As Kyrgyzstan’s new Parliament settles into its work, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) has briefed new MPs on the state of the factions system – and the positive prospects for the years ahead.
“Kyrgyzstan,” says Akylbek Sarbagyshov, WFD’s Programme Manager in the country, “is an island of democracy in an authoritarian ocean.” Its Parliament has come a long way since the First Convocation met 20 years ago. The slow emergences of a genuine system of factions leapt forwards after the 2010 constitution, as our analysis – prepared by local experts Gulmira Mamatkerimov, Kurmanbek Turdaliev and Medet Tulegenov – outlines. “For the first time in the history of independent Kyrgyzstan and the Kyrgyz parliamentary system, the Jogorku Kenesh (Supreme Council) became the subject of power,” it concludes. The fifth Parliament saw a functioning opposition that worked hard to hold the Government to account. “It can be said with confidence that not one of the previous convocations of Parliament has been put in conditions of such increased demands and expectations by society,” our analysis added, “as well as ongoing stringent monitoring by civil society organizations.”
Gulmira Mamatkerimova – one of the researchers
It was the fast-moving situation in Kyrgyzstan – there were four coalitions in the last parliament alone – which prompted WFD to conduct baseline research at the start of the Sixth Convocation. Our analysis was presented to Members of Parliament, the leaders and staff of the faction secretariats, INGOs and civil society organizations at the Park Hotel in Bishkek on 11 September. “We are the first ones to this kind of research,” Akylbek explains. “We did a thorough analysis of the fifth convocation of the parliament, and wanted to use this for an induction for the next one.” The research sought to establish the legal framework around how the Jogorku Kenesh operates – and what the reality of the situation is right now.
The analysis contained some challenging findings for the Kyrgyzstan Parliament. Factions still have little understanding of their roles and functions in a parliamentary system. There isn’t a strong link between a party’s manifesto and its behaviour in coalitions, and parliament continues to bear many hallmarks of a presidential majoritarian system. The opposition in parliament lacks the capacity it needs to provide really forceful scrutiny of the well-resourced majority coalition’s activities.
These findings were met with approval by those who heard them on 11 September. “I agree that the analysis shows the real picture on the factions and its secretariats,” Ulugbek Kochkorov MP said. “It’s important to develop and integrate mechanisms of cooperation between Parliament and civil society organisations.”
Member of the Parliament – Mr. Ulugbek Kochkorov
Having identified these challenges, WFD believes it can address the problem. In the 2010-15 parliament our work focused on improving committee hearings in the regions. “Now we are going to strengthen faction activities,” Akylbek says. “We are going to introduce their offices to the Westminster system.” By engaging with new MPs at the start of the parliament, it’s hoped they will be keen to accept our proposals. “We are on the same page together, right from the beginning.”
In the coming months and years, WFD will work with the secretariats of the factions to help boost their effectiveness. A focus on communications and public relations, the development of reporting mechanisms and work to better link up the electorate with the factions representing them will all feature in our activities. “Things may change with the new convocation if the secretariats have a strong capacity and can be more efficient,” Marat Tairov, head of the Ata Meken faction secretariat, said. “That is why they need induction training.”
Head of Ata Meken faction secretariat, Marat Tairov
Kyrgyzstan sums up what WFD does best: helping parties develop their capabilities in a parliamentary context. For Akylbek, who has long been a tireless advocate of the need for engagement in his country, praise for WFD’s work means a lot. “I didn’t give up, I wanted to demonstrate how important this is,” he says. “I am passionate about this.” Providing this kind of baseline research as a precursor to meaningful and targeted programme activities shows that WFD is “on the right path” and can achieve “small but real things” in helping improve the state of democracy. Akylbek says getting recognition is rather satisfying, too. “When I see MPs coming up to us and saying ‘this analysis is very important’, I feel really good.”