POLITICAL CUNNING BUT NO DIVIDENDS
The propresidential media in Kyrgyzstan have recently stepped up their attacks on parliament. The esteem in which both houses are held by the public is being blatantly discredited in the eyes of the public. An analyses of articles in the official media reveals that president Akaev’s regime has just one strategic aim: To secure the dissolution of parliament. In order to get the majority of the public on its side, the regime has been hammering one single idea into people’s minds: When approving the country’s budget, parliament unjustifiably allocates huge funds for its own needs, while the majority of the population are living in poverty. For the current year, 74 million soms have been earmarked for the upkeep of the Legislative Assembly, and 30 million for the Representative Assembly. A simple conclusion is drawn from this: That it is difficult for a small republic to maintain a two-chamber parliament. At the same time, the official press deviously fails to mention how much money is spent on maintaining the presidential administration. Recently, on June 29, lawmakers introduced amendments to the law “On the state budget for 2001.” The amendments gave extra resources to the presidential administration, the ministry of finance and the court of law. The presidential administration will now receive 68 million soms this year (US$1.4 million) instead of the original 51 million.
This naturally raises the question: What has the bicameral parliament, elected just over a year ago, done to upset Akaev’s regime? After all, it was on Akaev’s initiative that the single chamber parliament was replaced by a two-tier one following a 1994 referendum. In order to get to the bottom of the political conflict between the president and the legislature, it is necessary to analyze recent events in the republic.
Since January 2001, the parliamentary opposition has been speaking out against the domestic and foreign policy of Akaev and his government. Traditionally most opposition politicians come from the south of the republic. For this reason, Akaev made a cunning political move at the end of December last year: He appointed a southerner, Kurmanbek Bakiev, as his prime minister. The president calculated that this appointment would neutralize the legislators from the south. But this did not happen, because international political decisions taken by Akaev and his government have begun to damage the national interests of the Kyrgyz nation as a whole.
CAPITULATION TO FOREIGN POWERS
It transpired recently that a memorandum was signed at a meeting between the prime ministers of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan where it was decided to resume supplies of natural gas. This document was concealed from parliament and the broad public; it only saw the light of day thanks to the Uzbek media. The neighboring republic’s press could not conceal their delight at the territorial gains Uzbekistan had secured as a result of the memorandum.
There has been a problem of disputed territories between the two republics for years, since Soviet times. One such territory is the road which traverses the Uzbek enclave of Sokh. Currently, there is only one road connecting Batken and Osh oblast, and it passes through the enclave of Sokh. In addition to this, there are two other roads to Batken which are independent from Uzbekistan. The first passes through Kyrgyzstan’s Samarkand Rural Authority–in other words territory on which it is proposed to allocate a thoroughfare for Uzbekistan. Naturally, such a turn of event would result in this road being dependent on Uzbek customs officials and border guards. The road unfortunately does not come up to generally accepted quality levels, but it is independent. With some minor capital investment to rebuild the road, it would be possible to avoid passing through Uzbekistan altogether. The other road, the Burgandy-Batken road, goes through mountains to the south of Sokh, and is known locally as the “donkey path.” If the clauses in the memorandum are implemented, Batken will be isolated, and residents of the southern oblast say that “the Burgandy-Batken road will be akin to the “life-line” in Leningrad during the Second World War.”
During their debate, which lasted several days, deputies noted that the memorandum was signed in contravention of the current Constitution and the law on international treaties. The Constitution states that the transfer of territories is an issue which should have been discussed in the republic’s parliament. Meanwhile, the law on international treaties requires the Foreign Ministry to present any international agreement to parliament for perusal. Neither of these things were done. Moreover, the memorandum did not just violate all procedural norms, but is also contrary to the interests of the security of Kyrgyzstan. Voluntarily ceding part of Kyrgyzstan’s territory would make a large part of Batken oblast an Uzbek enclave. On top of this, the river Sokh and tens of thousands of hectares of Kyrgyz land would come under the control of the neighboring state. Regardless of this, Bakiev decided to sign the memorandum. However, he has limited powers under the Constitution. The thing is that the prime minister of Kyrgyzstan does not wield the full powers that the No. 2 usually enjoys in other countries. The Kyrgyz prime minister cannot appoint the ministers to his own government. Ministers are appointed by the president. The prime minister only has minor rights: He can only appoint deputy ministers and the heads of large state enterprises. Here, the No. 2 in the state cannot personally decide such a crucial issue as the transfer of land to a neighboring state. This clearly goes beyond the bounds of his official duties. Incidentally, former National Security Minister F. Kulov was imprisoned for seven years for exceeding his official duties. This raises the fair question: Who allowed Mr Bakiev to exceed his powers?
A clear answer to this is offered by the former deputy speaker of the Legislative Assembly, O. Tekebayev, who compared the prime minister’s memorandum to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact: “National sovereignty–Kyrgyz territory–is being traded here. In order to pacify the residents of Bishkek, who were indignant at the inaction of the authorities last winter, the government decided to sign the memorandum. I don’t think the prime minister acted alone in signing such an important treaty. My guess is that the president himself knew what was happening. A few weeks before it was signed, at a meeting of the working party, Uzbekistan’s deputy prime minister said: ‘You will sign it whatever happens. Your president made a promise to our president.’ That was the impertinent claim made by the Uzbek side. I think that this promise was made prior to the presidential elections, when Akaev needed Karimov’s support.”
Bakiev’s government recently signed another memorandum, this time with international financial institutions, to which the republic owes the hefty sum of $2 billion. This memorandum certifies that the republic’s entire energy system will be sold off in the near future. There is but one motive behind this pledge: To secure the next tranche of credit from the IMF and the World Bank at any price. To meet this condition, the government put crude pressure on the parliament and violated procedure in pushing through the rulings it required in both houses. During the voting in the Legislative Assembly on June 29, sixteen deputies left the chamber, depriving it of a quorum. Nevertheless, the remaining progovernment deputies voted for the privatization of Kyrgyzenergo. In order to repeat this success in the Representative Assembly, an extraordinary session of the upper house was called by the government on July 3. In violation of the rules, the question was presented to the session for discussion and the required ruling was secured without prior discussion by the energy committee. The rulings, passed illegitimately, allow the privatization of the energy holding, and 7 percent of the sector now belongs, illegally, to a few individuals. The funds from the privatization will be placed on a special account to pay the interest on the foreign debts. However, economists calculate that this money will only be sufficient for one or two years, whereas it will take 20 years to pay off the interest. The international financial institutions have clearly been hoodwinked.
On the other hand, the new owners of the distribution networks will naturally want to recoup their costs and start earning profit as quickly as possible. Thus, it is not only the republic’s residents who will suffer; so too will domestic producers, who use electricity. This will be a blow to domestic production. Agriculture will suffer too, because hundreds of thousands of hectares will be without water in the spring and summer, because of the intensive use of water in winter to generate electricity.
A VICTORY FOR CHINESE DIPLOMACY
Another major scandal broke in May this year over the transfer of some border areas to China. There were long-drawn-out diplomatic wars between the former USSR and China over these lands. The problem of the border areas did not go away after the break-up of the Soviet Union. A young independent state like Kyrgyzstan found itself standing alone to face its powerful neighbor in resolving the issue. Chinese diplomacy has been developing over thousands of years, and naturally has far greater experience in waging diplomatic wars. It was no trouble at all for Chinese diplomats to gain the upper hand over their inexperienced Kyrgyz counterparts. Azimzhan Beknazarov, a member of the Legislative Assembly, was absolutely right to note that “the Chinese are past masters in the use of diplomatic language. They could not immediately demand territory from their neighbors; first they had to secure their neighbors’ admission that a number of areas specified by the Chinese were “disputed”; in other words they could not be clearly attributed to either state.” After the territories are designated as “disputed”, the next question arises: How to divide them?
The next diplomatic device employed by the Chinese was to impose a binding condition: That the talks be held in secret, without the knowledge of parliament and the public. This condition was exposed after an interview given by Kyrgyz foreign minister M. Imanaliev to a journalist from the Kyrgyz television and radio company on 26 May this year. The talks were thus kept secret for 20 months. This condition of secrecy also suited the Kyrgyz delegation down to the ground; otherwise a huge political scandal could have erupted in the country two years ago. Akaev did not need that on the eve of parliamentary and presidential elections. Firstly, he had to get as many of his own people into parliament as possible; secondly, he had to hold onto power himself. Both aims were successfully achieved. But Akaev made one mistake: He did not take into consideration the patriotic mood of most parliamentarians.
As a result, on June 13 the Legislative Assembly passed a motion stating that the government should “stop the delimitation and demarcation of the Kyrgyz-Chinese border until a final decision has been made by the president of the Kyrgyz Republic and the Zhogorku Kenesh (parliament) of the Kyrgyz Republic.” It was also proposed that President Akaev should “submit to the Zhogorku Kenesh a denunciation of the treaty between the Kyrgyz Republic and the People’s Republic of China ‘On the Kyrgyz-Chinese state border’, signed on 4 July 1996.” The motion also says that “the supplementary treaty between the Kyrgyz Republic and the People’s Republic of China ‘On the Kyrgyz-Chinese state border’, signed on 26 August 1999 by Kyrgyz President Akaev and Chinese President Jiang Zemin, violated article 7 of the Law of the Kyrgyz Republic ‘On international treaties’.” The prosecutor general’s office has been asked to “investigate the question of who was responsible for violating the legislation of the Kyrgyz Republic in drafting the above-mentioned treaties.” According to the treaties, Kyrgyzstan will cede about 125,000 hectares of its territory to China. However, Prime Minister Bakiev and Foreign Minister Imanaliev, who were invited to the session of parliament, did not show. The head of the government’s survey and cartographic service V. Surkov, who was at the session, stated that the government would now be obliged to stop the process of demarcating the Chinese-Kyrgyz border which began on June 5. According to article 58 of the Constitution, only parliament has the right to alter state borders.
Immediately after the stormy parliamentary debate on this issue, Foreign Minister Imanaliev flew to the United States. He was there from June 19 to 26, and met Secretary of State Colin Powell and others responsible for U.S. foreign policy. It may be assumed that this was no coincidence. It is quite possible that the Kyrgyz-Chinese negotiations affected U.S. interests. Akaev’s regime is thus now in a very awkward position. It is probably no coincidence that Imanaliev did not hold a press conference immediately upon returning from the United States, but only a week later. At first sight it may appear that Akaev’s regime is experiencing difficulties in its domestic and foreign policy. But this is not so.
NEUTRALIZE THE WEST AND ESTABLISH AN AUTHORITARIAN REGIMEC
For developed Western countries and the United States, the main condition attached to offering financial aid and political support is that the leaders of developing countries carry out democratic reforms. The process of democratic reform in Kyrgyzstan may be divided into two stages. Prior to 1996 genuinely democratic reforms were carried out in Kyrgyzstan. The economy was liberalized and the press was freed from censorship. But in early 1996, by means of another referendum, Akaev concentrated untold power in his own hands. This was the start of the establishment of an authoritarian regime in the republic. The West and the United States, lulled by the achievements of the democratic reforms in the first years of independence, missed the point at which this authoritarian regime began to be established. True, the United States has begun to express concern at developments in Kyrgyzstan in recent years. Political events in the republic have even been discussed in the U.S. Congress. But this probably looked like a “storm in a teacup.” Akaev therefore did not pay this much attention. At any rate, there was no reaction from Akaev himself or his administration. But Akaev and his entourage learnt one lesson very well: All they had to do in order to neutralize the West and America was to announce some sort of formal democratic initiative and all would be well.
For example, Akaev recently announced a plan to introduce the institution of the Ombudsman in the republic, and to remove from the Criminal Code the article whereby journalists could be imprisoned for libel. As usual, the West and the United States immediately fell silent, as though they had a mouth full of food. Meanwhile, Akaev’s authoritarianism is gaining strength within the republic: Independent media outlets are being closed down without any proper reason, and opposition leaders are being imprisoned one after the other. All that remains for Akaev to establish absolute power is to dissolve parliament and hold one more referendum to amend the Constitution. Local analysts predict that the referendum will be on the question of a seven-year presidential term and a single-chamber parliament.
On the other hand, it is possible to sympathize with Akaev on a personal level. Prior to 1996, Akaev had his opponents, and made some personal enemies by consolidating his power. The consequences for him and his family may be terrible if he relinquishes power. For this reason Akaev and his family will demonstrate great resourcefulness in fighting to hold onto power to the very end.
On August 16, 2001, Akaev gave an interview to journalists in his residence in Cholpon-Ata on lake Issyk-Kul. He said that there would be no referendum, and that he does not intend to stand at the next presidential elections when his “second” term, according to the constitution, comes to an end in 2005. This information was confirmed by Secretary of State O. Ibraimov at an August 20 press briefing in the government building. However, Akaev has changed his mind on more than one occasion, so few believe that he is being sincere. Even if he does step down, he will try to use his administrative resources to get someone from his own family elected president–especially as his administration has honed the art of falsifying election results over the last ten years. Akaev’s decision is thus reminiscent of Napoleon’s foreign minister Talleyrand, who was such a fraud that nobody ever believed him. When his death was reported, one of those present said: “Talleyrand’s dead? I wonder why he needed to do that?!”
But we can definitely say why Akaev needed to make this particular announcement: In order to neutralize the West and the United States for another four years–especially as U.S. Congressman Smith was sharply critical of Akaev in Congress on August 1, and on August 8 a large group of congressmen held confidential talks with him.
Sadji is an independent journalist from Bishkek.