Since April 11, ongoing opposition rallies in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, have paralyzed both the government and parliament. Neither President Kurmanbek Bakiyev nor the legislature is trying to find compromises with the opposition. Instead, both seem to be waiting until the protests calm down and the opposition’s resources are exhausted. The opposition itself, mainly comprised of the United Front and For Reforms political blocs, has failed to present consistent demands to Bakiyev, changing its strategy on an almost daily basis.
Felix Kulov, former prime minister and a leader of the United Front, has flip-flopped his demands regarding Bakiyev before and during the protests. First, he insisted that the president would be bound to step down as a result of the opposition’s unification. Later, he pushed the president to change the constitution. As the protests enter their second week, Kulov is threatening the president with impeachment again.
Similar to the ongoing political protests in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan’s current political protests are more a competition for state power between individual politicians than a fight for democratic values. The opposition’s claims that more and more people from various regions are joining their protests seem to be more propaganda than reality. Estimates of the number of protestors range between a few thousand to up to 10,000 people. Omurbek Abdrakhmanov, a member of the United Front, claims that the opposition has the necessary resources to support the protests for at least another month and will mobilize various regions in coming days.
More than one-third of the parliament is supporting the president and prefers to postpone any constitutional reform. They refuse to consider restructuring as long as the opposition demonstrations last. The increasing divides between pro-presidential and opposition MPs led to a fistfight among some legislators on April 16. Most pro-presidential MPs are opportunists who have demonstrated that they are concerned more with their mandates than with political principles. In the contentious February-March 2005 parliamentary elections, they won their seats thanks to their membership in the Alga Kyrgyzstan political party led by Bermet Akayeva, daughter of former president Askar Akayev. In effect, these parliamentarians are the core political force that still openly supports Bakiyev. According to Bely parohod, some of the pro-presidential MPs have already lost the support of their constituents.
Another group of MPs, comprised of For Reforms’ members, calls for an immediate constitutional overhaul, which could potentially lead to early presidential and parliamentary elections. This group is as large as the pro-presidential camp in the parliament. Omurbek Tekebayev, a legislator and leader of For Reforms, heads this parliamentary opposition bloc. With the parliament divided into at least two major factions, the adoption of a new constitution is not feasible.
Bakiyev lacks a clear strategy against the opposition and is biding his time until the demonstrations end. Meanwhile, the president’s struggle with Kulov is often interpreted as inter-regional competition between northern and southern political elites. Omurbek Babanov, an MP and member of For Reforms, has warned about the possibility of a civil war between the north and south as a result of such an inter-elite confrontation. Similar interpretations of the north-south rivalry are entering mainstream discourse as well. People increasingly regard political skirmishes, as well as inter-personal conflicts, as manifestations of regional conflicts.
Although Bakiyev is deeply unpopular in Kyrgyzstan, Kulov’s calls for early presidential elections have failed to score support. Kulov himself has mentioned that he does not intend to run for president. Although he might change his mind later, Kulov’s own popularity has considerably declined in the past two years. Should there be early presidential elections, it is unclear who the potential candidates would be.
The current political uncertainness worry neighboring states that are part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Kyrgyzstan is to host the annual SCO meeting in August. If Kyrgyzstan’s political leaders are unable to find a compromise in the coming months, the summit might be postponed or even cancelled (see EDM, March 8).
Cholpon Bayekova, chair of the Constitutional Court, has complained that both the government and the president used the court as a political tool to change the constitution in November and December of last year. The government and opposition consulted the court only when its approval was necessary. The procedures for adopting a new constitution might cause yet another wave of inter-elite clashes.
Thus, the struggle between Bakiyev and Kulov has put all state structures on alert, disseminated fears of exacerbating the existing north-south rivalry, and affected Bishkek’s regional stance vis-à-vis Russia and China, the SCO’s leading member states.
(Akipress.kg, 24.kg, Bely parohod, April 12-18)