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Kyrgyzstan: What’s Wrong About Parliament?

“In assessing the role of parliament, we should take into account the country’s historical experience, traditions and values, level of political and legal culture of the population and other circumstances. Consideration of such factors is the main prerequisite for assessing the role and place of the parliament both in the system of public relations and in the system of state legal relations,”- states Sheradil Baktygulov, expert in public administration, wrote in his article for CABAR.asia.


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Brief overview of the article:

  • The quality of the Kyrgyz parliament performance depends not only on its members, but also on its administration and other state bodies that submit motions to the parliament;
  • In the parliament of Kyrgyzstan, just like in other parliaments of the world, MPs are conditionally divided into three groups: “politicians” (3-8 people), “workers” (10 to 20 people), and “speechless” (the rest). “Politicians” determining the legislative agenda and “speechless” MPs, which constitute the majority, voting for any draft laws that are potentially beneficial for them make the difference;
  • The composition of parties in the parliament depends on two groups of voters during election: pensioners and public-sector employees, whose loyalty is “paid for” by the increase in pensions and wages;
  • MPs make up various groups of private interests, which affect negatively the society: they create unequal opportunities of various social groups when making political decisions, encourage inefficient economic policies and arrogate the exclusive right to represent public interests;
  • The divergent trajectories of goals and objectives of MPs, officials and businessmen and of the expectations of socially mobile and economically active citizens are the factors contributing to the growth of the re-Islamisation of the population and the radicalisation of young people;
  • Improving the efficiency of Zhogorku Kenesh performance depends on the self-discipline of MPs and the active participation of young people in elections. If young citizens of the country fail to become the most active, and thus influential, group of voters, the emerging negative trends will only gather pace.

In 2020, Zhogorku Kenesh of the Kyrgyz Republic will be celebrating ten years of its work under the new 2010 constitution, with new powers of the legislative and executive branches of government. The majority of comments by local and foreign media agree that MPs fail to cope with their duties successfully. Fewer people claim successful parliamentary reform and performance of MPs. The discussions are logical, but how true are they?

In assessing the role of parliament, we should take into account the country’s historical experience, traditions and values, level of political and legal culture of the population and other circumstances. Consideration of such factors is the main prerequisite for assessing the role and place of the parliament both in the system of public relations and in the system of state legal relations.

There’s one more circumstance that affects the assessment of the Kyrgyz parliament significantly.  It is based on the parameters of some “perfect” Western parliament, which doesn’t exist in the world. Also, there’s no second Kyrgyzstan or a country with the similar history, traditions and values to carry out a comparative analysis. We can only make hypotheses that don’t always reflect the real life.

The time of realism

The development of national representative bodies in the political system of modern Kyrgyzstan has a centuries-old history – from the tribal and national kurultais to the Soviet rule of people and modern forms of parliamentary democracy. It should be noted that the current Zhogorku Kenesh has been working for eight years only within the powers defined by the constitution of 2010 and 2017.

It’s more complicated in real life. The Kyrgyz parliament has passed through many ups and downs in its development:  from the “legendary” parliament to the “fish (silent)” parliament; from the unicameral to the bicameral parliament and back; from MPs elected on the majority-proportional basis to MPs selected from party lists.

Zhogorku Kenesh is assessed on the basis of some “perfect” Western parliament, which doesn’t exist in the world.

As we can see, parliament is rather dynamic and mobile institution. Every change in the Constitution and the state activity respectively requires constant adaptation of the parliament to changing conditions. The reforms of the parliamentary mechanism are specifically tailored to the accomplishment of these objectives. However, it never happened in Kyrgyzstan. The powers of the parliament and the government have changed in the checks and balances system, yet the performance of the parliamentary mechanism has remained the same.

The practice is that MPs are blamed for the weak performance of the parliament and MPs. However, the effectiveness of the work of MPs, among other things, depends on the work of units that ensure the work of the parliament (departments of committees, administration, administrative department), as well as units of state bodies involved in the legislative process.

The analysis of performance of public authorities and administrative bodies in the field of law-making suggests that the “fool-proof system” (protection from unreasonable decisions) has never been developed.

Let’s consider an example of laws on mandatory insurance of movable and real property. The State Service for Financial Market Regulation and Oversight at the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic (hereinafter, Gosfinnadzor) submitted two draft laws in May 2015 to the Kyrgyz parliament saying that they would “increase responsibility of owners of movable and real property, reduce the burden on the budget in terms of assistance provided to those affected, drivers would depart the country with insurance policies.” This part of the background statement is just a bag of words that confirm the truism like “the sun shines brighter in the afternoon,” “it’s snowing in winter, raining in autumn,” etc.

Despite this, MPs conducted three readings of these two draft laws, “On mandatory insurance of private premises from fire and natural disasters” and “On mandatory insurance of civil liability of owners of motor vehicles”, at a record speed of 10-12 working days and passed the laws that legalised the withdrawal of cash from the pockets of the Kyrgyzstanis, including abroad.

Meanwhile, Gosfinnadzor violated the law “On laws and regulations of the Kyrgyz Republic”. It didn’t conduct compulsory hearings with the business community, compulsory Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA), introduced the conflict of laws (which is forbidden by law) in terms of tariff determination. The fact that these draft laws were drafted in 2009 for Bakiev’s “schemes” of cash withdrawal from pockets of citizens remains behind the scene. Therefore, the controversial draft law was introduced in May 2015, when legislators and staff of Zhogorku Kenesh, government, president and Ministry of Economic Affairs (responsible for RIA) lived in expectation of summer vacations.  Moreover, it was the year of regular parliamentary elections.

Lawmakers and officials of Kyrgyzstan have developed a practice that all laws passed in the previous convocation remain there. However, the majority of MPs are re-elected to a new term, yet citizens have to suffer from the controversial initiatives of officials without hope of remediation of the situation.

Moreover, no one has ever conducted the analysis of RIA supporting the draft law. Opinions of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the administrative office of Zhogorku Kenesh are limited to the citation of sections and chapters required by the approved RIA methodology. Besides, this form of opinion is legalised by statutory regulation. Somewhere in the depths of Zhogorku Kenesh there is a regulation on compulsory expert examinations (anti-corruption, gender-based, human rights, environmental, etc.), yet almost no draft law has ever been examined.

The similar situation is seen in some laws passed both at the initiative of MPs, and on the motion of government authorities. Overall, certain elements of “fool-proof system” do exist, yet they make any protection of citizens impossible or they are simply ignored. In the modern history of Kyrgyzstan, no one has ever been held liable for such violations, rather officials keep on taking their offices, getting promotions and government awards, receiving dividends from businessmen and other pleasant “surprises.”

Divergent trajectories

The majority of plenary sessions of the parliament are almost half-empty. Photo: kenesh.kg

In the parliament of Kyrgyzstan, just like in other parliaments of the world, MPs are conditionally divided into three groups: “politicians”, “workers”, and “speechless”. Depending on the parliament size, there can be about three to eight MPs-“politicians.” These people are rather active, often appear in the media, and are known to the majority of population. Their performance factor is based on the number of their speeches within the parliament, in the media and during round-table discussions.

MPs – “workers” are not so widely known to the public, yet they are known to experts  because such legislators work at draft laws. This category of legislators adds value to the parliament. There are about 10 to 20 of such legislators, yet they are not the ones who make the difference within the parliament.

“Politicians” determining the legislative agenda and “speechless” MPs, which constitute the majority, voting for any draft laws that are potentially beneficial for them, make the difference. In Russian practice, they are called a “bog”, and in Kyrgyz practice, they are called “fish” (“balyk deputat”).

The situation is characterised by another circumstance. Wolfgang Grundinger in his book, Alte Säcke Politik. Wie wir unsere Zukunft verspielen, called the best political book of 2017, has arrived at a conclusion that, “In democracy, the politics is focused on the strongest group of voters. Today, this is the elderly people. We can see the consequences during the election campaign, when such problems of younger people as education and digitalisation are almost being ignored.” In Kyrgyzstan, the similar approach is being used – election campaigns are focused on the most active group of voters – pensioners and state-paid workers. Their grievances against the laws adopted can be reduced by increased wages and pensions. A similar approach allows interest groups among MPs, officials and businessmen pursue their long-term goals by decreasing the remonstrative potential of the population by short-term investments using republican budget funds.

Therefore, we can state that the trajectories of interests of the new (eight-year old) parliament of Kyrgyzstan and ordinary voters are essentially different.

In Kyrgyzstan, interest groups affect adversely the functioning of the political system because they are the agents of private, not public influence on political decision-making. Everything that is happening in Kyrgyz politics is a result of machinations of various business groups, corporations, etc.

Negative influence is caused by the following circumstances:

First, similar interest groups create unequal opportunities for various social groups in political decision-making, in particular, by exempting them from income tax, facilitating soft loans for land plots and their transformation, expedited movement of goods through customs border, etc.

Second, such groups encourage inefficient economic policies: “influential” interest groups in fact impede the reallocation of resources and changes, which leaves people in need without support. This situation can be observed in the banking sector. Microfinance companies established to assist the poor and extremely poor have actually opened banks for citizens with average-for-Kyrgyzstan incomes for grants received. Sadly enough, the process has been headed and launched by the citizens of countries declaring assistance (by the example of Grameen Bank) to the poorest social groups and allocating grants to this end. A formal resemblance is that they started as microfinance organisations and then turned into banks. However, there’s a world of difference between them – the poor in Kyrgyzstan has never become the middle class. Moreover, MPs have had to respond firmly to the massive devastation and impoverishment of the middle class who have found themselves in debt to microfinance organisations. Thus, new banks have emerged by arbitrary decision.

Third, interest groups arrogate the exclusive right to represent public interests.  The very principle of representation is being perverted and is limited to the deals of interest groups and public officials (including MPs). Interest groups tend to represent themselves rather than citizens. Thus, if legislators work in the parliament, their children, nephews, brothers and sister, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers work in local administrations, state administrative bodies, and run family businesses. The similar monopoly is peculiar to non-democratic political regimes, which means the end of democratic transition period.

The divergent trajectories of goals and objectives of MPs, officials and businessmen and of the expectations of ordinary people are the factors contributing to the growth of the re-Islamisation of the population and the radicalisation of young people. The people’s discontent with their situation is channelled to the parliament and the government that have turned into the symbols of instability and inefficiency, although it is just a result of activity of interest groups longing to monopolise the representation of public interests. 

What can be done?

kenesh.kg

Every country’s parliament has overlapping and complex political, regional and individual ambitions.  Therefore, a parliament can become a democratic authority only if its MPs and officials serve to ensure the territorial integrity and people’s welfare. In this case, the parliament and civil society organisations act as real guarantors of individual, human and citizens’ freedom.

After the 2010 constitutional referendum in Kyrgyzstan, the value of political parties in the life of the state has significantly increased. The new variety of the party system affects the organisation and activities of the whole state mechanism and its key state legal institutions: elections, parliament (composition, alignment of forces, relations between parliament and government, etc.).

The expanded activities of the government are accompanied by the growing impact of career officials at local levels. The increasing number of statutory instruments issued by the government beyond the parliament’s control often distorts the laws already adopted. It creates the new relations between the parliament and the government.

One more trend should be noted – current interest groups use mechanisms of direct influence on state institutions less frequently, and often try to influence public opinion.

Improving the efficiency of Zhogorku Kenesh performance depends on the self-discipline of MPs and the active participation of young people in elections. If young citizens of the country fail to become the most active, and thus influential, group of voters, the emerging negative trends will only gather pace. In this case, Kyrgyzstan would be seen as a country with family-clan regimes in local administration.

We have already received political and image dividends from the strengthened powers of Zhogorku Kenesh as a result of constitutions reforms of 2010 and 2017. Now we’d like to see practical and economic dividends for the country and its citizens, rather than for certain businessmen and their companies.


This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway.