the Kyrgyz interim government, has been sworn in as the caretaker President of Kyrgyzstan under the new parliamentary constitution. Otunbayeva plans to withdraw from politics after her caretaker term ends in 2011, but much could happen between now and then, and all eyes are now focused ahead to the October parliamentary elections.
Despite the fear that the June referendum would see more violence ensue in the ravaged country, it went off without a major hitch, with a 90 percent affirmative vote. Many experts claim that this was a stability vote, and that most of the voters have no real idea of what the constitution entails in the minutiae, but saw it instead as the ticket to some calm in the country. In the immediate situation, they may be right.
While the UN and US sent messages of approval and congratulations on the referendum, which in their view is step towards normalization, Russia has quickly changed her tune on Kyrgyzstan and come out against the constitutional reforms:
“Will this not turn into a succession of endless problems, reshuffles in parliament, the rise to power of these or those political forces, an uncontrolled transfer of authority from one hand to another, and, finally, will this not facilitate the arrival to power of the forces with extremist views?”
Russian President Medvedev’s sentiments, expressed at the recent G20 summit is far from encouraging, although there is widespread adherence to the view that Kyrgyzstan will not benefit in the long run from the changes to the constitution.
The problems lie in the entrenched power struggles within parliament, which is why everyone is now nervously eyeing the calendar for the countdown to the upcoming elections. Despite the best efforts of Otunbayeva to try and create a new chapter in Kyrgyz history-and she really is putting in a lot of effort-there remains the fact that Kyrgyzstan, and the region in general is not well disposed to democracy. The people may well want it, but there are those in the government that want to hold onto power, not let it go.
This political ‘immaturity,’ so named by Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center, stems from the fact that Kyrgyzstan is used to a ‘strongman’ style government, authoritarianism and hereditary presidencies (as was the case with the Akayev and Bakayev ‘dynasties’). Furthermore, Kyrgyzstan is surrounded by countries with authoritarian style governments, and no one in the region is known for free and fair elections-the manipulation of the parliamentary system, via coercion and threat is almost a certainty, despite the best intentions of the new president.
Otunbayeva is therefore likely to have the biggest struggles within her own parliament, and things may well play out like President Medvedev suggests.
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