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Is there a future for political parties in Kyrgyzstan?

Political parties are essential for the existence and development of any democracy. They represent a link between the government and the civil society, enabling the participation of citizens in political life, and thus enabling them to express their will. Therefore, political parties should represent the public interest and directly impact the decision-making of the government.

Building of party system in Kyrgyzstan commenced with the acquisition of independence, when, in 1999, the formal law On Political Parties was adopted. Unfortunately, the law does not reflect the current requirements, and to date, it has not undergone any changes. Emergence of parties and multi-party elections in the country did not lead to the establishment of party democracy; the feelings of distrust prevail in our society today.

Every day it's harder and harder to believe that political parties will once play a leading role in the development of true democracy. Over the 30 years of independence, there has been no observation of tangible progress in building an effective party system. As an excuse, we hear various opinions, starting with the fact that in developed democratic countries this path has taken a long time and the days will come when we will also become mature for this system, ending with the thoughts that it is unlikely that the parliamentary system will take root in our country.

Electoral system in Kyrgyzstan did not contribute to strengthening the influence of political parties on the society, since there is no possibility of equal competition in the country. Our electoral system does not prevent the establishing of political parties, but it also does not encourage this process. The role of political parties is also insignificant because the country has always been dominated by the executive branch in governing the political process.

The party system to a large extent is dependent on the executive branch and was established by the authorities from the top, where it was mainly supported for the purpose of making the political process more manipulative. Therefore, the Parliament has always been and remains very politicized and is more dependent on the vertical of power, the content of which is a relic of the Soviet system.

In liberal democracies, parties go through competitive elections where they propose their programs and candidates. In our country, the competitive nature of elections is different. In a society where socio-economic interests have not been formed, people do not see the difference between party ideologies, especially since the programs of almost all parties are similar to each other and tend to take a backseat, giving way to such factors as using an administrative resource and vote buying. These negative phenomena led to the sad events of October 2020.

Unfortunately, the parties proved to be ineffective as an intermediary between the civil society and authorities. Our assessment of the performance of political parties shows that the parties are poorly institutionalized and cannot effectively implement the function of representing the political interests of civil society. Parties are characterized, first of all, by instability and chaotic forms of existence with no permanent and reliable electorate and ideology.

Another sad factor in the development of political parties was the lack of transparency and accountability in them, where according to our assessment, the indicators of transparency, accountability and integrity mechanisms scored only 25 points out of 100. The exception is minimal information about the electoral fund during elections, which is to be officially published and is the only official and open source on the financial status of political parties. The basis of any regulatory system related to financing of political activities is the requirement for all those involved in politics to provide information about how they raise and spend funds. Transparency facilitates the establishing of a level playing field, exposes the risk of over influencing the politicians, and helps to protect against the intrusion of illegal sources of funds, thereby contributing to a broader fight against corruption. Need for transparency in financing of political parties and campaigns is provided for in the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (Article 7 (3)). So far, the electoral authorities are provided with the information on financing in relation to the party electoral fund during the election campaign; the legislation does not provide for any other obligations to disclose information on the financing of political parties.

Recently, the use of information technology has been one of the most successful tools in enhancing transparency and accountability. For example, in Latvia, the online searchable database of political donations to political parties is available. The parties are required to disclose this information within 15 days of obtaining any donation, including the date, amount, source, and recipient. Similar databases tend to cover membership fees, required financial declarations, and annual reports. If the party has an annual turnover above the 10-fold minimum monthly salary, the annual report should also include the assessment of a certified auditor.

However, even if our legislation suddenly has changed in the direction of improving and strengthening the transparency and accountability of political parties, the very fact of having legally prescribed mechanisms may not give the expected results. The whole point is that we need an independent institute to monitor the finances of political parties. For example, in Latvia, the independent anti-corruption agency that monitors the financial statements of political parties is available. What kind of institution can conduct independent control in our country, provided that, according to the National Anti-Corruption System assessment, all our government agencies have very low scores on the Independence indicator?

All of the above problems have led to a low level of trust in political parties. For example, according to the assessment of the International Republican Institute (IRI), in Kyrgyzstan, 69% of respondents believe that political parties are corrupt; and 49% of respondents have a negative attitude towards parties.

The weakness of political parties will hinder development of democratic processes. Therefore, if we really want to build a true democratic society in Kyrgyzstan, one of the key objectives should be the overcoming of all the negative trends in the development of the party system.

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