Constitutional Reforms

by Nathan Hamm on 11/16/2006

NBCentralAsia reports on constitutional changes in both Uzbekistan and in Kyrgyzstan.

The story on Uzbekistan’s reforms says essentially the same thing that was said here earlier — that these changes are superficial, and, if anything, enhance presidential power by accomplishing a reform Karimov wanted from the beginning. I would add though that the amendment does have some value otherwise there would be no reason for proposing or publicizing it. What it is — a move for public consumption to prove that Uzbekistan is moving toward democracy, a sign of a change in the domestic balance of power, or both — is tough to say with certainty.

The report on Kyrgyzstan shows that though there have been changes to the constitution, there are still plenty of issues needing resolution. neweurasia reports on the conflicts on the horizon while NBCA focuses on the new proportional representation segment of the parliament. To review, the new Kyrgyz parliament is to be composed of 90 members. 45 will be allotted proportionally to parties while the other 45 will be elected from single-member-districts (SMDs) on the basis using the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system. If one political party gets 23 of the proportional seats, it gets to form the government. If not, the president forms the government. (Kyrgyz Report says that the president will request the parliament form the cabinet, though in practice, that probably means “consent to his cabinet.”) Some politicians quoted in the report believe that proportional representation (PR) should be expanded.

Topchubek Turgunaliev, the head of the Erkindik party, says the deficiencies of the first-past-the post system, used until now for all parliamentary seats, have long been apparent. He argues that in the form in which it operated in Kyrgyzstan, the system reinforced tribalism, allowed the authorities of the day to influence elections, and created opportunities for vote-buying.

He would like to see all seats, not just half of them, being made subject to proportional representation. “All these [negative] features will continue to exist if the majoritarian system is retained for half the seats. That’s enormously damaging to national unity,” he said.

Another party leader, Kubatbek Baibolov of the Union of Democratic Forces, recommends that two-thirds of parliament should be elected by proportional representation.

“In order for political parties to develop, the proportional system needs to dominate,” he said. “But even under this system, the first-past-the-post deputies are also going be drawn to the various parties since they too have an interest in shaping the cabinet.”

FPTP voting in SMDs for a legislature is not too terrible in itself. I rather like that it severely limits the power of fringe parties, something that is enhanced in PR systems that do not have a high threshold for representation. But Kyrgyzstan certainly is a place where FPTP reinforces corrosive elements of politics, and it would benefit greatly from the pressure on politicians to hitch themselves to parties rather than region or clan that PR can be expected to exert. But the “party-ization” of Kyrgyz politics will be delayed by the restriction on the parliament’s ability to form the government and the (apparent) inability of new parliaments to form governing coalitions. The conditionality and vagueness of points in the constitution that demand clarity are a recipe for future trouble.

UPDATE: Erica Marat has more on changes the constitution will usher in and the changes still needing to be made.

For Reforms realizes that there is a myriad of amendments to be made to the new constitution in order to eliminate inconsistencies. Problems are likely to arise in the course of reappointing key government leaders, such as the prime minister and his cabinet. One of the obvious inconsistencies in the new constitution concerns conflicting definitions of the relative powers of the prime minister and parliament in forming the government. Another contradiction is the even number of parliamentary seats, which could make it difficult to create a parliamentary majority.

The new voting system should encourage political party formation, but this process will be rather slower than the changes within the government.

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Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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