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Politics

An historic Kyrgyz vote— Almaty

Preface

After last month’s riots in Kyrgyzstan, the new provisional government is doing its best to regain control over the whole of the country.

Democracy, Elections, Government

16 May 2010

After last month’s riots in Kyrgyzstan, the new provisional government is doing its best to regain control over the whole of the country. In the south, clan-based links to the ousted president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, mean sporadic violent clashes between locals and forces loyal to the new authorities.

But assuming the country avoids falling into civil war in the coming weeks, the big debate is what happens next, and what form of government is right for the country to break the cycle of revolution followed by authoritarian consolidation of power.

Next month, a referendum is planned where the people will get to decide. Should Kyrgyzstan retain a strong presidential system, like all its neighbours in the region, or should the country move to a parliamentary system with a prime minister that has real powers and a president who is a largely symbolic figurehead?

MPs from across Europe and Asia gathered in Almaty, the biggest city in neighbouring Kazakhstan, over the weekend to discuss Kyrgyzstan as part of an OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) Trans-Asian parliamentary forum (Kazakhstan is chairing the OSCE this year and has played an active role in trying to diffuse the crisis).

It quickly became apparent that many politicians from the region had very different ideas about how the country should progress from their European counterparts.

“The provisional government is still fragile and does not have full control over the country. If the situation is not handled properly, Kyrgyzstan might lose not only its statehood but also its independence,” said Adil Akhmetov, a Kazakh official and the OSCE’s special envoy on Kyrgyzstan, who has been involved in the crisis from the beginning. “There are five million people in Kyrgyzstan and 104 political parties. I don’t think the parliamentary way will solve the country’s problem.”

This viewpoint is shared by many political analysts in Kazakhstan, which is run by the authoritarian Nursultan Nazarbayev, who tolerates little dissent but has presided over a period of economic growth and political stability, and avoided some of the more obscene excesses of other presidents in the region.

“Kyrgyzstan is trying to blindly copy western models of democracy, and it’s not working,” says Bulat Sultanov, director of the government-linked Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies. “You can’t just bridge the gap between a totalitarian system to a full democracy in one leap. You need a period of strong presidential power.”

The Europeans, on the other hand, urged the Kyrgyz to use the unrest to create a real democracy in Central Asia, and reading between the lines of their speeches, were also critical of Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries.

“I’ll be honest with you, it’s obvious that benevolent dictatorship is the most efficient system of governing a country and getting things done but you have democracy so that if you have bad rulers, you can get rid of them,” said Kimmo Kiljunen, a Finnish MP and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Special Envoy to Central Asia. “We are debating in Finland on whether we should change from a semi-presidential system to more of a parliamentary system, so this debate is legitimate in every country.”

How the Kyrgyz vote will have huge implications for a region that has never before seen a truly parliamentary system in action. They will go to the polls on 27 June.

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