One year after Kyrgyzstan’s March 24 Tulip Revolution Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev faces outspoken criticism of his regime from both political and non-governmental sources. Although the current political situation in Kyrgyzstan largely resembles the final years of former president Askar Akayev’s regime, when the general public was dissatisfied with widespread corruption and ineffective economic policies, most political actors now strive to avoid another revolution.
The majority of Bakiyev’s opponents are his former political allies who helped him to oust Akayev’s regime. Corrupt regime politics are driving more and more prominent political figures into the opposition camp. To date, Roza Otunbayeva, Azimbek Beknazarov, and Omurbek Tekebayev are Bakiyev’s most active challengers. All three leaders were also strong opposition forces against former president Akayev. For several years they acted separately by leading own political factions, but in late 2004 they united into one block.
The new political opposition claims that Bakiyev is repeating the mistakes made by Akayev. Specifically, the president is becoming increasingly authoritarian in appointing government members and curbing freedom of speech. To avoid a further deterioration of political transparency in Kyrgyzstan, the new opposition is acting more thoughtfully than their counterparts did during the Akayev era. In particular, former foreign minister and Akayev critic Otunbayeva is drawing attention to the success of political party building in Kyrgyzstan. According to her, the current opposition values social cohesion and seeks to involve large numbers of people, as opposed to clustering around a few charismatic individuals (Delo nomer, March 1).
The new political opposition is also revealing some previously unknown details about the March 24 revolution. According to Otunbayeva, shortly before the parliamentary elections in February-March 2005, Bakiyev was pushed forward by political figures from southern parts of the country. She claims that three years ago, when Absamat Masaliyev, an “elder statesman” of Kyrgyz politics and a parliamentarian from the south, was still alive, he informally anointed Bakiyev to become the next presidential candidate. Political figures such as Usen Sydykov pledged to follow Masaliyev’s orders after his death and supported Bakiyev as the Tulip Revolution unfolded (Delo nomer, March 1).
Otunbayeva has been criticized for not revealing the nuances of the current political regime while she was still part of the post-March 24 government (analitik.kg, March 12). However, she claims that she was not able to remain in the government because she constantly confronted the president’s cadre politics and opposed the many manifestations of nepotism. She was offered various positions in the foreign service before parliament rejected her nomination to become foreign minister.
Otunbayeva and Beknazarov have asked Bakiyev to make a report on March 24 about the progress made by the new government since last year. Both opposition leaders are pessimistic about changes brought by the revolution, yet neither denies the fact that the revolution was necessary.
Meanwhile, the president announced that March 24 would be a public holiday, with nation-wide celebrations organized by the government. Top government officials — Bakiyev, Prime Minister Felix Kulov, Head of Presidential Administration Usen Sydykov, State Secretary Dastan Sarygulov, and Vice Prime Minister Adakhan Modumarov — are all actively promoting the day’s symbolic significance. Celebrations will be held in all of Kyrgyzstan’s largest cities, and a special monument commemorating the Tulip Revolution will be erected in Jalalabad, Bakiyev’s birthplace.
Bakiyev’s efforts to celebrate the March 24 anniversary show the president’s detachment from society’s prevailing mood. Behind the spectacle of the upcoming events, there is deep disappointment with the regime among both the urban and rural populations. For many Bishkek residents the events of March 24, 2005, are still closely associated with the looting and banditry that followed the takeover of the government headquarters and the demoralization of law-enforcement agencies. Businessmen who suffered from arson and theft still have not received monetary compensation for their losses. “March 24 should be called the day of triumph for looters and hooligans,” one student from Bishkek commented bitterly.
Speculation is circulating in Bishkek that another mass uprising against Bakiyev government might take place on March 24 this year. However, members of the new opposition have confirmed that they are determined to build exclusively constructive relations with the government until the next presidential and parliamentary elections are held in 2010.