Amid an energy crisis in Kyrgyzstan mainly caused by corruption among top-ranking political leaders, the Kyrgyz opposition has begun taking swift action against President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s regime. Bakiyev, in turn, is trying to counter the opposition’s protests by making promises yet again about developing the hydroelectric system.
On November 18 leaders of various political parties—Azimbek Beknazarov, Topchubek Turgunaliyev, Nurlan Motuyev, Anvar Artykov, and former Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir uulu—held a protest in the town of Talas in northern Kyrgyzstan with a turnout of over a thousand people. Beknazarov said that he and his colleagues were planning another mass protest in the southern city of Osh in the coming days. The movement’s goals are quite aggressive: using any means necessary to remove Bakiyev. The Talas gathering was loud and emotional, with leaders pledging to fight corruption and nepotism in the Bakiyev government.
Another movement is comprised of former parliament speaker Omurbek Tekebayev, the leader of the Akshumkar party Temir Sariev, the Social Democratic Party’s Omurbek Babanov, and former foreign minister Alikbek Jekshenkulov. This wing of the opposition has chosen different methods of fighting the Bakiyev regime. They make concrete policy recommendations to the government and want the wider public to be aware of their actions. They also travel to Russia and the United States seeking the support of these countries. They have developed an alternative concept of a state system in Kyrgyzstan with a new constitution and aim at bringing about political change through elections rather than the forceful removal of Bakiyev.
Both opposition groups consider the Bakiyev government criminal, especially because of the energy crisis it has inflicted on the populace. In response to growing frustration with the lack of electricity, Bakiyev recently claimed that the Kambarata-2 hydro-power plant on the Naryn River, which is currently under construction, would be functional as early as December 2009. Since Kambarata-2 will not, however, operate efficiently without the completion of Kambarata-1, Bakiyev has promised to begin construction of that plant as well (www.akipress.kg, November 19). Yet, Bakiyev has not backed up his promises with any concrete construction plans or data on expenses. It remains unknown where and how Bakiyev will find funding for such massive projects.
It is uncertain whether the Beknazarov group’s more violent attitude or Tekebayev’s reformist approach will prevail or whether either of the groups will achieve their goals. As one Kyrgyz observer commented to Jamestown, Tekebayev’s strategy deserved greater attention for offering concrete ideas for changing the current corrupt system, but people would be less likely to care about constitutional reforms, when there was a persistent lack of electricity. It would, therefore, be easier to mobilize crowds with the rhetoric of overthrowing the government as opposed to voting for the opposition leaders in the next election.
Yet, Bakiyev’s future might be determined by a growing split within pro-regime circles. Increasingly more members of Bakiyev’s Ak Zhol party are questioning the president and Minister of Energy Saparbek Balkibekov about how the energy crisis was allowed to occur. At the same time, several pro-regime members have made nonsensical statements about ways to save energy in the country with suggestions such as cutting power at private universities and illegal buildings in the outskirts of Bishkek (www.akipress.kg, November 17). This would stop the work of a dozen universities in Bishkek and leave tens of thousands of people without electricity.
In the meantime, diminishing democracy in the country has forced nine activists, including NGO leaders and journalists, into exile this year (www.akipress.kg, November 14). Several other activists are constantly being interrogated by law-enforcement agencies. This number is comparatively high for Kyrgyzstan and is raising concern among local human rights NGOs. Activists are mainly persecuted for publishing allegations of corruption among pro-regime officials, for attempting to identify fraudulent transactions in the hydro-energy sector, and for staging protests against the regime.
Against the more influential opposition leaders, Bakiyev has armed himself with the loyal support of security and law-enforcement agencies. Today, the Security Council, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of the Interior, National Security Service, and Prosecutor General are all Bakiyev appointees. The president recently also replaced several judges across the country for minor misdeeds.
The situation in Kyrgyzstan will continue to grow more turbulent as the weather becomes colder and more power shutdowns are imposed. This leaves Bakiyev and his supporters challenged by the frustrated public, fuming opposition movements, and splits in their own party.