In a setback for Kyrgyzstan’s experiment in parliamentary democracy, the Central Asian nation’s governing coalition collapsed even before it could formally take power. Now, the legislature remains rudderless, as political leaders enter into a new round of negotiations to produce a government.
In late November, three Kyrgyz parties represented in parliament – the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), Respublika and Ata-Meken – announced a tentative coalition deal. On December 2, however, that deal fell apart when, in a secret ballot of MPs, Omurbek Tekebayev, the leader of Ata-Meken, failed to secure legislative confirmation as parliamentary speaker. Tekebayev is a political figure who is reviled by Russia, Kyrgyzstan’s most important patron. Moscow’s disapproval appears to have induced at least some SDPK and/or Respublika MPs to vote against Tekebayev’s candidacy. There are even rumors circulating in Bishkek that some of his own Ata-Meken deputies may have voted against him. The proposed governing coalition would have controlled 67 of the 120 seats in parliament.
Kyrgyzstan’s parliament cannot function without a coalition because none of the five winning parties in the October 10 election received enough votes to form an absolute majority. Given the existing distribution of seats, at least three parties are needed to form a majority. Under the constitution, the president has two chances to appoint the coalition leader. President Roza Otunbayeva gave her own SDPK the first crack at forming a coalition.
On December 4, Otunbayeva announced the business-oriented leader of Respublika, Omurbek Babanov, would have the opportunity to lead the next round of negotiations. Babanov has until December 24 to form a coalition. If he fails, then the parliamentary factions will have 15 business days to make their own nominations for leading government posts. A third strike would mean new elections would have to be held within 45 days.
Talks have been taking place behind closed doors, leading to speculation and fueling skepticism that the second attempt will be successful. “Most likely the government will be built during the third attempt. As for the second attempt, the current one, it seems to me to be quite weak. I guess this coalition will have the same fate as the first,” said governance expert Sheradil Baktygulov.
Political analyst Turat Akimov, editor and publisher of the Dengi i Vlast (Money and Power) weekly, says the elected deputies are “those who mostly bought their votes. Among them there are no highly ideological people; they are just people with money.”
Some experts believe that financial concerns are precisely what will nudge the deputies to eventually reach some sort of consensus: new elections might be prohibitively expensive for them. “They will come to an agreement because they spent money. They do not want to lose their positions and they need to protect their own businesses,” Akimov said.
The speculation about whom Babanov may choose as his coalition partners has varied wildly. Because he has very little political baggage, he could side just as easily with former coalition partners SDPK and Ata-Meken as he could with the other two parties with legislative representation -- Ar-Namys, and the top vote- getter, Ata-Jurt.
Ata-Jurt leader Kamchybek Tashiev contends that any coalition that does not include his party will not last and may increase instability in the country. “Why was there a misfire the first time? Because they made a mistake by not including the faction, the party, that won the elections,” Tashiev told EurasiaNet.org. “I’m confident that a coalition created without our faction will be unstable. Even if they pass in parliament, even if they begin working, it will be very unstable.” Any coalition without Ata-Jurt would last “no more than half a year,” he predicted.
Ata-Jurt attracted lots of electoral support in Kyrgyzstan’s south and would thus able of bring the presently divided country together, Tashiev claimed: “The other four parties are all regional northern parties, while our party is a regional southern party. … We absolutely must unite the south and north. Without that, there’s no way the country can be stable.”
How Tekebayev failed to secure confirmation remains a matter of speculation. Respublika representatives have admitted that several members opposed his candidacy. Ata-Meken Deputy Chairman Ravshan Djeyenbekov expressed the belief that “outside pressure” may have kept the speaker’s post from Tekebayev, who presided over the drafting of the Kyrgyzstan’s new constitution. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has publicly criticized the Kyrgyz constitution, which transformed the country into a parliamentary republic by greatly reducing executive power, as a political experiment that could end in a “catastrophe.”
“I’m absolutely sure that this was a game organized by foreign powers. They wanted to give Tekebayev a chance … and break him there at the vote. They did it, and now Tekebayev is in a very difficult position,” Djeyenbekov told EurasiaNet.org.
The difficulty in creating a ruling coalition raises questions about the longevity of Kyrgyzstan’s experiment with parliamentary democracy. Acting Speaker Tashpolot Baltabaev, also of Ata-Meken, warned on December 6 that an alliance of Respublika, Ata-Jurt and Ar-Namys would seek to terminate Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary experiment. Ata-Jurt and Ar-Namys, led by Felix Kulov, have been vocal opponents of the parliamentary system, campaigning on promises to change the new constitution and restore presidential powers.
Djeyenbekov is more optimistic. As they grow stronger, he said, the parties in opposition to a parliamentary system are beginning to see how it benefits them.
“They know it’s a good system because we now have to negotiate. We cannot oppress each other like before. Even Ata-Jurt and Ar-Namys see they are very important now because … with a strong president, they would have lost everything,” he said. “I’ve talked to them all -- Tashiev, Kulov -- they wanted to create a strong presidential system, but now they speak about it less and less. It’s good for them too and they know it.”
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor. Natasha Yefimov contributed reporting to this article.