KYRGYZSTAN: OPPOSITION HAS ITS OWN PEOPLE, AND THE PRESIDENT HAS HIS OWN…


07.11.06
MOSCOW. (Sanobar Shermatova, a member of the RIA Novosti Expert Council)

Why have the revolutionaries again emerged on the central square in Bishkek after their victory a year and a half ago? The opposition voiced its complaints to the republican leaders at a rally.
The main reason behind this action was Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s refusal to honor his promise to change the republic’s political system. At the past year’s presidential elections, the opposition and civil society supported Bakiyev in exchange for his promise to carry out a political reform to ensure the republic’s transition from the presidential form of government to the parliamentary rule. Other accusations included a higher scale of corruption, in which the members of the president’s family and other relatives are allegedly involved, and his authoritarian style of government. The opposition demands resignation of the president and the prime minister, and the immediate adoption of the new constitution.
In effect, the demands of political reforms as such are not likely to evoke any objections. Quite the reverse, the presidential-parliamentary (or parliamentary) rule may well be the best form of government for Kyrgyz society with its traditions of “nomadic” democracy. The problem is how and when this target will be reached.
The opposition led the people to the square just as it did during the March revolution a year ago. The House of the Government was expected to be seized by force: Omurbek Suvanaliyev, appointed Minister of the Interior when the rallies reached their peak on November 5, declared that “the militia will not take any action against the people unless the building is assaulted.” It is still unclear whether this plan has been contemplated.
The involvement of the people in politics points to the weakness of the opposition, which had no other means of exerting pressure on the government. It would seem that Kyrgyzstan must have felt the negative results of the March revolution, when the crowd was the main force in attacking the House of the Government. The example proved to be catching, and after the March events people started occupying lands around Bishkek, and administrative buildings, from the Supreme Court in Bishkek to local akimats (administrations) in cities and villages. To a point, this was a well-orchestrated effort. There even appeared professional “revolutionaries”, who could organize the seizure of any target in exchange for remuneration from the contractor.
I witnessed how government members were trying to reason with the occupants of a plot of land on the outskirts of the capital. A spokesmen for the latter replied: “You have seized portfolios, and we have captured the land, so it’s fair play.”
In the eyes of the people, the “revolutionary government” has lost its legitimacy despite the elections and all legal procedures. After people from Bakiyev’s entourage initiated the redistribution of the spheres of influence, there appeared “offended” revolutionaries, who started nurturing plans of toppling the newly elected leaders. Bayaman Erkinbayev, a deputy from the South who sponsored the March revolution and lost his business as a result of redistribution, blabbed during an interview: “We brought Bakiyev to power, and we’ll kick him out just as easily.” Unlike their neighbors, the Kyrgyz do not have much piety for the powers that be. The nomads elected khans and carried them on the white felt pad, but could deprive them of power by collective decision if they considered them unworthy of their mission.
Needless to say, the post revolutionary authorities felt the shortage of legitimacy, and in late October the Kyrgyz President even made a tell-tale statement: “It is necessary to stop the practice of unconstitutional change of government.” But the opposition is in a rush, and not only because it is so unhappy about the president’s authoritarian rule or corruption within his family and entourage.
The weakness of the political system is encouraging the opposition to take resolute action before it grows stronger. It is obviously fighting for access to the administrative and economic resources, which are now in the hands of the president’s men. Access to power is a must for successful business (the overwhelming majority of MPs have their own companies). In this respect, Kyrgyzstan is no different from Russia or other neighbors. But the main motive behind the opposition’s hurry is their awareness of a threat to their lives.
Several deputies have been killed since the March revolution. They were all close to the criminal underworld, and the investigation ruled out politics as a reason for their murder. But it is also true that some of them, like Erkinbayev, who was quoted before, were opposing the top leaders, while others approached the government very closely in a bid to control it in the interests of their business.
Deputies without their own businesses, like Omurbek Tekebayev – the speaker of parliament at the time -- also spoke about the threat to their security. Later, he headed the movement “For Reforms”, which has organized the current rallies. Three months ago he was charged with smuggling drugs into Poland, where he arrived to take part in an OSCE conference. The Polish police arrested Tekebayev but released him later on. As a result of subsequent scandal in Bishkek, the top officials at the National Security Service, including two relatives of President Bakayev, lost their positions. Clouds were gathering over the opposition members with the approaching rallies, which had been announced in advance. According to some sources, on the eve of the event, the opposition leaders sent their families abroad.
Expert Valentin Bogatyrev, who was the head of the Institute for Strategic Studies under the Kyrgyz President for several years, said in an interview with a Central Asian site that “there are dangerous people among the opposition, who have nothing to lose.” For them defeat is not simply an episode in their struggle – they are ready to fight to the very end in order to topple the President, or deprive him of his powers.
But, as events have shown, Bakiyev is not ready to give up, either. He relies not so much on his legitimacy as an elected president, all the more so since it means little to his former buddies who “appointed” him to the position before. One of the leaders of the current rallies, Roza Otunbayeva, who was dismissed by Bakiyev from the position of foreign minister, said that during the assault of the House of Government, Bakiyev left the square to “have lunch.” In general, the revolutionaries have come to the conclusion that they made a mistake by giving him presidential powers. Therefore, Bakiyev sooner relies on support from the leaders of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, who are not at all interested in a new farce with the change of government, believing that Kyrgyzstan is setting a bad example for its neighbors.
There is no doubt that the struggle will continue. The opposition initiated the adoption of the new constitution in the early hours of November 7 (for which it had to rush to establish the constituent assembly) without the required quorum of deputies. Trying to become legitimate, it is planning to address the people again. On the morning of November 7, the President described these actions as unconstitutional. Also appealing to the nation, he said that the fundamental law “was adopted at night, in secret from the people.”
As a result, it has transpired that the opposition has its own “people”, and the government has its own “people” as well. There is also a third side, which does not want to join anyone, and is waiting for the outcome with apprehension. Reports from Bishkek indicate that the pro-presidential forces are hastily organizing their own “anti-rally”. The situation of the two confronting squares is painfully similar to the 1991 events in Tajikistan, which were a prelude to a civil war.
One gets the impression that neither the authorities (which provoked the opposition by their actions in many respects), nor their opponents, who are obsessed with the ambition to get the levers of power there and then, feel common responsibility for the young nation with its growing pains. By leading people to the squares, and using pressure as the only weapon in the struggle with the opponents, they are destroying the law, the last bond which still keeps the state going. –0-