Tag Archives: referendum

Comment: New year starts off with new elections in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan

JAN. 8 2021 (The Bulletin) —  So, the New Year is set to start in Central Asia with two political stability tests. A parliamentary election in Kazakhstan and a presidential election in Kyrgyzstan, both scheduled for Jan. 10, will provide early litmus tests on the stability of both countries and also the popularity of their current governments.

In both countries the incumbents will win. Parties supporting Pres. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev will win a majority in the Kazakh parliament, as they always do, and Kyrgyzstan’s Acting-President Sadyr Japrov will win a contest to be sworn in as full president for a single seven-year term.

Neither elections are good adverts for democracy in the region. Opposition groups have effectively been banned from standing in the Kazakh election, and there is a chance that protests will occur in an increasingly restless Almaty.

In Kyrgyzstan, Japarov will be elected on a popular ticket but he is also using his popularity to bend Kyrgyzstan’s constitution to his will. People in Kyrgyzstan will be asked to vote on two issues on Jan. 10. As well as who they want to become president, voters will have to vote on whether they want to change the country’s constitution, as pushed for by Japarov, to boost the power of the president at the expense of parliament.

This is where the controversy lies. By pushing for these tweaks, Japarov, who was freed from jail during a coup in October and quickly installed as Acting-President, is essentially tearing up a constitution sponsored by the West and adopted after a revolution in 2010. It was supposed to safeguard democracy in Kyrgyzstan and turn it into a beacon for the rights of ordinary people in a region dominated by autocrats. Instead it looks to be heading to the scrap heap.

Western influence in Kyrgyzstan has diminished and shrivelled since the US withdrew its airbase from outside Bishkek in 2014. During the coup in October, Western diplomats had to look on, warning of the threat to democracy by the ascent of Japarov through street-level politics. Now they are looking on as he manipulates the constitution to strengthen his position.

Japarov has argued that the parliamentary democracy system was imposed on Kyrgyzstan by well-meaning but misguided intelligentsia types who lived in central Bishkek and didn’t understand the country. He said that Kyrgyzstan was too young to adopt parliamentary democracy. There may be some truth in this but more accurate may be that the country is just too corrupt and the West didn’t put in the effort to ensure the survival of the political system that it advocated.


— This story was first published in issue 467 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Armenian MPs vote to allowing sacking of judges

JUNE 22 (The Bulletin) — Armenia’s parliament voted to approve changes to the country’s constitution that will allow PM Nikol Pashinyan to fire judges he considers to be irritating, a move that his detractors have said is politically motivated. Armenia had been due to hold a referendum on the constitutional changes in April but a coronavirus lockdown forced its cancellation. Mr Pashinyan wants to fire three judges appointed to the Constitutional Court before a referendum in 2018 propelled him to power. >> See page 2 for comment


— This story was first published in issue 451 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, published on June 23 2020

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2020

Armenian courts refuse to sanction arrest of opposition leader

YEREVAN/JUNE 21 (The Bulletin) — In a blow to the authority of Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan, a court in the Armenian capital turned down a request from the Prosecutor-General’s office to arrest opposition leader Gagik Tsarukyan for alleged corruption.

Prosecutors charged Mr Tsarukyan, leader of the Prosperous Armenia party and a well-known businessman, last week. Within a couple of days of the charge, Parliament had stripped Mr Tsarukyan of his immunity from prosecution, setting up his arrest.

But judges in Armenia have resisted PM Nikol Pashinyan, the leader of a 2018 revolution that overthrew the Republican Party from power. Many judges, appointed during the Republican Party’s period in office, have said that he has overstepped his authority.


— This story was first published in issue 451 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin on June 23 2020

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2020

Venice Commission approves of Georgia constitution reform

TBILISI, JUNE 21 2017 (The Bulletin) — Adding to the debate around Georgia’s constitutional reforms, the Venice Commission, which acts as the Council of Europe’s constitution watchdog, described proposed changes as another step positive step towards a parliamentary democracy.

The proposed constitutional changes are controversial because they strip the president of power and hand it to parliament. Parliament is dominated by the Georgian Dream coalition, increasingly opposed to President Giorgi Margvelashvili who was elected under the Georgian Dream ticket but has rowed with his former colleagues.

The Venice Commission’s opinion should dampen an issue which has become increasingly acrimonious.

The constitutional changes also shift the voting system to proportional representation and away from the proportional/majoritarian system considered opaque, another move the Venice Commission praised.

It did say, though, that maintaining a 5% threshold for entering parliament and allowing political blocs to contest elections were detrimental to Georgian democracy.


Copyright ©Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin — all rights reserved

(News report from Issue No. 334, published on June 26 2017)


Kyrgyzstan passes referendum that extends powers of PM and bans same-sex marriage

BISHKEK, DEC. 11 2016 (The Conway Bulletin) — Kyrgyz voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to change the country’s constitution and shift power from the president’s office to the PM.

The referendum was controversial because opposition groups said that it was designed to empower current president Almazbek Atambayev who has to stand down next year. They accused him of eyeing up a strengthened PM’s office as his next role.

Under the changes the PM will be able to sack cabinet ministers and heads of local administrative regions and the president will no longer chair the Kyrgyz defence council. The referendum also banned same-sex marriage, angering gay rights groups.

Around 80% of the vote was cast in favour of the referendum proposals. Vote turnout was around 42% and one senior Western diplomat told The Conway Bulletin that the referendum only gained enough momentum because officials had cajoled people living in new villages that have sprung up on the outskirts of Bishkek, the capital, into voting for the proposals.

Even so, there was plenty of grumbling too about foul play and vote stuffing.

Nazira, 24, an independent observer said: “Some political parties’ representatives were standing at the polling station entrance, talking to voters and offering them up to 3,000 som ($30) for their vote.”

This is the third referendum in Central Asia this year.

Tajiks voted to extend the length of presidential terms and in Turkmenistan they scrapped a limit on the number of terms a president can remain in power. Across the Caspian Sea, in Azerbaijan a referendum was used to lengthen a presidential term.

In an election run alongside the referendum, people in Bishkek voted to retain the Social Democrats as their city government, although with a reduced number of seats.

The Social Democrats, the party of President Atambayev, won 13 seats in the Bishkek city election, just ahead of Ata Jurt with 12 seats. The other 20 seats were split between Onuguu-Progress, Mekenim Kyrgyzstan and Kyrgyzstan parties.


Copyright ©The Conway Bulletin — all rights reserved

(News report from Issue No. 309, published on Dec. 16 2016)

Kyrgyz MPs push back referendum

OCT. 19 2016 (The Conway Bulletin) — MPs in Kyrgyzstan voted to push back a referendum on changing the country’s constitution to Dec. 11 from an earlier date of Dec. 4. One of the reasons give for pushing back the referendum was to find the original document. This was supposed to have been kept in the President’s office but could not be found. The referendum focuses on strengthening the power of the PM.


Copyright ©The Conway Bulletin — all rights reserved

(News report from Issue No. 301, published on Oct. 21 2016)

Kyrgyzstan approves constitutional referendum

BISHKEK, SEPT. 29 2016 (The Conway Bulletin) — Kyrgyzstan’s parliament approved President Almazbek Atambayev’s plans to hold a referendum at on Dec. 4 on altering the constitution to give the PM more power.

The planned constitutional reforms are controversial.

Kyrgyzstan’s current constitution was organised in 2010 after a revolution. To many, it feels that changing it now would be an insult to those people who died in that revolution.

Opposition groups also accuse Mr Atambayev of wanting to move into the PM’s position once he leaves the presidency next year and it has also triggered a fall out with his highly regarded predecessor, Roza Otunbayeva.

In Bishkek opinion was split.

“I think the changes are needed because everyone talks about them in the media,” said Elnur, a 32-year-old driver. Samat, 24, disagreed.

“We do not need changes,” he said. “The whole process reminds me of former presidents of Kyrgyzstan.”

Two former presidents were overthrown after trying to change the constitution.


Copyright ©The Conway Bulletin — all rights reserved

(News report from Issue No. 298, published on Sept. 30 2016)

Referendum season

SEPT. 30 2016 (The Conway Bulletin) – >> Azerbaijan held a referendum this week to tweak its constitution. Didn’t Tajikistan have one in May and hasn’t Kyrgyzstan said it will hold one in December. What’s with all these referendums?

>> The autocrat’s textbook says that every so often you need to call up a referendum to make changes, big or minor, to the constitution, and also to show off just how popular you are. They all have their peculiarities and differences, but leaders from Central Asia and the South Caucasus have all played the referendum card.

In May, 92% of Tajikistan’s voting population turned up to extend presidential powers.

This week, a referendum in Azerbaijan proposed 29 small-scale amendments to the Constitution, which were overwhelmingly adopted, of course.

In the coming months, Kyrgyzstan is likely to have a referendum to grant more powers to the PM.

In previous years, countries across the region have held several referendums. Essentially the aim has been to change the Constitution to allow the incumbent to remain in power by scraping limits on terms, age caps, the length of each term.

>> OK, but are these changes meaningful? Do they have a real impact on politics?

>>These kinds of referendums can be meaningful. From a legal point of view, they change the law. They scrap age requirements to become president — as was the case in Tajikistan and Azerbaijan — and transfer powers from the president to the PM — like Kyrgyzstan’s referendum proposes.

In practice, however, their main aim is for the presidents to retain power or to transfer it to their offspring. There have been notable, and honourable exceptions, of course but not many.

Tajikistan’s referendum this year scrapped limits on presidential terms and lowered the age that a person can run for president to 30 from 35, potentially allowing President Rakhmon’s son, Rustam Emomali, to run for office in 2020.

Azerbaijan had already scrapped limits on presidential term in a referendum in 2009. This time round it lowered the age requirement to 18 from 35 and gave the president the right to dissolve Parliament. President Aliyev’s son Heydar is 19 now. This may be a coincidence, of course.

>> And what about Kyrgyzstan?

>> Kyrgyzstan is a little different. President Almazbek Atambayev will have to leave office next year after his term expires. Some have speculated that, in an effort to avoid losing power he is trying to strengthen the office of PM where he would like to return once he steps down next year.

Certainly his reasons for supporting changes to the constitution are not entirely clear.

The key difference, once again, with other countries in Central Asia, is that Kyrgyzstan’s democracy has advanced further.

>> So, essentially, most of the more seriously autocratic leaders in the region, that’s Azerbaijan and Central Asia with the exception of Kyrgyzstan, have all used referendums to improve their chances of holding on to power? By contrast Georgia, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan have held referendums in the last few years to boost the power of Parliament over the presidency? Is that right?

>>More of less, although it is important to understand that the drivers of referendums in Georgia, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan can also lie in self-interest with incumbent presidents hoping to hold on to power by becoming PM.


Copyright ©The Conway Bulletin — all rights reserved

(News report from Issue No. 298, published on Sept. 30 2016)