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