The Institute for Public Policy asked experts and representatives of the NGO sector to express their views on the decision of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Law, Public Administration, Legality and Local Government to change the order of filling vacant parliamentary seats.
On January 10, 2012, during the meeting of the Committee on Constitutional Law, Public Administration, Legality and Local Government, it was recommended to pass the draft constitutional law “On Amendments to the Constitutional Law of the KR, On elections of the President of the KR and deputies of the Jogorku Kenesh” in the first reading.
The deputies of the Jogorku Kenesh Erkinbek Alymbekov and Felix Kulov initiated the draft law ”On Amendments to the Constitutional Law of the KR, On elections of the President of the KR and deputies of the Jogorku Kenesh.”
This draft of the constitutional law provides for changing the order of filling a vacant mandate of a deputy of the Jogorku Kenesh in the event of his early retirement in accordance with the constitutional law. The Central Election Commission makes a decision to give the vacant mandate to a candidate from the same list specified by the relevant political party. Following discussion, the Committee decided to recommend adopting this draft law in first reading (www.kenesh.kg).
As you know, the third paragraph of Article 65 “Registration of the deputies of the Jogorku Kenesh, filling a vacant deputy mandate (Constitutional Law of KR ‘On elections of the President of the KR and deputies of the Jogorku Kenesh’)” reads:
3. In case of early retirement of a deputy elected by the distribution of seats among political parties according to the lists of candidates, the Central Election Commission makes a decision to delegate his mandate to the next candidate from the same list.
Kyrgyz experts and representatives ofthenon-governmental sector have expressed their opinion on the state of party building in Kyrgyzstan. They also commented on the decision of the Parliamentary Committee for Constitutional Law, Public Administration, Legality and Local Government to change the order of filling the vacant parliamentary seats.
Sheradil Baktygulov, an expert in public administration, emphasized: “In Kyrgyzstan, people are well aware that the only and the shortest path to power is through elections. Participation in elections, including the elections to the parliament and local parliaments, is the exclusive prerogative of political parties. Hence, the dilemma is as follows: long and hard way of ‘growing up’ through the career path of a civil servant and reach the position (in the best case) of the deputy Minister, or descending to the same position using the ‘Party Parachute’, without spending many years as a civil servant. And this dilemma came about 15 years ago, when there was raised the question of creating mechanisms for making the legislative power dependent on the executive power and, in particular, on the president.
“Based on this understanding, three major trends can be traced in the development of political parties. The first trend is the dynamics of political party registration. There are no problems in this area, as there are more than plenty political parties – about 180. If we proceed from this dynamic, there are party democracy and politically active citizens in Kyrgyzstan. However, in reality, political parties are only one-man projects and usually limited to the circle of his supporters.
“The second trend is that our political parties become active only during parliamentary or presidential election campaigns. Wealthy citizens are willing to finance political parties in exchange for a place in the list of parliament members. Moreover, it should be noted that most of the businessmen are driven by the instinct to preserve and increase their capital, rather than the attractiveness of the program or the political ideas of the party they choose. The parties that not claim to win elections still actively participate in them, because they can improve their financial status during elections, at least of some party members.
“The third trend is the growing conviction of the population on the parties of ‘one leader’. In general, it is not quite a correct characteristic corresponding to political parties of Kyrgyzstan. This approach notes only the existence of only one or two leading figures in the party. In fact, political parties accumulate the interests of elite groups.”
During the interview, Sheradil Baktygulov noted some advantages and disadvantages in the development of political parties: “The activities of political parties in the parliament of Kyrgyzstan show that ‘cartel agreements’ are widely used inside political parties and between them. Cartel parties have become a mechanism for distribution of government positions between the professional groups of politicians. This mechanism is based on the broad coalition basis, as well as on politicians’ connections with voters without the intervention of the party organization. ‘Collective solidarity’ reigns in such parties.
“Election campaigns have become more capital-intensive but, at the same time, more professional and organized, and party leaders resemble entrepreneurs to a greater extent.
“Cartel parties are hard to differentiate if to look only at their programs. This leads to the fact that voters begin to think that all the parties are responsible for public policy, and the responsibility of a particular party is reduced. The clear distinction between the ruling and opposition parties is disappearing. Elections provide entry into the government of all more or less important party groups. The most significant consequence of it is the transformation of democracy into the ‘public elites flattery’ instead of their active participation in the political strategy development.
“Functioning of the cartel parties in the Parliament with a broad array of powers will reduce the efficiency of public administration and, consequently, intensify the ‘independence’ of local groups from the center. The result will be the government’s inability to ensure constitutional guarantees for its citizens.
“Therefore, we must understand that the process of formation of the party system can stop, and this will have the most negative impact on the system of public administration. A collective dictator is no better than a sole authoritative person. Besides, it is more difficult to expel such a collective dictator from the country.
“The political parties in the parliament demonstrate that there was an association of interest groups in political parties. This is a definite advantage. Parties have become an instrument of legitimizing the interests of elite groups. But there is a disadvantage, too: the interests of a particular elite group represented in its party are not the actual interests of the country or even the people living in a particular village or city.
“Further, due to the lack of domestic resources for development of party organizations, special role in their development is played by external sponsors who provide the parties with financial, human, information and other resources. At the same time, sponsors of political parties can be private companies, associations, government agencies, businesses and so on. The advantage here is in the fact that the parties have learned to attract external funds. The disadvantage is that the voter has formed the view that the parties represent the interests of everybody but voters and even the party itself. In this case, the party control over personnel matters makes everybody believe that people are appointed only because they participated in sponsorship of this party.”
Commenting on the proposed amendment to the electoral law, Sheradil Baktygulov said: “Some members of this committee were members of various working groups, including the development of the norms of the Election Code, the abolition of which was proposed on January 10th of this year. Previously, the need for this rule was rigidly defended, and now they fiercely argue for its irrelevance. There are various ways to treat these actions, but let’s give a very general estimate.
“Kyrgyzstan is experiencing a certain crisis of political growth today. Therefore, an attempt to change the existing order of substitution of a retired parliamentarian reminds the attempt to appoint any member from the party list. Hence, there is a half-step to the next innovation – party bosses will appoint anybody from the list after the announcement of the outcome of a parliamentary election.
“In general, we are hostages of the system of deputies’ submission to anyone, but not residents of the country, on whose behalf they act. Such a system is characteristic of authoritarian states. In the world, there are at least two more advanced systems.
“The first is based on the Anglo-Saxon traditions. Parliamentary candidates are fighting for a seat in the parliament in single-member districts. Next, the calculation of the mandates takes place. The party, whose members received the majority, forms the government or a coalition.
“The second system is based on a rating vote. Voters vote for a party and party members from the party list. Both systems work well, stimulate the activity of political parties and exclude intra-party squabbles contributing to the destabilization of the situation in the country.
“Various schemes of substitution of a retired deputy are possible. The problem is that the current system does not contribute to the development of the country or to the growing authority of political parties. It turns out that the voters are right – deputy mandates are often given for services to the party.
“It seems more appropriate to work on two real problems of the Election Code. The first problem, according to the law, is that young people according to the law are the people in age from 14 to 28 years old. However, the Election Code has a rule that the lists of candidates-parties can include citizens aged up to 35 years old. People from 29 years old are no longer young and are not subject to quotas. The law does not establish a minimum number of seats for people younger than 35.
“The second problem is that there is a rule that every third place in the party list is for women, if this party wants to participate in elections. This good rule works only in the lists of the party.
“As we see, these two rules do not work in reality. We could make up three lists: the young (under 28 years old), women and men. Further, from the total number of seats obtained by a party, in accordance with the Election Code, 30% is divided among the youth and women. Then the quotas for youth and women will really work, and, most importantly, the distribution of seats will be clear and transparent. Otherwise, there is a great risk that the most discriminated will be deputies and candidates to deputies from these categories of people with all the ensuing conclusions and consequences,” said the expert.
According to Anar Musabayeva, a political analyst, “It is probably an exaggeration to say that political parties are developing rapidly. There were no significant changes in the development of parties. Parties are still are such only in the classic sense. The great role is still played by party leaders, because in our country, political parties are formed on the principle of unity around certain individuals or a group formed around the leader.
“For instance, it remains difficult to distinguish the parties in the Jogorku Kenesh by their ideological and program directions. We also know some more or less large parties that are left out of the new power structure, since they could not win during the parliamentary election. But, nevertheless, despite the formal existence of such a large number of parties, we do not see how they differ from each other, so that they could be distinguished by their ideological and programmatic settings.
“Due to the lack of such differences, citizens, or, shall we say, potential supporters of political parties, give their votes to a particular party, and they are guided mainly by the personality of the party leader or by individual members of the party. It is important for a political party to have a clear policy position, which, roughly speaking, can create an image or portrait of the party. In this sense, there are still very few changestothe party building.
“Recently there have been a lot of negative things, which were expected, because many parties had been formed in a hurry as some pre-election projects. In addition, there were no ideological platforms, and people united by completely different interests and goals. No party had a coherent ideological platform. That’s why we see these divisions in political parties and various factions within parties, which in itself points to the crisis of our political parties and shows the low level of political culture, solidarity and discipline. We see that the Jogorku Kenesh deputies of one faction can make quite opposite statements. Of course, every member has the right for his own opinion, but, nevertheless, when it comes to some economic or social issues, people expect more or less common positions on important key issues from political parties. We do not see it. For example, sometimes it happens that the party leader says one thing, but its members are of the opposite opinion. This suggests that within the parties, there is no single ideological platform around which the members of the party could unite.”
Meanwhile, Anar Musabaeva also highlighted some positive aspects in the development of party-building: “The establishment of the parliamentary system of governance contributed to the fact that politicians began to realize the importance of the party institution, that parties must be developed, since political parties are one of the institutions of democracy, through which various groups in the country can express their interests.
“I think that some members of political parties that are in the parliament havetheunderstanding that any political party must have its social base. But at the same time, the majority of MPs do not understand it and still treat parties as some kind of election project.
“Our parties do not have enough long-term strategic vision or commitment to struggle for political power, notonlynow, but in the long run. Perhaps this is a fault of not only political parties but also of the way our people tend to think, that is, the level of political culture. Today, everybody is thinking only about short-term prospects.
“Speaking of positive things, perhaps, it is good that some party members are striving to promote some programs, and they have aspirations, for example, to invoke the responsibility of leaders of their parties, that is, there is some deviation from the unconditional submission to the authoritarian leader.
“Maybe a positive aspect is that the parties begin to learn to negotiate, to reach some compromise. Another question is that these agreements and consensus decisions are mainly related to the distribution of portfolios, and it is certainly bad. Some unity in their work for the public good, that is, the country’s development or performance of anti-crisis programs and so on, would be better. Nevertheless, there are already attempts to negotiate or to resolve problems within the parliament. But so far, there is too much suspicion that it concerns more their selfish interests than the interests of the country.”
Speaking of the amendment proposed by the Parliamentary Committee on the filling of the vacant seats, Anar Musabayeva said: “In terms of international experience, there are different mechanisms for the filling of vacant seats. But the most logical way, and I think it would be correct, provided that we had advanced parties, is when the vacant position of a deputy mandate is given to the next candidate on the list, because when the parties go to elections, they provide lists with a specified sequence. Logically, a voter who votes looks at this list and looks at all the candidates in this list.
“There are mechanisms that could be used, but it depends on the electoral system. For example, there is a rule when a voter can vote for a party and for some specific members, i.e., a rating system is used. As a result of such voting,apriority list is organized according to the rating of candidates. We do not have it, and voters vote for the entire list, and it turns out that the parties here have a large field of maneuver in order to make their own decisions.
“But this amendment is a controversial issue. On the one hand, it undermines the democratic process, where the priority list is broken, and the party can choose a deputy who should fill the vacant seat. But on the other hand, if the decision is made not by the leader alone but by the party congress, and the party decides to nominate an outstanding figure, why not break the list. It is necessary to consider the pros and cons of this, and most importantly, there should not be a system where the party leader alone decides who will become an MP. If the latter happens, of course, it will cause alienation, misunderstanding and criticism.
“Therefore, this question has no simple answer, although, given the electoral rules and existing practice, it is logical that the parliamentary mandate is given to the candidate who is the next in the party list.
“Why are such changes proposed? Perhaps, it’s no secret that when the party lists were formed, there were some internal arrangements, and even the media reported that the places in the party lists were sold and bought.
“Whether the parliament will be better or worse depends on who occupies the vacant seat. If, roughly speaking, another ‘money-bags’ becomes an MP, because the leader of the party has some obligation to bring this person to the parliament, which qualitative shift could that lead to? This may give ground for the expansion of inner corruption. But at the same time, the amendment may make sense if the member is not only a ‘money-bags’ but also a competent lawyer who has relevant experience. Maybe it will affect positively the situation in the parliament, but there is no guarantee. It all depends on exactly who will come instead of those members who left the parliament.
“Besides, the gender issue is being discussed now, and it should not be discounted. Many people worry that this is a mild way of ousting the female party members of the Jogorku Kenesh. The media tell about it, but nobody either recognizes or rejects it. Nevertheless, there is a danger, if such an underlying mechanism is implemented, it can affect the situation in a way that the parties will find a way to circumvent the provisions of the law ‘On gender equality,’ quotas and so on,” said Anar Musabayeva.
Tamerlan Ibraimov, director, Center for Political and Legal Studies, also believes that “political parties in Kyrgyzstan are not developing as fast as we would like. Although as there was a constitutional reform, some changes have occurred in the political system. This allowed the parties to participate actively enough in political life. There are a number of important issues, but I would distinguish two of them that are the most relevant today and determine the quality of the process of party building and party development.
“The first issue is a question of party democracy, selection and promotion of members in political parties. The second question is how political parties are involved in the electoral process and the manner in which the party lists are formed during these elections.”
The expert also drew attention to the pros and cons of party-building in Kyrgyzstan on the example of the parliamentary parties: “Today’s pros are associated with the development of parties and linked to the change of political system, that is, the system is becoming more open and transparent, and, in this respect, society and experts have the opportunity to see the mechanism of decision-making, the point of view of every politician and a political party as a whole. This is a big step forward.
“As for disadvantages, they are associated with the problems that exist in society. I have previously talked about the party lists. Unfortunately, they obviously do not take into account the concrete achievements of party members, their popularity in society and their point of view on certain issues, but more often they select party members on the basis of their financial position and place in the social hierarchy that is associated with regional and tribal institutions. There is a ‘party corruption.’
“The second is the behavior of our parties when the leader decides everything. The lack of party democracy leads to the fact that one person decides on virtually every question. It puts the rest of the party members in dependence on that person. I believe this significantly dilutes both the party and society in general. It is clear that the leader is one of the main components of party success, but excessive leaderism leads to stagnation and abuse for the sake of individuals and to the detriment of the party and society.”
Speaking on the amendment providing for changing the order of filling the vacant seats, Tamerlan Ibraimov noted: “This issue was discussed earlier. I am totally against this, because I believe that voters voted for exactly those party lists that were during the election, and changing the order of filling the vacant seats is, in my opinion, wrong. This will be against the will of voters.
“Moreover, I think probably for the country and for the development of political parties and political system, it would be useful to introduce a new procedure some time later, when voters will be able to vote not only for the whole list, but also for specific places and the sequence in the list of elected candidates. I mean preferential voting, which would allow not only party leaders to form lists and order but also the voters to influence as to who of the politicians could take a higher place on the list of candidates, and who – lower, and in accordance with these preferences, the candidates can receive mandates in the parliament,” said Tamerlan Ibraimov.
Cholpon Dzhakupova, head of the legal clinic “Adilet,” shared her opinion on the development of political parties in Kyrgyzstan: “Many people thought that the transition to a parliamentary system would give a serious impetus and motivation for the development of political parties. But the practice of introducing parliamentarism in Kyrgyzstan has shown that people who want to participate in politics are interested in parties, but, unfortunately, I do not see any of the parties as such, because the development of political parties and the very notion of political parties in our country is associated only with the period of elections.
“Moreover, we see that everything is concentrated only in the Jogorku Kenesh, and the entire activity of the parties has been reduced to the activity of party factions within the walls of the Jogorku Kenesh. We do not see such things as, for example, the discussion within the parties themselves of the most pressing problems facing the country, elements of the so-called principle of party democracy, i.e., when issues are raised and discussed collectively, and decisions are made collectively. It all comes down to a situation when maximum two or three people, so-called leaders of party factions, make decisions, and the other members of the factions have to accept them.
“At the same time, we do not see any development of principles such as the party ethics and accountability for their actions. I have never heard any political party to reproach or warn its members for bad behavior, and I have never heard any party to raise the question of resignation of indecent members from its ranks. It does not happen, so there is no responsibility. In this sense, I do not think that the parliamentary system has brought something new; I can not call it the development of political parties.
“Now, the main institution of getting access to government is a political party. Cancellation of majoritarian system of elections put a serious barrier, i.e., one can enter the politics only through party lists, and only parties put forward candidates, appoint them and so on. In this sense, the parliamentary system has created incentives to join political parties and to participate in party life. In my opinion, this is positive for the development of such a political institution, as a political party.
“But at the same time, the motivation to participate in the party life has been created, but the parties in the classical sense have not been fully formed. What can one participate in, if the parties are of the old type with an absolutely authoritarian style of leadership? For example, in the Soviet Union, there was also a so-called principle of democratic centralism, everything was very centralized, and there was authoritarian power and leadership style. But an authoritarian style of management, whether it is a political party or any other public institution, requires a very strong responsibility and control. We do not see it, i.e., no one is accountable to anybody, and practically no one calls for responsibility. There is absolutely authoritarian style of management without the elements of reporting, accountability, control and responsibility for actions and public statements.
“Have you ever faced with the fact that the congress of some party discussed the question of discipline or morale of the members of the party? This never happened in the history. It turns out, political parties became a tool to advance the interests of several individuals who are at the head, and members of the party are just vassals who strengthen the positions of those several individuals. In this sense, of course, we do not have classical political parties.”
Commenting on the proposed amendments by the parliamentary committee, Cholpon Dzhakupova stressed: “This is a clear illustration that this is a convenient norm for the leaders of the factions. I do not know how this will affect the quality of the parliament, but there is a considerable probability that the vacant MP seats will be ‘sold.’ Given the moral character of some people, I have no reason to suspect them of selfless altruistic desire to improve the quality of the parliament.
“This is again a question of responsibility for decisions. When the party congresses approved the lists, they should have considered the candidates. Why do we write a constitution first, and then think how it would be faster to make changes? Why do we first write the law, elect with scandals the Council on the Selection of Judges, and then we sit and think how to dissolve this Council? Why do we first adopt the party lists and then think about how to get to the parliament not following the order in the party lists?
“I believe that sooner or later voters will grow up. An adult is different from a child by a larger measure of responsibility for what has been said or done, so it will be their measure of responsibility.
“Before approving the list, it has been discussed collectively. And if it is not discussed, it is approved simply because the party leader, ‘father,’ wanted so. Now let ‘papa’ suffer from the list. In politics, ‘children’ do nothing, but an adult must be responsible for his actions. Adults must follow the principle of ‘first think, then do,’ but in our case, politicians first do something and only then think how to improve the situation.
“When politicians went to elections, they had used many party members, their ethnic belonging, gender and regional origin. Now, it turns out that this is not necessary, and the things can be done in a different way. But it is not right to treat people as a means of achieving the objectives that are not clear. How can they show people that they treat them as an instrument for achieving political goals, and then talk about the fight against corruption, honesty, purity and integrity? You cannot always demonstrate double standards. I’m not talking about the degree of responsibility of these very people who agreed to participate in this in these circumstances. I think the voters and party members must learn responsibility.
“The mechanism of filling the vacant seats is registered in the law, i.e., it must be the ‘next on the list.’ The law says, logically, if you use the common sense, the first and second dozens of candidates in the party list are drawn up by priority. When they formed the lists, they should have evaluated and discussed all the strengths and weaknesses of their fellow party members. Now they are talking about preferential voting. They should have thought about it during the compilation of lists. Let people and politicians learn to be responsible for their choice,” said Cholpon Dzhakupova.
“So far I do not see any process of party-building,” said Dinara Oshurakhunova, leader of the coalition “For Democracy and Civil Society.” “In order to begin the process of party building, we must have an adequate law on political parties, which would include all the mechanisms of party building, funding and so on. When this law will be effective, then, perhaps, the process will start.
“It seems to me that the current parliament and the multiparty system show in which state our parties are today. The parliament demonstrates very clearly what kind of parties we have, how they develop and how their internal procedures are implemented.
“We have never had political parties in their classical understanding; there were no party cells or networks, because there were only leaders, i.e., a few people. Usually during elections, they hired some people who were not always followers of the ideas or positions of the party. Probably, they did not always have a clear vision about their program, since these programs were written in a hurry and had very formal content.
“Political parties must attract people not by their popularity and the like; instead, they must consist of like-minded people in order to implement the program. Parties must be monolithic.
“Which parties do we see now? It’s no secret that some of them were formed just before the parliamentary elections. Sooner or later it becomes obvious that you cannot just put together a group of people and call it a political party. This group of people should consist of like-minded people, united by a single goal, and the program must have the procedures for internal relations. We see that in the parliament, some parties, or some faction leaders, are compelled to demand from the party members to leave the parties. They now face the challenge of funding and need to address these problems.
“In principle, the conditions for the development of political parties have been created. We have elected the parliament under the proportional system, and the parties must consider and prepare already for the next parliamentary election, and for this they must be recognized; they must build really strong parties.”
Dinara Oshurakhunova also expressed her opinion on the decision of the parliamentary committee to change the order of filling the vacant seats: “The duty of the party must be a responsible approach to the formation of the party lists. Now, the party leaders understand that the hastily formed lists of party members are no longer satisfying and try to somehow change this situation. But there must be some kind of discipline, and representatives of the parties should not disturb the internal arrangements. They had probably discussed who would be in the list, and all of these agreements had been reached. But if these agreements are violated, the party can split. In this case, for voters it probably would be the best and predictable option to create a list of the party and ensure that after the seats become vacant, the next candidates on the list must fill them.
“The planned amendments will probably affect the qualitative composition, and probably it will affect and continue to influence the decision to support a faction. Now we see that the leaders of the factions lose points. Now they are trying to get people who will listen to them, vote and support their initiatives. Therefore, they proposed to make such a rule when they can decide in their own way who should receive the vacant mandate.
“Probably, the party leadership has come to the conclusion that the lists were formed in haste, and now they are faced with these difficulties. But I still believe that filling a vacant MP seat is a matter of discipline, and there must be adherence to the agreements, although it is their internal business. Since it was already enshrined in the electoral law, we believe that it gives the opportunity to have their positions and maintain them.
“When we elect, we have a list, and we know who will be the next parliament deputy. But the parties might have a completely different attitude, and maybe we do not always understand them, while these parties may wish for the best. But right now I see that they are faced with hastily formed lists and try to solve the problem by the proposed changes. Nothing should change, and it should be a lesson to all other parties that are outside the parliament. They must learn that the formation of the lists is a very responsible and serious thing,” concluded Dinara Oshurakhunova.
This material was prepared by Tatyana Vikhareva and Anna Kapushenko