On January 29 Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev selected a new prime minister, Azim Isabekov. The appointment signified the end of the president’s political union with outgoing prime minister Felix Kulov. Formed following the March 24 Tulip Revolution in 2005, the Bakiyev-Kulov political team lasted for less than two years. Bakiyev’s win in the July 2005 presidential elections came largely thanks to Kulov’s support, as the latter always enjoyed far greater popularity.
The change of prime ministers came after the government resigned in December 2006 and the parliament was forced to adopt a new constitution (see EDM, January 4). Isabekov, a former minister of agriculture, is largely unknown in Kyrgyzstan. But with Isabekov as the new prime minister, Bakiyev will have a better chance to appoint his preferred candidates in the government. The president also lowers his risks of cultivating a strong leader in his government before the next presidential elections in 2010.
Despite Isabekov’s obvious weakness, members of parliament opted to approve any candidate that Bakiyev proposed in order to forestall their own dismissal. Had parliament turned down Isabekov, it would have to resign, as members had already twice rejected Kulov’s reappointment. According to the Kyrgyz constitution, the parliament has no more than three attempts to approve a prime minister. The parliament rejected Kulov because he represented a source of Bakiyev’s political strength. In contrast, the new prime minister is extremely weak and will be unable to interfere with the affairs of either the president or parliament. Today the president and the parliament essentially represent two major political forces in Kyrgyzstan that will need to find ways to coexist.
During the past month of political wrangling in Kyrgyzstan, neither parliament, nor political observers managed to foresee the president’s sequence of actions. While Bakiyev acted quite unexpectedly, he managed to secure his interests without breaking the law. Following the adoption of the November 2006 constitution, the parliament’s majority hoped to remove Kulov and to increase its powers at the expense of the president. But the parliamentary opposition and civil society groups failed to predict that Bakiyev would play the government’s resignation against both the parliament and Kulov. Within roughly one month Bakiyev managed to adopt a new constitution (December 2006), remove Kulov, and jeopardize the positions of unwanted figures in the government. Some local observers believe Bakiyev was able to regain his political powers thanks to help from outside political consultants.
Bakiyev publicly addressed Kulov: “I am ready to give [Kulov] any [government] position not controlled by the parliament” (Akipress, January 31). But Kulov will likely join the opposition. The former prime minister had already expressed his disappointment with the president’s politics, hinting that Bakiyev did not keep his promises. Some Kyrgyz experts, however, argue that Kulov is politically weak without the parliament’s support. Although he was popular two years ago, today Kulov has disappointed many of his supporters by not playing a more decisive role during his partnership with Bakiyev.
Meanwhile, Bakiyev will keep many of his former cabinet ministers, except for those who had supported Kulov. Interior Minister Omurbek Suvanaliyev is expected to be among the first ministers to be removed from the government for his alliance with Kulov. He has a reputation as a clean politician and a leading representative of the law-enforcement structures. After becoming interior minister in November 2006, Suvanaliyev began investigating corruption among some of pro-presidential parliamentarians (Parohog.kg, January 31). Some representatives of the president’s administration were interested in a weak prime minister as well. The upcoming ministerial reappointments will likely be plagued with corruption and nepotism.
With the government reshuffling, Kyrgyzstan’s efforts to join the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative will be prolonged (see EDM, January 26). After Bakiyev nominated Isabekov, Kulov withdrew his signature from the HIPC agreement between Kyrgyzstan and the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. According to an analysis by Bely parohod, Bakiyev will seek to escape HIPC membership mainly because of his disinterest in reforming the energy sector (January 31).
Although Bakiyev managed to prevail over other political actors in Kyrgyzstan, he will continue to be challenged by the parliament and local NGOs. If Kulov manages to collect the necessary resources to form an opposition, his political party, Ar-Namys, will play a decisive role in the next parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, new mass protests against government policies will likely take place in the coming months.