Kyrgyzstan’s five-party ruling coalition appears to have seen better days as quarrels over constitutional changes dominate parliamentary sessions and supporters of President Almazbek Atambayev continue to harangue opponents of an upcoming referendum.
The nominally socialist Ata-Meken faction and the pro-agrarian Onuguu-Progress party have expressed doubts about the changes. The former was invited to leave the ruling alliance by Isa Omurkulov, who leads Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan in parliament.
Onuguu-Progres leader Bakyt Torobayev said at a September 14 session of parliament that the coalition was in “intensive care” and, warming to his theme, on “artificial respiration.”
He also cited a conversation with a citizen from a rural area who “hadn’t read the [proposed] constitutional changes but was concerned that they are being done to usurp power.”
Even if both Onuguu-Progress and Ata-Meken walked out of government, the three remaining parties (SDPK, Bir Bol and the Kyrgyzstan party) would still have enough seats to form a majority. For what it’s worth, Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebayev has stated he has no imminent plans to ditch the coalition.
But suspicions over the constitutional fiddle, which is being pushed by Atambayev as he nears the end of his single term six-year presidency, are growing.
The most significant changes involve a recasting of the state’s obligations toward upholding human rights and enhancing the office of the prime minister against that of the presidency.
The language on rights issues signals a marked lurch toward nationalist conservatism.
One proposal envisions introduction of a raft of mandatory “supreme state values” that would encompass individual human rights but also tag on concepts like “love of the Motherland,” “respect for the elderly” and “the accommodation of tradition and progress.”
Another proposal is to revamp the concept of the family to change from the non-gender specific “union of two people” to “a union between a man and a woman,” a sop to self-styled patriots still enraged parliament has failed to pass any anti-gay laws similar to the one on the books in Russia.
The general drift would appear to be a transition away from rights conceived as protection for individual members of society toward an increased reliance on traditional and collective norms, presumably as conceived by whoever is in power at any given time.
If anything, however, it is less the substance of the changes, but rather the fact they have come from Atambayev, that is driving opposition.
Moreover, ever since Atambayev's former allies in the interim government that took power after the 2010 overthrow of ex-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signed off on a letter opposing the changes, pro-government media has been pouring filth on them, reviving political scandals in which they were involved.
There also seems to be a concerted and curious effort to boost Atambayev’s popularity despite his nearing the exit and previously stating he has no intention to hold further political office.
This month, for instance, Atambayev is expected to release an album full of songs he composed himself, while his widely reported appearance in a fifth-grade Kyrgyz language textbook has led to fears of a personality cult emerging.
But at least one faction leader in the coalition, Bir Bol’s Altynbek Suleimanov, was inclined to play peacemaker as tensions with the executive grow, delivering an apt summary of Kyrgyzstan's fickle political class in the process.
“I think it is too early to say that our coalition has no life left in it … today they criticize each other, tomorrow they find a common language,” he said at the parliamentary session.