Kyrgyz Opposition Plans Spring Revolt

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 4

During a visit to the United States from December 10 to 19, the leader the Kyrgyz Ata Meken opposition party, Omurbek Tekebayev, his colleagues, and representative of the For Justice movement repeatedly mentioned a plan to challenge President Kurmanbek Bakiyev this March by organizing crowds across the country. From the criticism and vigor they expressed in their numerous meetings in Washington, D.C., and New York, one could see that Tekebayev and his fellow oppositionists were determined to topple Bakiyev as early as spring or at least before the next presidential elections preliminarily scheduled for 2010.

“Whereas the previous regime was family-clannish, the current regime is family-criminal,” stated Tekebayev (presentations at USAID, NDI, December 12-16). Several representatives of the opposition delegation to the United States have either already been arrested or have criminal charges pending against them. A second criminal case against a U.S.-based member of Ata Meken, Ravshan Jeenbekov, for instance, was opened during the delegation’s trip. Opposition leaders expressed their concern about their own and their families’ safety. Bakiyev’s control of the security structures and his alleged ties to criminal leaders threatens the removal of any opponents by physical force.

The new concept of a political system developed by Tekebayev and approved by numerous political parties in Kyrgyzstan has often been criticized in Washington. The concept suggests setting quotas in parliament so that no single party can monopolize power. That is, regardless of the number of votes a party receives, it will not be able to hold more that 60 percent of the seats, while the remaining 40 percent will be allocated proportionally to other parties. Such a “forceful competition,” Tekebayev argues, will prevent one party from dominating the political and economic sectors.

It is understandable that opposition forces came up with such a proposal after the sweeping victories of pro-presidential parties in Kyrgyzstan (and elsewhere in region). However, Tekebayev’s concept triggers harsh criticism among representatives of international organizations and the governments of the United States and the EU. Among the most common criticisms is that as long as the electoral process is not transparent in Kyrgyzstan, no quotas in the government will improve the situation.

Furthermore, even if pro-governmental and opposition political parties were given somewhat balanced representation, there would be ways of suppressing the opposition’s voice in parliament. Finally, several critics have questioned Tekebayev and the leader of opposition For Justice movement Alikbek Jekshenkulov about whether they, if successful in replacing Bakiyev and gaining power, might turn out to be as corrupt and despotic as the present regime.

Shortly after returning to Kyrgyzstan, Ata Meken and For Justice united with several other leading opposition parties, including Ak Shumkar and Asaba. The new conglomerate is named United Opposition Movement (UOM) and is comprised of Tekebayev, Jekshenkulov, former Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, former MP Azimbek Beknazarov, former MP Temir Sariyev, former Head of the Security Council Ismail Isakov, former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva, former Prime Minister Amangeldy Muraliyev, and many other well-known political leaders (, December 24, 2008).

Most of these leaders supported Bakiyev in 2005 but gradually joined the opposition. Despite the fact that most of the UOM leaders are popular throughout the country, Tekebayev seems the most likely figure to be nominated for president, should Bakiyev resign. Tekebayev is not, however, the only politician with presidential aspirations; and it remains to be seen whether the UOM will be able to remain consolidated, considering the multitude of ambitions among its members.

Meanwhile, Bakiyev is preparing for the opposition’s consolidation in the spring. In December parliament, controlled by Bakiyev, allowed the Defense Ministry troops to intervene in domestic affairs. This development means de facto that the army might be deployed during social unrest. Opposition leaders, however, seem confident that they will be able to remove Bakiyev. According to Ata Meken members, most security personnel are discontent with Bakiyev’s regime, despite the fact that powerful ministers remain loyal to the president. “Occasionally, we are stopped by policemen who ask us when we are going to collect crowds against the regime; they are ready to take our side,” one member of Ata Meken who is currently in exile in the United States said.

The visit of Ata Meken and For Justice to the United States was unprecedented in Kyrgyzstan’s political life. The delegation held numerous meetings with government representatives and international organizations. The trip was a learning process for Kyrgyz politicians, even though some U.S. representatives were skeptical about Kyrgyzstan’s prospects. Tekebayev casually cited Marx and Lenin during his first public meetings in Washington but toward the end of the visit changed to citing Churchill (presentations at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, December 12; State Department December 16).

It will virtually take a lifetime to learn the basic principles of democracy, as the current rhetoric of the Kyrgyz political opposition lacks vision, depth, and strategy. It was generally difficult to promote democratic development when surrounded by autocratic and economically powerful China, Kazakhstan, and Russia, the delegation reiterated (presentations at USAID, NDI, December 12-16). Despite such neighbors, however, Kyrgyzstan still has a few political activists who are learning, albeit gradually, new ways of moving away from authoritarianism and nepotism. But the main message delivered by the delegation was that if Kyrgyzstan succeeds in building democracy, this will be a strong message to the rest of Central Asia. The outcome of Kyrgyzstan’s experiments with democracy will have an impact on democratic development across Central Asia (presentations at Open World, NDI, USAID, December 15-16).