Since the Kyrgyz government’s crackdown on opposition rallies on April 19, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has embarked on a series of suppressive activities against unwanted political figures. The Kyrgyz security service arrested Omurbek Suvanaliyev, former minister of interior and the United Front opposition bloc’s key leader, and two members of youth organizations this week. All three arrests, along with the government’s open intimidation of a number of opposition leaders, have provoked a wave of civil discontent. Bakiyev has also drawn criticism from the international community.
Suvanaliyev is known in Kyrgyzstan as a clean politician who enjoys high respect among the law-enforcement agencies, particularly the police. Although he has been allegedly involved in corrupt deals in the business sector, he was arrested mainly for his alliance with Felix Kulov, former prime minister and leader of the United Front. Bakiyev’s government did not arrest Kulov himself, fearing that would radicalize the opposition even more.
By arresting Suvanaliyev the government is trying to prevent further mass mobilizations similar to those organized during April 11-19. The arrest of two members of youth organizations, Adilet Aitikeyev and Omurbek Abdrakhmanov, further served as a warning sign for other young leaders who joined the ranks of the United Front and For Reforms, Kyrgyzstan’s major opposition blocs. Both young men are known to be rather peaceful members of their organizations compared with the groups of aggressive provocateurs who started a fight with the police on April 19.
The Kyrgyz public saw the April 11-19 government-opposition showdown largely as a struggle between northern and southern political elites. Although both the United Front and For Reforms are comprised of politicians from all parts of the country, Bakiyev himself is working in favor of inflating the public’s misperception about the nature of the government-opposition conflict. In order to suppress and divide the opposition, the president resorted to techniques similar to those used by former president Askar Akayev in the wake of the March 24, 2005, Tulip Revolution. Like Akayev, Bakiyev is artificially exaggerating the opposition’s wish to get involved in a physical struggle with the government that could potentially lead to civic conflict on a national scale. He also has selectively arrested and intimidated key opposition members. Finally, he is suppressing free mass media outlets.
But Bakiyev risks repeating Akayev’s mistakes and facing an even more radicalized and consolidated opposition. The entire civic sector has already turned against the president, and he is under fire from independent mass media outlets. On April 25-26 several civic organizations staged a peaceful march against the government’s recent arrests. According to Tolekan Ismailova, a civic activist, marches will continue until the government frees arrested opposition members. Meanwhile, Suvanaliyev’s numerous supporters are gathering in Talas, his native city.
As political expert Bakyt Beshimov comments, although Bakiyev defeated the United Front in the latest rallies, the Kyrgyz opposition will come up with a new strategy against the president and government. Beshimov thinks that Bakiyev has gone too far in his oppression of the opposition and that a “change of [top] political elites is inevitable.”
Besides losing domestic support, Bakiyev’s international support is waning as well. The Russian government did not react to Bakiyev’s violent suppression of opposition rallies. But as one Kyrgyz expert suggests, his low domestic popularity, as well as his fragile position in the government prevents Moscow from supporting Bakiyev. With the opposition becoming more radical, Bakiyev might still be forced to step down before the next presidential elections in 2010.
Kyrgyzstan’s ongoing political tumult is also affecting its relations with neighboring states. As one Uzbek high official told Jamestown, Uzbekistan is interested in stability in Kyrgyzstan in order to maintain security and economic cooperation. According to the Uzbek representative, “So far contacts between official Tashkent and Bishkek were interrupted by political flux in Kyrgyzstan.”
Today, it is important that the international community condemns Bakiyev’s inclination toward suppressive politics. Since the March 24 revolution, Kyrgyzstan has served as an example of civil society development and political openness in Central Asia. So far civil society groups were able to influence the president and parliament’s political and economic policies. These accomplishments provided an opportunity for the local and regional public to learn new, open ways of society-government interaction. Neither Kyrgyzstan nor the region at large will benefit if Bakiyev interrupts this trend.
(24.kg, Akipress.kg, Ar-Namys.kg, Bely Parohod, April 23-25)