Discussions on reform and preparations for the July 10 presidential election in Kyrgyzstan are proceeding against a backdrop of instability with some symptoms that border on anarchy.
On May 3, Acting President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, on a working visit to Jalalabad, criticized self-appointed officials who had seized regional and local seats of authority “with the support of certain political forces” whom Bakiyev chose not to name. He warned that “strict measures” would be taken against such officials, but the warning sounded unconvincing in the current circumstances (Akipress, May 3).
On the same day, the newly appointed head of the Railways Department, Nariman Tuleyev, announced his resignation under pressure from railway personnel who support the old-regime-appointed management. The protesters had staged pickets and a mass hunger strike since April 24, demanding the reinstatement of senior staff dismissed by the new government. (Kyrgyz TV Channel One, May 3).
On April 29, demonstrators broke into the Health Ministry and dispersed the weekly senior staff meeting. They were angered by the misappropriation of foreign humanitarian aid, which often ends up being sold in Bishkek’s bazaars.
On April 27, some 80 people broke into the Supreme Court building and encamped overnight. Claiming to be “guarding” the Court against old-regime supporters, the protesters demand the resignation of the Court Chairman and the entire bench. The Chairman, Kurmanbek Osmonov, had already announced on April 25 his intention to resign, but this is subject to parliamentary approval. In fact, the protesters are supporters of five candidates who lost in the recent parliamentary elections. Another 200 supporters formed a picket line outside the parliament.
The Constitutional Council, mandated to revise the country’s constitution, began its deliberations on April 28. These are expected to continue well beyond the presidential election. The Council has 114 members, including 57 from the executive branch of government, the parliament, and the judiciary, and another 57 from civil society groups and political parties. Addressing the opening session, Bakiyev called for dropping the constitutional ban on dual citizenship and instituting dual citizenship, specifically with Russia, in order to protect the interests of an estimated 500,000 Kyrgyz residents and migrant laborers there.
A consensus seems to be emerging in the Constitutional Council in favor of replacing the presidential form of government with a mixed presidential-parliamentary system. Both of the top contenders for the presidency, Bakiyev and Felix Kulov, came out in favor of the presidential-parliamentary system in their opening statements. Kulov proposed that all presidential contenders should, ahead of the election, sign an agreement supporting constitutional changes to limit presidential powers and introduce the mixed form of government. Such a commitment would then be binding on the presidential election winner.
The multiplicity of presidential contenders with disparate political power bases seems to presage continuing turmoil at least until the election. The southerner Bakiyev’s main challenger is the northerner Kulov, whose other stronghold (apart from his native rural region) is the ethnic Russian population in Bishkek and other urban centers. Other presidential contenders, who have already been registered as candidates or nominated by their respective parties in recent days, include:
Almazbek Atambayev, a northerner, head of the “Forum” business group and leader of the Social-Democrat Party, former parliamentary deputy and presidential candidate in 2000;
Adakhan Madumarov, a southerner, three-time parliamentary deputy, a flamboyant figure and Kyrgyz nationalist;
Jypar Jeksheyev, leader of the Democratic Movement Party that split off from Bakiyev’s People’s Movement on May 1;
Azimbek Beknazarov, acting prosecutor-general (appointed after 24 March) and leader of the Asaba Party;
Temirbek Akmataliev, former emergency situations minister, a close associate of the deposed president Askar Akayev, and leader of pro-Akayev demonstrations after March 24. Presidential aspirant Beknazarov, in his concurrent capacity as acting prosecutor-general (see above), has opened a criminal case against Akmataliev in connection with the 2002 Aksy fusillade in which six were killed; and
Nurbek Turdukulov, director-general of the Bitel mobile telephone operator.
On the whole, legal uncertainty and political fragmentation seem to persist unrelieved since March 24, and may only be tackled successfully by a legitimately elected presidency, once it is in place.
(Kabar, Akipress, Bishkek Radio, Kyrgyz TV Channel One, Public Educational Radio TV, April 28-May 3)