Kyrgyzstan’s For Reforms opposition bloc is convening a large-scale demonstration in the capital city, Bishkek, today, November 2, to demand fundamental changes in the work of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his government.
The gathering might be as massive as those on April 29 and May 27 this year, when up to 15,000 people assembled in support of For Reforms’ initiatives. The opposition claims that the government has failed to fulfill promises made earlier this year. The November 2 plans have raised anxiety among Bishkek residents about possible destabilization, violence, looting, and large inflows of people from rural areas. Some even talk about the possibility of Bakiyev’s regime being removed.
According to bloc leaders, following the March 24, 2005, Tulip Revolution, Bakiyev failed to fight corruption or to come up with meaningful economic programs and political strategies. Instead, he showed weakness in cadre politics by recruiting people from the previous regime and those with economic and political connections. Bakiyev also failed to bring in fresh idea for programs to fight poverty.
However, the demonstration plans also pose questions as to whether the opposition is genuinely pursuing the cause of government transparency and not trying to promote the individual interests of its leaders. Some members of today’s opposition have backgrounds in large and small businesses during the reign of former president Askar Akayev. As one Kyrgyz political analyst told Jamestown: “It is a clash between former and current entrepreneurs and the current corrupt regime, rather than a government-opposition debate.”
For Reforms is led by famous political figures such as parliamentarian Omurbek Tekebayev; Roza Otunbayeva, leader of Asaba political party; Almazbek Atambayev, chair of the Social Democratic Party (SDP); Temir Sariyev, deputy chair of SDP; parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov, and several representatives of civil society groups. In effect, For Reforms’ contingency is Bakiyev’s former compatriots who originally helped him to oust Akayev and win the presidency.
Some Kyrgyz experts think that the opposition does not have clear plans for either today’s rally or for more long-term developments. For Reforms appears to be unsure about what the consequences of today’s demonstration will actually be.
The movement has issued five main demands to the president and Prime Minister Felix Kulov:
1) to send parliament proposals to revise the constitution,
2) to create a government of popular confidence with the opposition’s participation,
3) to ensure freedom of speech for radio and the “Pyramida” television network,
4) to sack Prosecutor General Kambarly Kongantiyev and his brother Moldomusa, the chief of Bishkek’s Main Department of Internal Affairs, due to their numerous legal violations, and
5) to curb corruption and transfer all property belonging to Akayev’s family to public ownership.
The opposition is also trying to threaten the president by sporadically hinting at the fact that they represent a force strong enough to overthrow his regime. Beknazarov, for example, drew an indirect parallel between Thursday’s demonstrations and those of March 24, 2005, saying that on that day the opposition had a clear plan to storm the government headquarters in Bishkek and overthrow Akayev. This latest statement contradicts the opinion of many other opposition leaders and thus reveals some contradictions inside For Reforms.
Tekebayev seems to be gaining popularity among the population, and he has hinted that if Bakiyev’s regime collapses, there will be no constitutional vacuum and the state will continue functioning. The recent scandal when heroin was found in his luggage in the Warsaw airport, allegedly planted by the Kyrgyz security forces, only boosted his approval rating and diminished the government’s popularity among Kyrgyz living in Kyrgyzstan and abroad.
According to numerous reports by Kyrgyz mass media outlets and civil society activists, after the opposition announced its plans for today’s demonstration, the president’s administration offered high-ranking positions to For Reforms’ key leaders. The offers included: Beknazarov as a head of the Supreme Court, Atambayev as prime minister, Tekebayev as parliament speaker, and Otunbayeva as head of the presidential administration. Such reports suggest that Bakiyev resorted to a Soviet-style strategy of distributing political opportunities to the opposition in order to secure their consent.
The president branded the opposition’s demands as an ultimatum, and not an attempt to negotiate. He escaped direct talks with For Reforms by changing the format of negotiation against the movement’s interests. As tensions mount between president and opposition, For Reforms warned about the possibility that the government will stage provocations against demonstrators. Some leaders warned the public that counter-demonstrations by paid mobs are possible.
Bishkek residents, who do not support either the president or the opposition, are also likely to take part in the upcoming rally. A series of recent publications by Bely Parohod newspaper about corruption pyramids in Kyrgyzstan’s energy sector, which enrich a few and devastate the national economy, provoked public outrage about possible complicity on the part of the government and president (October 16-24).
Some pundits warn that the November 2 events will contribute to the destabilization of the state and society, and no constructive end will be reached because the opposition is unprofessional and the government is corrupt. Others, however, tend to think that continuous turbulence in Kyrgyzstan’s political life is part of the natural development of democratic culture. “It is yet another learning process both for the government and opposition,” says a Kyrgyz representative of the foreign service.
(Akipress, Bely Parohod, 24.kg, October 15-25)