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History, Recent Developments

national referendum, legislative elections, Supreme Council, lower chamber, Social Democratic Party

In May 1993 Kyrgyzstan’s legislature approved the republic’s first post-Soviet constitution. The constitution stipulated that the legislative elections scheduled for 1995 would be for a new 105-member unicameral (single-chamber) legislature called the Jogorku Kenesh (Supreme Council). The draft constitution initially upheld a 1989 declaration that made Kyrgyz the only official state language, but in May the legislature voted to give Russian the status of a language of interethnic communication in the constitution. The move fell short of the Russian community’s demands to make Russian a second official language in Kyrgyzstan, although President Akayev had tried to persuade the legislature to accommodate these demands in order to stem the large-scale emigration of ethnic Russians from the republic. Russians and some other ethnic minorities in Kyrgyzstan expressed concern that their civil rights were not sufficiently protected in the face of Kyrgyz nationalism, and emigration continued to be high.

Meanwhile, Akayev went forward with an intensive program of market-oriented economic reforms, outpacing the reforms implemented in the other Central Asian states. In May 1993 Kyrgyzstan abandoned the Russian ruble as its unit of currency and introduced its own currency, the som. This move invoked a hostile response from Uzbekistan and Kazakhhstan, which both still used the ruble, because it made interstate trade more difficult. It also ended Russian subsidies of Kyrgyz industries because it violated an earlier CIS accord. Relations with Kyrgyzstan’s neighbor states improved in June, after Akayev apologized for the sudden introduction of the som. Despite the new currency’s stability and a successful reduction of the inflation rate, Akayev’s program of economic reform did not receive the support of his conservative opponents in the legislature.

In September 1994 many pro-reform deputies in the Jogorku Kenesh announced they would boycott the next legislative session to protest the obstruction of the economic reform process by conservatives. They also demanded the dissolution of the legislature and the holding of new elections. The entire government, or Council of Ministers, announced its resignation in response to the stalemate in the Jogorku Kenesh. Akayev announced elections would be held imminently, and he promptly reinstated the government. In October Akayev called a referendum on a constitutional amendment to make the legislature a bicameral (two-chamber) body; voters approved the proposal, automatically dissolving the existing legislature. Kyrgyzstan held its first legislative elections since independence in February 1995. Shortly after the new parliament convened, 67 of the 105 seats were held by independents who did not claim any party affiliation. The Social Democratic Party had the largest faction, with 14 seats; none of the remaining 10 parties represented in the parliament had more than 4. Unlike previous parliaments, the Jogorku Kenesh elected in 1995 was dominated by a new business class and by officials with close ties to regional governors. It was a parliament without a clear agenda or ideological orientation. During their inaugural sessions in March, the two chambers of the new legislature, the Legislative Assembly (lower chamber) and the Assembly of People’s Representatives (upper chamber), elected as their speakers two former officials from Akayev’s government.

In 1995, a year before the expiration of his first five-year term, President Akayev sought to win a second term by standing unopposed in a national referendum, a tactic employed successfully by presidents in neighboring Central Asian states. In Kyrgyzstan, however, the parliament successfully resisted this initiative. The parliament’s only concession to the president was to allow the election for a second term to proceed immediately. In a three-man race for the presidency held in December 1995, Akayev was reelected with more than 70 percent of the vote. Akayev then called a referendum for February 1996 that promised to concentrate more power in the hands of the president while limiting the powers of the legislature. That referendum passed by an overwhelming majority. After the referendum, all of the ministers in the cabinet resigned, and Akayev appointed a new government shortly thereafter.

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