Kyrgyzstan’s Acting President, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, joined other CIS leaders for an informal meeting in Moscow on the eve of the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. Bakiyev raised a series of bilateral issues with Russia, including dual citizenship, Kyrgyzstan’s external debt to Russia, and the meaning of the Tulip Revolution for Kyrgyzstan’s future development. Bakiyev argued that dual citizenship between Kyrgyzstan and Russia would slow the exodus of ethnic Russians from Kyrgyzstan while also helping the 400,000-500,000 Kyrgyz working in Russia. The Kyrgyz leader also planned to meet with several Russian businessmen to discuss possibilities for economic cooperation.
During a May 9 press conference, Bakiyev reminded journalists that it is unfair to characterize the recent political changes in Kyrgyzstan a mass riot or a coup d’etat. According to him, “The March events were a final stage of a countdown that began on March 17, 2002, the date of Aksy tragedy” and the people were protesting the gap between the government and society, widespread poverty, and corruption. Bakiyev complained, “We saw that different international mass media in particular accentuated mass robberies and looting. It was painful to read and watch depiction of the events, so one-sidedly and tendentiously presented.”
When asked about the opposition figure Felix Kulov, Bakiyev answered that they are on good terms and had discussed Kulov’s recent decision to run for the presidency. The two are actively engaged in an open debate over whether to establish a presidential-parliamentary or pure parliamentary state. Bakiyev thinks that, since Kyrgyzstan is currently undergoing a political transformation, all branches of state power must be equally involved in the political process. Kulov, however, believes that Kyrgyzstan needs a parliamentary system in order to strengthen democracy, increase transparency, and meet the concerns of all residents.
Meanwhile, in an interview with Vecherny Bishkek on May 7, Kulov denied maintaining any connections with deposed president Askar Akayev, as Moya sotlitsa novosti had alleged on April 29. He also replied to public concerns that he possessed a military mindset because of his background in the security sector: “I was lucky – I am not only a jurist, but also have a second higher education as an administrative manager. I became a manager early, carrying out tasks not connected with militant specificity.”
Many of Kulov’s supporters worry that the Kyrgyz language commission could become a formal weapon against Kulov, whose Kyrgyz is not fluent. However, a significant number of potential voters believe any president must be able to speak the Kyrgyz language in order to communicate with rural population. Kulov has already made several public attempts to speak in Kyrgyz.
Despite their obvious differences, both Bakiyev and Kulov publicly maintain a positive attitude towards each other. From their interviews, it is clear that neither candidate wants instability in the country. Bakiyev does not exclude the possibility of a union between the two leaders, while Kulov says that it is not relevant to judge which leader is better, because they have different political agendas.
The Bakiyev team faces a long list of pressing issues, ranging from an ineffective constitution to a failed attempt at passport reform. Bakiyev’s government has also been criticized for its reticence to address the spontaneous land seizures in Bishkek by thousands of villagers during the Tulip Revolution. The interim president replied that the process is slow because he wants to the government to negotiate a solution with the people rather than imposing a decision.
Many businesses in Bishkek are pressing the government to reimburse them for economic losses incurred during the popular revolution. A number of Chinese businessmen demanded 1.5 billion soms from the Kyrgyz government. Since the state budget cannot afford full compensation, the government offered special terms for customs control on the Kyrgyz-Chinese border (Vecherny Bishkek, April 29). The government also introduced a special fund for the victims of looting on May 24-25 in Bishkek to help small and medium businesses recover some of their losses.
In May 2004 the Akayev government introduced a new passport system to meet international standards. The shift had not been completed by the time of regime change, and the need to issue a new system of documentation has produced numerous difficulties for the interim government. The new passports were scheduled to be introduced in August 2004, but instead not only are there no new passports; there are also no old passports that could be issued temporarily. New information has revealed that former prime minister Nikolai Tanayev allegedly pocketed millions of soms through a sweetheart deal to print passports in Kenya (Gazeta.kg, May 3). The United States and EU no longer issues visas for old Kyrgyz passports.
As a result of the passport vacuum, at least half a million Kyrgyz citizens cannot receive valid documents. Students studying abroad, people living in border areas, and labor migrants are particularly affected. At the same time, thousands of Kyrgyz citizens outside the country might not be able to vote in the upcoming presidential elections due to severe shortages of state funds and official documentation.
The interim government cannot address all the accumulated problems at once, and thus remains an easy target for harsh criticism from international and local journalists. In particular Russian and Kazakh mass media tend to be saturated with negative reports about the post-revolutionary developments in Kyrgyzstan. At times, the criticism is based on mistaken facts, minimal details, and mistaken views about events on the day of the Tulip Revolution.