Obama meets with Otunbayeva

By Erica Marat

Kyrgyz president Roza Otunbayeva had a busy schedule during her visit to the U.S. for the Millennium Challenge Goals summit that took place in New York last week. The president held over 60 official meetings, over 30 of which were with heads of states. Among others, she met with U.S. president Barack Obama and German chancellor Angela Merkel. Otunbayeva was the only Central Asian leader to meet with Obama in New York. The meeting took place on September 24.

Obama applauded Otunbayeva’s achievement of restoring democratic institutions in Kyrgyzstan, including allowing freedom of speech, independent mass media, and adopting a new constitution. The U.S. president also noted Otunbayeva’s efforts to end violence in June, adding that more needs to be done to install peace in the region. Obama reiterated that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe must deploy its 52- member Police Advisory Group and an international investigation of the violence must take place. Both leaders also discussed issues of bilateral cooperation, including cooperation on Afghanistan.

Positive U.S. feedback of Otunbayeva’s leadership comes at a time of uncertainty for Kyrgyzstan. The outcome of its upcoming elections is uncertain, competing political parties may still choose to resort to violence to contest elections results. Moreover, some political parties choose to use ethno-nationalist slogans to earn support. Uncensored media helps nationalists spread their own message.

Importantly, however, depending on the election’s outcome, the U.S. Transit Center at Manas airport in Bishkek might once again be challenged by the parliament. Leaders of at least three political parties are aiming to be elected to the prime minister post. Omurbek Tekebayev of Ata Meken, Almazbek Amambayev of the Social Demo Critic Party and Felix Kulov of Ar Namys are serious contenders, each assuming their party is going to receive the most support at the election. None of the three have openly supported cooperation with the United States, instead leaning toward cooperation with Russia. If successful, all three leaders will most likely challenge U.S. presence in the county.

Nonetheless, Otunbayeva’s meeting with the U.S. president was significant. This was the second time a Kyrgyz leader has met with a U.S. president. Former president Askar Akayev met with George W. Bush in 2002. Like Otunbayeva, Akayev scored support from the international community for democratic reform. Later, however, Akayev turned more authoritarian and was ousted by the opposition led by Otunbayeva in March 2005. Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who replaced Akayev, never visited the United States during his 5 years of service. Otunbayeva was the key opposition leader to challenge Bakiyev, who was ousted in April 2010. Many in Kyrgyzstan hope that Obama’s support of Otunbayeva signifies that things in the country are changing for the better this time around.