Kyrgyzstan is a democratic, secular republic. Its first post-Soviet constitution was ratified in 1993 after a great deal of public debate. Major constitutional amendments were approved by referendum in 1994 and 1996. Under the constitution, all citizens age 18 and older are eligible to vote.
The president of Kyrgyzstan acts as head of state. The president is directly elected for a five-year term and may serve no more than two consecutive terms. The president appoints the prime minister, with the approval of the legislature, to head the government. The president also appoints the cabinet of ministers, on the recommendations of the prime minister. The constitutional amendments of 1994 gave the president the right to call for referendums without the approval of the legislature and approved referendums as a means of amending the constitution. The 1996 amendments broadened presidential powers at the expense of the legislature, giving the president the authority to veto legislation and appoint cabinet ministers (except the prime minister) without legislative approval.
Kyrgyzstan has a bicameral legislature called the Jogorku Kenesh (Supreme Council). It consists of a 35-member Legislative Assembly (lower chamber), which is a standing body that represents the population as a whole, and a 70-member Assembly of People’s Representatives (upper chamber), which meets twice yearly to debate matters of regional interest. Members of both chambers are directly elected for five-year terms, although members of the Assembly of People’s Representatives are elected on a regional basis.
The judicial system consists of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the Higher Court of Arbitration (which decides legal disputes between businesses), and regional and local courts. The president nominates all judges, and the Jogorku Kenesh confirms them. The president may remove regional and local judges on the basis of a poor performance review. The Constitutional Court holds supreme authority in constitutional matters and is comprised of seven judges, in addition to a chairperson and his or her deputies; its judges are appointed to serve for 15 years. The Supreme Court is the country’s highest court in matters of civil, criminal, and administrative justice; its judges are appointed to serve for ten years.
For purposes of local government, Kyrgyzstan is divided into six regions and the municipality of Bishkek. Each region is in turn divided into districts. The most important official in each region is the governor, or akim, who is appointed by the president. Each region also has a popularly elected legislature, but these bodies have little political power. Bishkek is administered independently of regional authority, and its local government reports directly to the central government.
Kyrgyzstan has a multiparty system, and 11 parties contested the most recent national parliamentary elections in 1995. In addition, approximately 500 officially recognized private associations—ranging from labor unions and women’s organizations to sporting clubs—also play a role in politics. Until 1990 the Kirgiz Communist Party was the only legal party in the republic. It was disbanded in 1991 and then reestablished in 1992 as the Kyrgyz Communist Party, but by then it had lost its monopoly of power. Only 3 of its candidates were elected to the 105-member Jogorku Kenesh in the 1995 elections. The Social Democratic Party, a party of local governors formed in 1994, captured 14 seats, the largest single bloc in parliament. The next largest groups, with 4 seats each, are the Asaba Party of National Revival, advocating the revival of Kyrgyz language and culture, and the National Unity Democratic Movement, working for unity among Kyrgyzstan’s different ethnic groups. A number of nationalist parties hold seats in parliament, including the Ata-Meken (Motherland) Party and the Erkin (Free) Kyrgyzstan Democratic Party. Other parties that won seats in the 1995 elections represent specific interests. The Agrarian Party of Kyrgyzstan, for example, represents the interests of farmers, while other parties advocate the interests of ethnic Russians and Germans.
Until Kyrgyzstan became independent, its armed forces were part of the Soviet security system. In 1992 Kyrgyzstan began to form a national defense force, and by 2001 it had an army of 9,000 troops. All 18-year-old males must perform military service for a period of 12 to 18 months.
Since 1991 Kyrgyzstan has been a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose alliance of 12 former Soviet republics. Kyrgyzstan became a full member of the United Nations (UN) in 1992. Also that year, the republic joined the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), an organization that promotes economic and cultural cooperation between Islamic states, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE; until 1994 named the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe). In 1994 Kyrgyzstan became a participant in the Partnership for Peace program of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a program that allows for limited military cooperation between NATO and non-NATO states.