Kyrgyzstan’s two major opposition blocs, “For Reforms!” and “United Front,” have announced plans to stage mass demonstrations against President Kurmanbek Bakiyev this April. For Reforms will demand a revision of the existing constitution, adopted in December 2006, and call for return to the constitution of November 2006. The United Front, in turn, insists on staging early presidential elections. Both political blocs are supported by wealthy political figures, represent all regions of Kyrgyzstan, and have overlapping memberships. The two groups hope to mobilize people from all across Kyrgyzstan for the April rallies.
For Reforms, comprised of parliamentarians and civil society activists, was the main driving force of the constitutional reform in November 2006. After a week of protests in front of the government headquarters, For Reforms managed to press the president to sign a constitution that stripped him of his major powers. The November 2006 constitution was unprecedented in the Central Asian region in the way it empowered the parliament and weakened the president. But in December 2006 Bakiyev was able to push through another constitutional reform and reclaim most of his powers. This April, For Reforms will demand yet another constitution to improve checks and balances over presidential power.
The United Front, led by the former prime minister Felix Kulov, is more radical in its demands. The movement aspires to stage early presidential elections by collecting crowds on April 9 outside Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital. Protests are planned in Bishkek on April 11. According to the United Front, since Bakiyev won the July 2005 presidential elections thanks to his political partnership with Kulov, but failed to abide by to their partnership agreement, his legitimacy is now in question.
For Reforms’ political agenda is more long-term, as it aims at changing the existing state structure. In November 2006 the bloc demonstrated that it is able to influence the president. However, the United Front and For Reforms’ tactics against the government often include reporting or threatening to report cases of corruption among top officials.
Previously, For Reforms’ members were deeply disappointed in Kulov for his reluctant support of the November 2006 constitution. Shortly after the new document was introduced, one parliamentarian representing For Reforms told Jamestown that the bloc would insist that Kulov break his political partnership with Bakiyev. His prediction turned out correct, when bloc members in the parliament refused to vote in favor of Kulov’s reappointment as a prime minister in January 2007. For Reforms’ members were also unwilling to join the United Front when Kulov formed that organization in February 2007.
As Temir Sariyev, a For Reforms member of parliament, comments, any scenario is possible in April. Although neither the opposition nor the government wants the April protests to turn violent, Sariyev agrees that tensions could escalate should Bakiyev order physical force be used against the opposition. A former staffer at the Ministry of the Interior told Jamestown that a number of parliament members in Kyrgyzstan have a reserve of hundreds of tough guys who could be mobilized for the protests.
If the government does deploy troops against demonstrators next month, it will prompt vast criticism both at home and abroad. Azimbek Beknazarov and other opposition leaders have managed to involve Bakiyev in commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Aksy events, when former president Askar Akayev allowed military force to be used against civilian demonstrations, resulting in five deaths. The Aksy events serve as a fresh reminder of how Akayev’s military response against civilians led to a sharp drop in his popularity and become one of the reasons of his ouster on March 24, 2005.
The composition of Bakiyev’s current government suggests that the president will be the principal decision maker during the April demonstrations. First Deputy Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov could also potentially influence the outcome of April events. Recently, Usenov has been at the center of economic and political intrigues. Kulov accused Usenov of bribing the president with $300,000. He was also criticized for participating in illegally selling the “Kristall” silicon production site without parliament’s consent. Kristall is potentially one the most profitable industries in Kyrgyzstan.
As the government and opposition gear up for the April demonstrations, it is unclear how long the upcoming protests will last and what will be the outcome. Anything from Bakiyev’s ouster to the return to the November 2006 constitution is possible. Neither the United Front nor For Reforms have given precise predictions about their ability to affect Bakiyev. The president today is surrounded by a number of loyal subordinates with vast financial capacities, but opposition to his rule is growing by the day, and he is also in control of considerable economic resources.
(Akipress, 24.kg, Bely parohod, March 9-14)