Kyrgyzstan presses on with constitution vote

02/05/2010 | Simon Pirani

Kyrgyzstan’s provisional government is determined to go ahead with a referendum on moving towards parliamentary democracy next month, despite attempts by supporters of deposed president Kurmanbek Bakiyev to disrupt it, a top Kyrgyz diplomat has said

Kyrgyzstan’s provisional government is determined to go ahead with a referendum on moving towards parliamentary democracy next month, despite attempts by supporters of deposed president Kurmanbek Bakiyev to disrupt it.

Kuban Mambetaliev, Kyrgyzstan’s ambassador to the UK, said this weekend that the new draft constitution would shift much of the power to appoint government ministers away from the president to parliament.

“Supporters of the former president are still active, advocating separatism [of southern Kyrgyzstan] and trying to play on ethnic divisions,” Mambetaliev told Emerging Markets. “The authorities will need to make sure that the referendum goes ahead on 27 June in spite of these actions.”

Mambetaliev was “very confident” that Kyrgyzstan’s economy would move forward despite the political crisis, although other observers warned that investors would be cautious.

The provisional government led Roza Otunbayeva assumed office in Bishkek last month after confrontations between demonstrators and police in which at least 85 people died. Bakiyev resigned and fled to Belarus.

Mambetaliev said the new constitution is designed to prevent “personality cults” and “single-party rule”. The draft document envisages an upper limit of 50% on the number of seats in parliament held by any party.

Next month’s referendum is likely to make Kyrgyzstan’s presidency constitutionally the weakest in any central Asian state. It will be followed by parliamentary elections on 10 October.

The process of restoring order is being followed closely by China, Russia and the EU, and the issue dominated the regular EU-central Asia ministerial meeting, held in Tashkent last week. Catherine Ashton, the EU High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, said afterwards that European leaders had emphasised the need for “a clear roadmap for the return to a democratic and constitutional order” and were encouraged by the initial announcements from Bishkek.

The return of political stability is vital to Kyrgyzstan’s relatively open economy, which relies heavily on its position as a trade hub and on exports of textiles and minerals.

Kyrgyzstan is vulnerable to capital flight and the interruption of inward investment, Kumar Bekbolotov, director of the Soros Foundation Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek, warned.

“There is bound to be a disruption of economic processes”, he told Emerging Markets. “Investment flows are likely to be down this year. The provisional government’s capacity to manage the economy is fragile. It is in need of international support.”

Ambassador Mambetaliev said Kyrgyzstan had to make use of such advantages as WTO membership and its position on the “silk road” trade route between China and the west. The government’s priorities must be to fulfil its obligations to foreign companies working in the country, and to simplify the tax system for new entrants, he added.

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