The new constitution marks a political defeat for Bakiyev, who had been wrestling for power with his parliamentary foes for most of 2006.[For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Presidential opponents, including members of the For Reforms coalition, had accused Bakiyev of reneging on promises to combat rampant crime and corruption, as well as promote constitutional reform. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. After signing away some of his powers, the president tried to put a positive spin on the situation, insisting that "there have been no losers" in the new constitutional arrangement.
"We all wanted to reach consensus on difficult issues concerning constitutional reform in a way that served the best interests of, above all, the people of Kyrgyzstan, who are the only source of authority in the Kyrgyz republic," Bakiyev said, according to a transcript provided by the presidential press service.
Up until two days before the signing ceremony, Bakiyev had been pushing for a constitutional draft that largely preserved the executive's supremacy in relation to the other branches of government. The document he signed on November 9 provides for relative parity between the executive and legislative branches.
Among the new constitution's most important provisions, the president loses the ability to select members of the government. That power will now rest with the political party that holds the most seats in parliament. In addition, the new basic law transfers responsibility for oversight of the National Security Service from the president to parliament. The constitution also mandates an expansion of parliament to 90 members from the current 75. The expansion is due to take effect when the mandates of the sitting MPs expire in 2010.
The catalyst for the new constitution was a protest initiative launched by the For Reforms coalition on November 2. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. There were some indications that, despite his professed desire to achieve consensus on the constitutional issue, Bakiyev sought compromise with his opponents only after exploring other options. According to a report published November 9 by the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, headlined "Bishkek Ready to Ask for Rubles and Bayonets," Bakiyev had a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 7, during which the Kyrgyz leader may have explored the possibility of military support for his embattled administration. If Bakiyev made such an overture, he apparently received a negative response. The news broke that the president and his opponents had reached a constitutional compromise mere hours after the Bakiyev-Putin phone conversation.
On November 9, the For Reforms coalition dismantled tents that had served as its protest headquarters on Alatoo Square in central Bishkek. However, a band of pro-presidential supporters continued a nearby protest, demanding that the new constitution be put to a nationwide referendum.
While the risk of widespread violence appears to have receded, some experts believe the new constitution doesn't offer a guarantee against a similar confrontation arising in the future. A report issued November 9 by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) cautioned that new political conflicts could arise in Kyrgyzstan unless the country's political system is overhauled.
Seeming to frown on the opposition's reliance on a confrontational protest strategy, the report called for "an end to the use of