Proposed constitutional amendments stir tensions
On September 24th parliament passed a second reading of a bill to hold a referendum on controversial changes to the constitution. The referendum, which will be held on December 4th and is backed by the president, Almazbek Atambayev, is likely to pass but will exacerbate growing divisions in the government's four- party coalition. Some parties in the coalition accuse Mr Atambayev of using the referendum to strengthen his position and his party's hold on power.
Mr Atambayev's recent call for a criminal investigation into members of the 2010 interim government will further inflame tensions between the coalition parties; however, we do not expect the coalition to collapse.
If approved the proposed constitutional changes would significantly decrease the president's powers and increase those of the prime minister. This has raised suspicions that the amendments are aimed primarily at entrenching Mr Atambayev and his party in power and that he might seek to become prime minister when his current presidential term ends in 2017. Mr Atambayev, who is 60 and recently underwent heart surgery in Moscow, the Russian capital, denies that he has any intention of remaining in politics when his presidential term ends. Our core scenario remains that Mr Atambayev will not attempt to become prime minister himself when his presidential term ends (although this cannot be excluded) but will seek to ensure that the position is held by a close ally.
Current legislation prohibits any amendments to the 2010 constitution until 2020, although Mr Atambayev has bizarrely denied that any such restrictions exist. The proposed constitutional amendments have been criticised by both opposition politicians and members of the government coalition. Two of the four parties in the coalition, Onuguu-Progress and Ata-Meken (Fatherland), have threatened to quit the government. Omurbek Tekebayev, the leader of Ata-Meken and one of the architects of the current constitution, has pushed to delay the referendum until the constitutional council can debate all the proposed amendments.
Representatives of civil society have also criticised the proposed changes. On August 24th the Committee for Civic Control, a coalition of 70 non-governmental organisations, issued a statement accusing Mr Atambayev of using the referendum to usurp power for himself and his party.
The Venice Commission, a body of constitutional experts within the Council of Europe, echoed the committee's concerns in a report published on August 29th that determined that the constitutional changes would "negatively impact the balance of powers".
There has been a crackdown on Mr Atambayev's opponents in the past few months; eight opposition politicians have been arrested since May, including members of the People's Parliament movement who threatened to organise mass protests in Bishkek, the capital, to demand Mr Atambayev's resignation.
Mr Atambayev has also attacked his former political allies, who, alongside the president, were members of the 2010 interim government. Mr Atambayev used his Independence Day speech on August 31st to publicly castigate Roza Otunbayeva for her actions when she was the interim president in 2010.
In September the prosecutor general, at Mr Atambayev's request, began investigating several members of the interim government on charges of aiding the escape to Europe in 2010 of Kadyrjan Batyrov, an Uzbek community leader. In 2011 Mr Batyrov was charged in absentia with inciting inter-ethnic hatred and masterminding the violent clashes that occurred between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz citizens in the south of the country in June 2010.
On September 15th, in parliament, Meerbek Miskenbayev, a deputy from Mr Atambayev's Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), accused Mr Tekebayev of instigating theft and looting in Bishkek in April 2010.
Mr Tekebayev, in turn, accused Mr Atambayev of corruption, and KTRK, the state television broadcaster, of biased coverage.
Now that the second reading has passed, the constitutional referendum is almost certain to go ahead on December 4th, and the proposed amendments will probably be approved in this vote. The amendments are likely to lead to small but manageable protests, particularly if the Prosecutor General's Office continues to pursue its investigation into members of the government. Despite rising tensions, however, the government is unlikely to fall, as neither Onuguu-Progress nor Ata-Meken has enough seats to bring down the coalition.
October 28, 2016