Legislation awaiting Kyrgz President Sadyr Japarov's signature will give the head of state the power to reverse Constitutional Court rulings in instances where he deems national morals have been offended.
Once signed, the arrival of the controversial law will add to anxieties expressed by critics that the populist strongman Japarov is constructing a highly authoritarian state in a country that used to be regarded as a relative “island of democracy” among the regimes of Central Asia.
Lawmakers on September 28 passed second and third readings of the bill that will permit Japarov to overturn any rulings he perceives as conflicting with the moral values of the people. Only five lawmakers voted against the drafted law. Consideration of the legislation was not scheduled, but the vote was added to the agenda of the Jogorku Kenesh (the one-chamber parliament) at the end of September as a matter of urgent business by Japarov’s envoy to the legislature—the surprise move wrongfooted anyone minded to mobilise opposition to the provision and the bill passed with a sweeping majority.
The passed legislation is not particularly specific about how the perceived conflicts with national morals are defined, and that is a clear problem, according to Nurbek Sydykov, a lawyer for the nonprofit Institute of Media Policy, which reviewed the legislation.
"This concept of morality is not a stable one. It is something that changes. I believe that it is wrong to tie the law to this concept," the lawyer wrote in a commentary. "The state must maintain balance. If the balance is upset, then with more interference wrong decisions can be made."
The plight of freedoms—as well as growing evidence of financial conflicts of interest involving officials and others in Japarov’s circle—in Kyrgyzstan under the two-year-old Japarov regime is causing increasing concern, with some of the president’s moves bearing the hallmark of Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
The end of summer saw the Bishkek Prosecutor's Office commence legal proceedings against the owner of Kyrgyzstan’s Kloop media outlet, citing what it described as its relentlessly critical coverage of the government. The detention of critics and bloggers has, meanwhile, become commonplace.
In another illiberal move reminiscent of Putin, officials plan to apply a law requiring NGOs to register with the justice ministry as “foreign representatives” if they receive funding from abroad and engage in political activity. Failure to do so can bring closure.
The arrival of the law giving Japarov “moral” power over constitutional rulings can be traced back to Kyrgyzstan’s nine-judge Constitutional Court on June 30 ruling that citizens 16 or older should have the choice of using a mother's name as a "matronymic" instead of the Russian-style "patronymic" if they so desired, with the patronymic kept as the default for younger children. Many lawmakers were up in arms, saying that the decision went against Kyrgyz tradition (it stipulates that everyone should know the names of their last seven male ancestors in order to avoid the accidental marrying off of daughters to blood relatives).
The court ruling followed a long campaign led by feminist activist Altyn Kapalova. Among those objecting to the court decision were national security chief Kamchibek Tashiyev and Mufti Zamir Rakiev. Japarov then joined them in their objections and the case was heavily cited as officials moved to limit the court's powers.
Japarov’s control over the Kyrgyz parliament was, meanwhile, strengthened lately when Adakhan Madumarov, leader of the six-member Butun Kyrgyzstan opposition faction in parliament, was hit with charges of treason over a land deal signed in 2009 with Tajikistan.