Yesterday, March 28, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced his willingness to conduct a national referendum to reaffirm his legitimacy and support among the population. He also declared that he had sacked a number of key government representatives, including First Deputy Prime Minister Danoyar Usenov, who had survived a number of previous government reshuffles and is rumored to be a corrupt politician. Finally, Bakiyev promised to nationalize the KTR TV channel. All of these abrupt changes in his policy suggest that the president feels overwhelming pressure from the opposition and is trying to rescue his presidency at any cost (Akipress, 24.kg, March 28).
Since the adoption of the December 2006 constitution and the removal of Felix Kulov from the position of prime minister in January 2007, the Kyrgyz opposition has demanded that the president carry out another constitutional revision and form a coalition government. However, after Bakiyev’s March 24 speech, dedicated to the second anniversary of the Tulip Revolution, two major opposition blocs, the United Front and For Reforms, announced their firm intention to remove the president because of his failure to meet the goals and aspirations of the revolution. They will stage mass demonstrations against the president and his administration on April 11 in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital.
According to a March 28 presentation in Washington, DC by Bakyt Beshimov, a renowned political expert and former Kyrgyz ambassador to India, Bakiyev will have no choice but to leave his post after the April demonstrations. However, Beshimov said that it is impossible to tell who will become the next president if Bakiyev leaves.
According to former minister of industry Almazbek Atambayev, today the Kyrgyz opposition is divided into two camps — those who want the president to resign in April and those who prefer to further negotiate on constitutional and governmental changes. The first group is mainly comprised of the United Front political bloc, led by Kulov and some members of the For Reforms bloc. The latter group has created a new political bloc, “For United Kyrgyzstan,” and includes nationally known political figures such as Atambayev, Azimbek Beknazarov, Roza Otunbayeva, Omurbek Babanov, Edil Baisalov, and Dooronbek Sadyrbayev (Akipress, March 28).
Most of the For United Kyrgyzstan members migrated from For Reforms, which has begun to increasingly support the United Front. They argue that the United Front’s zeal to overthrow Bakiyev could lead to civic violence and bloodshed. If the opposition collects crowds on April 11, the government would gather its own supporters and this might lead to clashes between civilians and law-enforcement structures. During the November 2006 demonstrations in Bishkek a brawl between opposition supporters and a government-hired mob comprised of public employees nearly led to a violent clash. However, For United Kyrgyzstan’s founding members are accused of being interested in seizing vacant government positions under the current leadership, with Atambayev possibly becoming prime minister (Akipress, Bely parohod, March 28).
Kulov, on his part, promises that he will prevent any attempts to stir riots and looting similar to those on March 24, 2005, the day of the Tulip Revolution. Indeed, he and Omurbek Suvanaliyev, a former interior minister and a United Front member, retain considerable authority among national law-enforcement structures. Kulov’s approval rating has fallen considerably since the presidential elections in July 2005. His sweeping criticism of Bakiyev did not rescue his popularity. Although Kulov is one of the potential presidential candidates, there are increasing worries among the Kyrgyz public about his aggressive political stance. As one Kyrgyz expert told Jamestown, “It is uncertain whether Kulov will become another Putin or Hitler, should he become a president.”
Today, Bakiyev is alienated from an overwhelming majority of Kyrgyzstan’s political leaders. Two years after the revolution he has lost the support of almost all his allies. Should a national referendum be held, Bakiyev will likely be disappointed by its results. He insists that the referendum must be organized only after the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit this summer in Bishkek. But this might as well be Bakiyev’s attempt to calm the opposition before they assemble crowds on April 11.
All three blocs, United Front, For Reforms, and For United Kyrgyzstan, will probably act as electoral blocs in the next parliamentary and presidential elections. However, the Kyrgyz opposition, although active, is also becoming self-contradictory, with numerous leaders contending for their own interests. Like former president Askar Akayev, Bakiyev may exploit divisions among the opposition for own interests by communicating with one group and ignoring the other.
It is almost impossible to predict what the upcoming demonstrations in April will entail, but today (March 29) Bakiyev sacked Prime Minister Azimbek Isabekov and appointed opposition leader Atambayev to the post.