After losing in Kyrgyzstan’s December 2007 parliamentary elections, 50 leaders from 18 political opposition parties formed an alternative, shadow parliament. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s political party, Ak Zhol, which is amply represented in the actual parliament, claims the alternative structure is illegitimate. But growing public support for the shadow parliament and its internal consolidation suggests that the formation has a vast potential to influence the political climate in the country.
The shadow parliament convened in February and is planning to hold another meeting on March 19. Some 2,000 delegates are expected to participate from all across the country. In its activities the shadow parliament is trying to follow the usual procedures of a legislative body.
Members include former MPs, heads of opposition parities, former government officials, and NGO leaders. In addition, there are many well-known figures in the shadow parliament, including the head of the Ata-Meken opposition party, Omurbek Tekebayev; Azimbek Beknazarov, head of the Asaba party; former MP Doronbek Sadyrbayev; former MP Temir Sariyev; and civic activist Cholpon Jakypova. In general the members of the shadow parliament are more experienced in politics compared with the seated parliamentarians, who are mostly the regime’s figureheads. Members of the shadow parliament are capable of formulating sounder economic policies, assessing foreign cooperation priorities, and articulately countering the president’s statements.
The opposition’s parliament is united around its members’ disagreement over the controversial parliamentary elections in December 2007, Bakiyev’s increasing powers, and rampant corruption, especially within the government. The parliament’s first session attracted a wide range of journalists, international observers, and civil society representatives. While the members of the shadow parliament have eschewed taking aggressive actions against the regime, they insist that the shadow parliament is a consolidated and structured body that the ruling regime must consult. At its first session, the shadow parliament appointed Abdygany Erkebayev, himself a former parliamentary speaker, to be its speaker and Asiya Sasykbayeva, an NGO activist, as deputy speaker.
The shadow parliament also displays a greater consensus among its members. Objectives are commonly defined, and there is little hostility among various political forces. The shadow parliament insists on the transparency of its work and collaboration with mass media outlets. Tekebayev argues that the role of the opposition is to change the public’s understanding of the political process, and, as a more long-term goal, facilitate the development of a more democratic political culture.
Erkebayev calls the current regime’s actions inadequate, making it necessary for the shadow parliament to take action. In particular, the parliament disagrees with the president’s cadre politics and his decision to privatize the remaining state companies. By increasing contacts with local mass media outlets, the shadow parliament is trying to break the government’s intensifying monopoly over the press in the country.
As one member of the Kyrgyz government told Jamestown, “It was expected that the opposition would consolidate against the vertical nature of presidential power, after Bakiyev adopted a new constitution in October 2007.”
Among the potential weaknesses of the shadow parliament is its composition of people from various political backgrounds. Until recently, some of the people on its roster were loyal members of the Bakiyev regime, who, after being stripped of their offices, turned to the opposition. This particular stance suggests that a number of opposition members merely seek to regain their public jobs. Another weakness is the fact that the parliament is not elected by the people; all of its members are self-proclaimed national representatives. It is assumed that if these members were to run in real parliamentary elections they would likely win public support. Yet not all of the shadow parliament’s members enjoy popularity at their precincts.
Nevertheless, the shadow parliament represents a group of professional and ambitious politicians. One of its goals is to increase in size from 50 to 75 members – the same number as the actual parliament.
If the opposition is able to sustain its internal consolidation, it will indeed become a strong counter-force to Bakiyev. As Tekebayev comments, his party is planning to win Bishkek city elections this September. However, there is a great chance that the shadow parliament will gradually fade away, as it will be unable to reach its goals or will be vulnerable to internal splits provoked by the ruling regime.
Nevertheless, the opposition parliament shows political competition is alive in the country despite Ak Zhol’s absolute dominance in the regions. Although it lost in December 2007 election, the opposition is learning to challenge Bakiyev’s regime through alternative ways.
(Akipress.kg, Bpc.kg, Ferghana.ru, Tazar.kg, February 20-March 12)