October’s showdowns between various political forces in Kyrgyzstan’s government and parliament, as well as between criminals and businessmen, have challenged the credibility of the political union between President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and Prime Minister Felix Kulov. Rysbek Akmatbayev, the older brother of assassinated parliamentarian Tynychbek Akmatbayev and a known mafia boss, recently assembled about 1,000 persons to protest against Kulov in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek (see EDM, October 25). This provoked a wave of demonstrations across the country calling for support for the prime minister and condemning the president for lack of actions. Parallel mass gatherings against the prime minister or the president interrupted the normal functioning of the government and the parliament for several days.
Rysbek’s demonstrations ended after his allies met with the president on October 27. In response to Rysbek’s demands, Bakiyev agreed to personally supervise the investigation into Akmatbayev’s death. Bakiyev’s agreement to meet with Rysbek’s representatives was widely criticized by Kyrgyz experts. According to some opposition newspapers, with these meetings the president revealed his true nature as a politician deeply influenced by criminal circles (Bely parohod, October 31).
Bakiyev’s lack of concrete actions to stop the protests against Kulov for almost a week after Akmatbayev’s assassination mobilized civic organizations to denounce the president’s inactivity and his failure to defend his union with the prime minister. On October 28 Edil Baisalov, leader of the NGO coalition “For Democracy and Civil Society,” declared that the president’s stability is crucially dependent on the prime minister’s position. Baisalov reminded Bakiyev that he was elected president largely due to his political alliance with Kulov.
Topchubek Turgunaliyev, Kyrgyzstan’s most famous “prisoner of conscience,” former president Askar Akayev’s strongest opponent, and a fighter for democracy, was the main figure to insist that Bakiyev meet with Rysbek. He was later severely criticized by his colleagues from the NGO sector for supporting criminals. Critics claimed that since Tynychbek Akmatbayev was Turgunaliyev’s son-in-law and Rysbek is his close relative, the human rights activist faced a choice between defending his family or defending the rule of law, and he chose the first option.
Turgunaliyev’s former supporters say that his opposition party, “Erkin Kyrgyzstan,” was financed by criminal elements. “We will write a letter to the UN to recall his award, because the name of a human rights activist cannot be associated with murders” Baisalov said, referring to Turgunaliyev’s numerous awards by Amnesty International and the UN (Akipress, October 28). Vecherny Bishkek defined Turgunaliyev’s connection with Rysbek as a newly emerged political tandem to challenge the existing Bakiyev-Kulov one (October 29).
Currently, Rysbek is under several indictments, including murder. Kyrgyz experts interpret the postponement of Rysbek’s trial, scheduled to begin on October 28, as being to the government’s advantage. Many do not exclude the possibility that he will be acquitted of the charge. According to a representative from the Kyrgyz NGO sector: “If Rysbek is freed, he will run in the Cholpon-Ata district to succeed his younger brother in the parliament. Due to his virtually unlimited authority in the criminal world, economic wealth, and connections in the government, there is little doubt that Rysbek will win in the run for the parliamentary seat.” According to Delo nomer (October 31), during the days of riots against Kulov, there was a sharp decline in crime in Bishkek. The city was quiet and safe, Interior Minister Marat Sutalinov told parliament.
The end of protests against Kulov brought a seeming relief to a rapidly growing political crisis in Kyrgyzstan. However, it is highly doubtful that criminal elements will stop intervening in political affairs. In particular Rysbek, with his early declarations that he is determined to fight until Kulov is dismissed, will likely continue his struggle against the prime minister. As by one Kyrgyz government representative commented, “Criminal forces will now lead a less overt confrontation with undesired political figures, it will be a partisan war through informal channels.”
Meanwhile, Roza Otunbayeva and Azimbek Beknazarov, two leaders of the Tulip Revolution who were refused positions in the new government, will run for parliament seats in Aksy and Tunduk electoral districts, respectively, in December. Beknazarov has high chances to win in the first round, as he is the only candidate registered at his district. Otunbayeva might face stronger challenges, as there are several other candidates contending for the Aksy seat.
Since the parliamentary elections earlier this year, the central square in Bishkek has become a central scene for political skirmishes. Some decisions in the government and parliament after the March 24 Tulip Revolution were dictated by crowds mobilized by various figures, political factions, and civil society organizations. But along with positive changes, the constant demonstrations in the Kyrgyz capital have created a sense of instability and visibly undermined the work of the government, leading to its weakened capability and diminished popularity.