Although the mass lootings in Bishkek have ended, Kyrgyzstan’s political crisis is not over. The legacy of Askar Akayev’s regime is patently apparent as the new government begins to revise the ownership status of the country’s major businesses. At the same time, more and more political figures are announcing their intention to compete for the presidency. As Bishkek businessman Esenbek Abdyldayev remarked, “Now the looting begins on the governmental level.”
President Askar Akayev did not reappear publicly until five days after the opposition declared its victory on March 24. He then refused to officially resign the presidency until various conditions had been met. He finally resigned on April 3 after negotiations with a special parliamentary commission at the Kyrgyz Embassy in Moscow. Before Akayev’s interview with Ekho Moskvy radio on March 29, there were no official statements about where he and his family had fled when the political opposition captured the White House. Akayev and his daughter, Bermet Akayeva, gave several interviews to foreign media claiming they had been violently forced out of the country as a result of a coup d’etat, not a people’s revolution (Ekho Moskvy, March 29, Komsomolskaya pravda, April 1). After submitting his formal resignation, Akayev asked for political asylum in Turkey (Akipress, April 4). This is the second country, after Russia, to which he has appealed for protection.
Akayev’s refusal to resign quickly after fleeing Kyrgyzstan created a legal catch-22. The interim government headed by Kurmanbek Bakiyev was recognized both domestically and abroad, but at the same time there continued to be an elected president who had lost access to state power. The status of the newly elected parliament was another point of concern for the interim government. While opposition protesters argued for its illegitimacy, opposition leaders such as Felix Kulov strongly disagreed with the idea of holding new parliamentary elections because the February 27 ballot had largely met international standards. Instead, he proposed repeating elections only in some disputed districts.
Meanwhile, Acting Prime Minister Bakiyev is watching as members of Akayev’s former opposition and pro-Akayev candidates come forward to compete in the presidential election in June. But most importantly, Bakiyev now has to confront Felix Kulov, the country’s best-known politician. After being freed from prison, Kulov has managed to regain popular support surpassing that of Bakiyev. Kulov’s prison term was scheduled to end this September and a special working group has been formed to review his legal case. The original charges against him will likely be dropped within the next few months. It is also evident that Bakiyev’s interim government is not pleased with Kulov’s freedom (Kommersant, April 2). Frictions between Bakiyev and Kulov are mounting and, although the two have avoided any harsh statements about the other, both candidates have made indirect accusations in public.
Bakiyev has a reputation as a clean politician from the south. He has an even temper, yet strong respect for the rule of law. Southern residents, including the Uzbek population in Osh Oblast, have great hopes for their leader. But there is one more southern candidate, Adakhan Modumarov, who was active in mobilizing the crowds that ousted Akayev’s government. Modumarov refused a deputy prime minister position in the interim government and declared his intention to compete for presidency.
Nurbyek Turdukulov, a Kyrgyz businessman, has also registered to run for the presidency and has Akayev’s support. Turdukulov is CEO of Bitel GSM, which controls mobile telephone service in Kyrgyzstan. Bitel has over 200,000 subscribers and over 200 employees, a high number by local standards. Although it is unlikely that Turdukulov will win the presidency, he is laying the groundwork for a future career as a politician.
The new government will have to face the same problems that led to the Akayev regime’s ouster: rampant corruption, widespread poverty, and unbalanced political representation between the northern and southern halves of Kyrgyzstan. In the long run, Bakiyev, or any other elected president, may find it difficult to lessen the economic cleavage between the more prosperous north and the poorer south. The economic problems are complicated by general underdevelopment, scarce recourses, and overpopulation in the Fergana Valley. If the government cannot increase southern living standards in the near future, mass tensions might arise again.
Unlike in Ukraine, where the Kuchma regime lost much of its support overnight when evidence of official corruption was revealed to the public, there is no substantive evidence of Akayev family involvement in Kyrgyzstan’s largest businesses or embezzlement. However, Akayev’s personal diaries have recently been discovered, along with records about positions for sale at government agencies, bribe rates, and bought parliamentary candidates; these papers might shed light on the real state of affairs. However, it is already evident that some large businesses, such as Bitel GSM, are ready to be sold to foreign buyers without the consent of the new government.
There are dual-power situations at some state institutions, where old leaders are refusing to yield their positions to newly appointed officials (Kabar, April 4). For now, the interim government, declared presidential candidates, and post-revolution policies are under close scrutiny by the Kyrgyz media. The former opposition’s online editions have recovered from massive hacker attacks and state-funded television and newspapers are loosely regulated.