When Kyrgyzstan was still a Soviet republic, the legislature elected Askar Akayev president. Under his leadership, Kyrgyzstan declared independence and drafted a new constitution, ratified 5 May 1993. This constitution established a democratic presidential system with separation of powers and expansive human rights guarantees. In early September 1994, Akayev's supporters in the legislature—a slim majority of 168 out of 323 sitting deputies, most of whom were local administrators— boycotted the last session of the legislature before the expiration of its mandate in February 1995. This boycott prevented formation of a quorum, causing the dissolution of the legislature. Oppositionists alleged that the timing of the dissolution was aimed to squelch a legislative investigation into corruption in the government, and to open the way for Akayev to create a more malleable legislature. Akayev took over legislative powers, and decreed that legislative elections would be held by the end of the year. He also decreed that a referendum would be held in October 1995 to approve amendments to the constitution, including provisions revamping the legislative system to weaken it relative to the presidency. He argued that legislative and other provisions of the May 1993 constitution were too "idealistic" since the "people are not prepared for democracy," and a "transitional period" was needed. Although the amendment process, like the dissolution of the legislature, contravened the constitution, the referendum questions were approved by over 80% of the voters.
Under the 1996 amendments, the president was given expanded powers to veto legislation, dissolve the legislature, and appoint all ministers (except the prime minister) without legislative confirmation, while making legislative impeachment more difficult. The legislature confirms the prime minister and high judges. Akayev spearheaded a referendum on 10 February 1996 to further alter the constitution. The amendments specify that Kyrgyzstan, or the Kyrgyz Republic, will be a secular, unitary state. It creates three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. The Jogorku Kenesh (parliament or supreme council) has legislative responsibilities. The Jogorku Kenesh is made up of two houses—the 35-member legislative assembly and the 70-member assembly of people's representatives. The legislative assembly is responsible for day-today operations of the legislature, such as interpreting laws and ratifying international treaties. The legislative assembly also has the power to impeach the president. The assembly of the people's representatives meets periodically during the year to consider budget, tax, and appointment issues.
The executive branch is comprised of the cabinet of ministers, or ministries, appointed by the president and approved by the parliament. The head of the cabinet is the prime minister, also appointed by the president and confirmed by the parliament.
The president is to be elected once every five years, for no more than two terms, from among those citizens who are between 35 and 65 years of age, who have lived at least 15 years in the republic, and who are fluent in the state language, which is Kyrgyz.
There is no vice president. The usual functions of vice president, including the duty to replace the president in case of death or incapacity, are borne by the speaker of the parliament, who is elected from among the membership of the parliament.
Judges are chosen by the president, subject to parliamentary affirmation. Potential judges must be citizens between 35 and 65 years who have legal training and legal experience of at least ten years. The length of their service is unlimited, but can be terminated by the parliament.
In theory, the constitution provides a number of basic guarantees of human freedom, including freedom of religion, of the press and other forms of media, of movement about the republic and place of dwelling, of association, and unarmed assembly. It guarantees the privacy of post and other forms of communication, and guarantees private property. In terms of social benefits, the constitution guarantees pensions, unemployment compensation, legal representation, medical treatment, and free basic education.
Despite restrictions on its powers, in 1997–98, the legislature showed increasing signs of independence from executive power. Moving to further weaken it, Akayev spearheaded another referendum on 17 October 1998 to amend the constitution. Approved by 91.14% of voters, the amendments sharply restricted the legislature's influence over bills involving the budget or other expenditures, limited a legislator's immunity from removal and prosecution, increased the size of the legislative assembly to 60, and decreased the size of the assembly of people's representatives to 45. It also provided for private land ownership and upheld freedom of the press. The legislature has acted in subordination to the executive branch, but has at times asserted itself by overriding presidential vetoes. In November 1999, the assembly of people's representatives rejected the government's budget for 2000, calling for added social and defense spending.
Kyrgyzstan's 20 February 2000 legislative election (with a runoff on 12 March) reflected the erosion of Kyrgyzstan's earlier signal progress in Central Asian democratization, according to the US State Department. Under new laws, fifteen seats in the upper chamber were set aside for party list voting. The Central Electoral Commission ruled that sixteen parties out of 27 legally registered were disqualified from fielding party list candidates, though it urged that such candidates could instead seek single-member seats. The major opposition Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan-Dignity Party bloc was initially registered but then decertified. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on 8 February criticized the de-certification as a narrow interpretation of the law and as restricting popular choice in the election. In all, 545 candidates were finally permitted to run for 105 seats. Six parties received over 5% of the vote, giving them seats: the Party of Communists (5 seats), Union of Democratic Forces (4), Democratic Party of Women (2), Party of Veterans (2), My Country (1), and Ata-Meken (1). Only Ata-Meken and the Communist Party are clear opposition parties. Only three constituency races were decided in the first round. In the second round on 12 March, 84 members were elected in a confusing vote. Prominent opposition politician Daniyar Usenov was disqualified after the first round, although he actually had won, according to the OSCE. Similarly, opposition Dignity Party head Feliks Kulov received more votes than his opponents in the first round, but was heavily defeated in the second through apparent legerdemain, according to the OSCE. After the second round, the opposition Democratic Movement, Dignity Party, and the People's Party protested the results.
About 120 OSCE observers and 2,000 local observers monitored the election. In the first round, OSCE monitors pointed to problems such as the disqualification of prominent opposition parties and the pro-government composition of electoral boards, and in the second round criticized continued government harassment of opposition candidates, politically motivated court decisions disqualifying some opposition candidates, and irregularities in vote-counting. US State Department spokesman James Foley on 14 March stressed that "the United States is disappointed in the conduct of the 2000 parliamentary election in Kyrgyzstan," which "amounted to a clear setback for the democratic process." On 23 March, he criticized Kyrgyz authorities for forcibly suppressing a peaceable demonstration and for arresting Kulov the day before on vague charges of committing crimes several years ago. Kulov was acquitted of charges of abuse of office in August, but was rearrested in January 2001. That July, new charges of embezzlement were brought against him, and in May 2002, he was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment.
On 29 October 2000, Akayev was reelected president with 74% of the vote in an election marred by serious irregularities. Throughout 2001, the government continued to harass the opposition, independent media, and human rights defenders. Police used force to disperse protesters and arrested them throughout 2001 and 2002.
On 13 January 2003, Akayev announced a referendum would be held on 2 February for amendments to the constitution, including the abolition of the two-chamber parliament in favor of a single chamber, the abolition of party-list voting for parliament, and immunity from prosecution of former presidents and their families. Voters could not vote on the changes individually, but were to approve or reject them wholesale. They also had to indicate whether or not they wanted Akayev to remain in office until his term expired in December 2005. 76.6% of Kyrgyz citizens supported the amendments in the referendum, and 78.7% of voters determined Akayev should remain in office. Turnout was over 86%. The opposition, which called for a boycott of the vote and sent observers to monitor the election, said that turnout had been less than 40%, failing to reach the 50% threshold for the referendum to be valid.