With only one week left until Kyrgyzstan’s two main opposition blocs, “United Front” and “For Reforms,” plan to stage a large-scale demonstration to remove Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev from office, neither the president nor the opposition are willing to start negotiations. Meanwhile, Kyrgyz experts and media warn of the possibility of violent clashes between the opposition and the government.
Newly appointed Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev promised not to deploy pro-governmental crowds against the opposition’s demonstrations. Atambayev has been among the few opposition members who insist that Bakiyev should not be removed through demonstrations, arguing that a compromise between the government and opposition is vital. Atambayev promised to appoint more opposition members to key governmental positions. Bakiyev, on his part, has announced that he does not intend to resign under any circumstances.
Despite Atambayev’s efforts to find common ground between the radical opposition and unpopular president, he is facing considerable challenges from both sides. Although Atambayev was able to remove a number of powerful pro-presidential officials, including first deputy prime minister Daniyar Usenov, during his first week as a prime minister, the president considerably undermined his efforts. The latest reshuffling in the cabinet involves many former state officials. At the same time, neither the United Front nor For Reforms are willing to cooperate with Atambayev. The prime minister, however, insists that although he acted against the wishes of the mainstream opposition, he nevertheless has considerable support from former For Reforms members.
Felix Kulov, former prime minister and leader of the United Front, has been insisting that Bakiyev should no longer be tolerated and must be removed without any further compromises. According to the Kyrgyz newspaper Bely parohod, Kulov’s recent visit to Moscow secured him informal support from Russia and Kazakhstan (April 4). According to various reports, while in Moscow Kulov met with a number of high-ranking Russian officials, including representatives of the security structures.
At his April 4 press conference, Atambayev accused Kulov of failing to support the constitution adopted in November 2006 by joining the president’s political intrigues (Akipress, April 4). The prime minister warned that, should an early presidential election take place, the country’s north-south cleavage might intensify, as Bakiyev still has supporters in the south and Kulov is mainly popular in northern Kyrgyzstan (24.kg, April 4). Several ad hoc groups of students, villagers, and small-scale entrepreneurs have declared their wish to stage various protests before and during the April 11 demonstrations.
Due to the continuous political showdowns, neither the opposition nor the government has had time to provide any long-term prospects for political or economic development. In effect, both sides base their actions on calls to fight corruption and adopt a new constitution. However, Kulov proved to be too weak to curb corruption while he headed the government in 2005-2006. Although Kulov explained his previous support of the president by his wish to retain stability in the country, today his political bloc represents the main source of growing instability.
Previous mass demonstrations proved to be somewhat successful in fostering reforms in the government, but the Kyrgyz public is aware of the fact that political leaders often pay their supporters to participate in the demonstrations. Hardly anyone in Kyrgyzstan doubts that Kulov and his allies from the For Reforms bloc will need vast financial resources to be invested in the April 11 demonstrations. This fact confirms that most opposition leaders are driven by their own ambitions as opposed to political agendas.
Today, Kyrgyzstan’s two main political rivals – Bakiyev and Kulov – refuse to negotiate to prevent the planned rallies, despite the fact that their political allies agree that a political compromise is necessary before April 11. Opposition leaders such as Kubatbek Baibolov, Omurbek Tekebayev, and Temir Sariyev have agreed to start negotiations with the president. Likewise, Atambayev is insisting that there is a venue for opposition-government talks. But the current situation is testing both Bakiyev and Kulov’s political capacities.
Bakiyev is expected to adopt a new constitution, curb corruption among his family members, and improve the economy. Kulov is expected to pressure the president, however, to avoid any extreme scenarios on April 11. Ironically, it is difficult to expect substantial changes from Bakiyev, as he has proven to be a weak politician and incompetent economist. The president largely discredited himself by constantly giving false promises and changing his decisions on an almost hourly basis. Likewise, Kulov showed a limited propensity to change and has been repeating the same mistakes made during the reign of former president Askar Akayev as well as under Bakiyev’s leadership. Both as a prime minister and opposition leader, he has maintained an aggressive, yet largely populist platform.