Almost ten months after the March 24 Tulip Revolution, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev is losing public support due to continuing political assassinations, increased open challenges to the government by criminal figures, and poor political and economic performance of the state. Together, these trends make Kyrgyzstan less predictable and more dangerous.
The assassination of yet another famous figure on January 9, sportsman Raatbek Sanatbayev, continued the long chain of contract murders that began during the spring 2005. Sanatbayev was allegedly attempting to run for the chairmanship of the National Olympic Committee (NOC), the position coveted by several other known sports- and business-people. Rumors across Bishkek suggest that Rysbek Akmatbayev, a well-known “thief in law,” might be involved in this killing, as he is also interested in heading the NOC. Known by his first name, Rysbek was previously accused of organizing assassinations of a number of political and sports figures.
In his recent address to the legislature, parliament speaker Omurbek Tekebayev declared that although the parliament should not intervene into the NOC’s activities, “it is in our [paliament’s] capacity to prevent criminal structures from heading the NOC” (Kabar, January 16). Yet despite persistent rumors and indirect official statements by the Kyrgyz lawmakers about the involvement of specific criminal elements in political assassinations, the Kyrgyz Minister of Interior Muratbek Sutalinov declared that it will be “quite difficult to solve the case” (Kabar, January 16). The minister made similarly vague comments on other political assassinations. The previous chair of the NOC, Bayaman Erkinbayev, was also killed in September last year. Before the March 24 Revolution, NOC was headed by Aidar Akayev, the son of the former president Askar Akayev.
Efforts to reform Kyrgyzstan’s constitution have stalled, as the special Constitutional Committee failed to reach a consensus over the last several months. Bakiyev’s decision to conduct a referendum to decide which state system—presidential or parliamentary—would best suit the country is likely to further undermine his approval rating. The results of the referendum are still unknown and are difficult to predict because of the general inability of the Kyrgyz public to accurately distinguish the differing types of government structures (see EDM, January 10). Yet the newly formed National Coalition of Democratic Forces of Kyrgyzstan, a political bloc comprised of 18 political organizations, notes that constitutional reform is designed to “form a new regional clan system based on old scheme,” hinting at Bakiyev’s wish to establish a presidential system.
The government has also failed to introduce any visible economic reforms to remedy the economic difficulties that worsened after the ouster of former president Askar Akayev. According to the Minister of Finance Akylbek Japarov, the current tax system was developed during the last two years and still stirs strong debate among business elites (Delo Nomer, January 11). At the meeting with Prime Minister Felix Kulov, local businessmen criticized high tax rates that lack flexibility and inspire a shadow economy (Akipress, January 16).
Bakiyev’s fight against corruption has failed to a large extent. Compared with the anti-corruption campaign in Georgia after the Rose Revolution in November 2003, in which state income was significantly increased due to confiscation of illegally appropriated capital, anti-corruption efforts in Kyrgyzstan are undermined by Bakiyev’s weakness in confronting criminal networks.
Nurlan Motuyev, director general of the “Ak-Ulak” coal strip mine in Naryn oblast, organized a series of meetings of between 350 and 6,000 people to restrain law enforcement agencies from conducting an investigation of his business. Motuyev threatened to incite armed civilian uprising against the government if the state fails to pay subsidies to his coal deposits. Earlier this month, Motuyev threatened to set fire to a local police precinct after the government sent a special investigation group to the minefield (Akipress, January 11, 16). For months the local law enforcement agencies have been unable to cope with Motuyev’s behavior against the government. Nevertheless, against the background of Motuyev’s aggression, the General Prosecutor Kambaraly Kongantiyev publicly warned Kyrgyz media to refrain from criticizing the president and government.
A government that is unable to prevent political assassinations, persecute criminal leaders, and carry out reforms is rapidly loosing its public approval. Many Kyrgyz suggest that Akayev lost legitimacy in a similar way as Bakiyev, albeit over a longer period of time.