On May 13, Kurmanbek Bakiyev and Felix Kulov signed an agreement to form a political team for Kyrgyzstan’s July 10 presidential elections. Kulov agreed to withdraw his candidacy with the stipulation that he would become prime minister in case Acting President Bakiyev wins (Akipress, May 13). This long-awaited move will allow political developments in the country to be more predictable. Before, it was not clear which of the two leaders would become the next Kyrgyz president, as both had good chances to win a majority of votes.
According to Kulov, this agreement was necessary because Kyrgyz society was polarized around two leaders, and recent unrest in neighboring Uzbekistan had encouraged Kyrgyzstan’s political forces to act collectively (Kabar, May 13). Since Kulov and Bakiyev are promoting a state with a strong parliamentary system, as prime minister Kulov would play a key, if not leading, role in the government. He would have the right to appoint ministers, and heads of oblasts and rayon administrations, while the president will control the security forces and guarantee an independent judiciary (Akipress, May 13).
Kulov, freed from prison as a result of revolution on March 24, rapidly became Bakiyev’s strongest rival. Many were awaiting an official announcement of a suspected informal agreement to act in concert in order to prevent any mass riots. Kulov’s agreement to return to prison while legal charges against him are reviewed, and Bakiyev’s attempts to solve the problems of spontaneous land seizures by means of compromise and not suppression suggest that both leaders also are trying to act within the legal system. According to one representative of the Kyrgyz Embassy in Brussels, the partnership will improve the political climate in Kyrgyzstan and improve stability in the region.
Before the agreement, Kyrgyz citizens were anxious about the Bakiyev-Kulov rivalry. The respective supporters argued either that “Kulov owes Bakiyev his freedom” or that “Kulov helped Bakiyev to establish order after rioting.” Some associated the rivalry with the north-south cultural divide in the country, while others said that the main issue is the rural-urban income gap. Still others saw a state-society discrepancy, where the government backed Bakiyev, while the majority of the population preferred Kulov. In any case, the partnership should eliminate the regional tensions that might have intensified if the two had faced each other in a runoff.
Some people were undecided on their votes because Bakiyev and Kulov seemed to offer different, but not competing, agendas. While the interim president was promoting poverty alleviation, Kulov sought a strong parliamentary state. Their partnership agreement considerably decreases the chances for the other 11 declared candidates unless new political unions are formed. There has been a trend in the last few weeks among presidential candidates, such as Adakhan Modumarov, Jenishbek Nazaraliev, Almaz Atambayev, and Nurbek Turdukulov to group around Bakiyev or Kulov. Some candidates from southern cities such as Azimbek Beknazarov and Bayaman Erkinbayev, tended to compete with Bakiyev because of disagreements with his policies.
Following the regime change in March, Kulov addressed the old parliament and strongly insisted that the newly elected parliament must remain in power “whether we like it or not” (KTR, March 27). Allowing the new parliament to be seated would help stabilize the county by forestalling mass protests by the new parliamentarians. Instead, the Central Election Commission and the Supreme Court considered individual cases of rigged elections, including victories by Bermet Akayeva and Aidar Akayev, children of the deposed president Askar Akayev. As prime minister, Kulov will likely introduce more changes in the structure of the existing parliament.
However, with most Kyrgyz satisfied with the outcomes of the March 24 Tulip Revolution, recent events in Uzbekistan are raising new fears. As Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir notes: “Kyrgyzstan might sink under increased flows of the Uzbek immigrants” (Kabar, May 13). As a result of escalating conflict in Andijan, approximately 600 people crossed the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border last weekend, and about 20 people were hospitalized in Kyrgyz villages (Fergana.ru, May 15). In recent days Uzbeks have rebuilt a wooden bridge in Karasu — a town straddling the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border — that was destroyed by Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov in 2002.
Kyrgyz military units have mobilized at the southern frontier, but the border will remain open to Uzbek refugees for the next five days (Akipress, May 14). Residents of Kyrgyzstan’s southern cities are protesting Karimov’s use of force, and there have been riots in front of the Uzbek embassy in Bishkek. Some Kyrgyz leaders worry that criminals and militants may slip into Kyrgyz territory along with the refugees.
The Kyrgyz interim government does not need instability in Uzbekistan ahead of the presidential election. Refugee and security issues may divert human and financial resources from the multitude of pressing domestic problems such as organizing voting stations and investigating the extent of Akayev’s corruption.