On November 27, two key leaders of Kyrgyzstan’s revolution, Azimbek Beknazarov and Roza Otunbayeva, stood for election for the parliamentary seats from the Aksy and Tunduk districts. While both were the driving forces of political changes on March 24 this year, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and the parliament later expelled them from the government. Beknazarov was able to win a parliamentary seat and thus recover his role on the political scene, but Otunbayeva had lost to an unknown young businessman, Zhanysh Kudaibergenov.
Otunbayeva, along with Bakiyev, Beknazarov, and a number of other well-known opponents of former president Askar Akayev’s regime, was able to mobilize thousands of protestors against rigged parliamentary elections in February and March 2005. When dissatisfaction with Akayev’s maneuvering began to escalate across the country, Otunbayeva encouraged the crowds, saying that changing the political elites in Kyrgyzstan was not only possible but also inevitable. She openly challenged Bermet Akayeva, daughter of Askar Akayev, by trying to register at the University electoral district, where Bermet was actively promoting her candidacy for the parliament. When the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) refused to register Otunbayeva, controversy erupted about the pre-election process that favored pro-Akayev candidates.
Following the March 24 Tulip Revolution, Otunbayeva’s popular approval rating was higher than Bakiyev’s. As Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Otunbayeva effectively handled the crisis with the Uzbek refugees who had fled to southern Kyrgyzstan following the violent suppression of demonstrations in Andijan, Uzbekistan, on May 13-14. She also spoke out about the energy crisis Kyrgyzstan faced in early autumn as a result of Tashkent’s unilateral cancellation of an agreement on gas supplies.
Earlier this month unknown hooligans aggressively attacked Otunbayeva’s team. Prior to the elections, Otunbayeva had expressed her concerns that Kudaibergenov’s team had resorted to illegal means, including smear campaigns against other candidates. Otunbayeva faced severe criticism in the mass media outlets that are still allegedly affiliated with Akayev and his son-in-law, Adil Toigonbayev (Gazeta.kg, November 26, 27).
A number of voters from the Tunduk electoral district expressed their distrust of the elections’ outcome. Otunbayeva’s supporters claimed that there were numerous violations on election day, such as bribery and transportation of voters. But according to the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, the local election watchdog, the November 27 elections went off without major violations of the Election Code (Akipress, November 28).
Kudaibergenov, a 31 year-old businessman, is a close relative of assassinated parliamentarian Jyrgalbek Surabaldiyev (see EDM, November 23). He gained 52% of the vote, against 28% for Otunbayeva. As far as the Bakiyev government was concerned, Kudaibergenov was a more appealing candidate, being an unknown politician, compared to Otunbayeva, who has a solid background in international diplomacy.
It seems that Otunbayeva has lost her last chance to be actively involved in Kyrgyz governance. A number of Kyrgyz parliamentarians, including Melis Eshimkanov and Kubatbek Baibolov, expressed their regret that Otunbayeva was unsuccessful. “That Roza Otunbayeva did not gain a sufficient amount of votes shows the real state of the society. As always everything is being sold and bought. The presidential administration supported a young businessman, whom it can control. Roza Otunbayeva would dominate with her independence, intellect. But she did not have the money,” Eshimkanov told Kabar news (November 28). However, the current parliament also voted against Otunbayeva’s nomination as minister of foreign affairs in September, thus excluding her from the government (see EDM, October 4). Otunbayeva’s loss marked the complete shutout of female candidates in the Kyrgyz parliament.
Beknazarov had no difficulty in winning an absolute majority of the votes in his district in Aksy region. After Bakiyev demoted him from prosecutor-general, his supporters in Aksy staged several demonstrations against the president. Beknazarov has moved into the opposition to Bakiyev government, although previously both politicians had worked together to topple Akayev’s regime.
Topchubek Turgunaliyev, a human rights activist, has collected the 300,000 signatures necessary to initiate a referendum to dissolve the current parliament. The CEC is examining the validity of the signatures; the final decision on whether the referendum should be held will be announced by December 5. The prospect of dissolving the parliament is opposed not only by parliamentarians, but also by members of the government and some leaders of the March 24 Revolution. Since the parliament is comprised mostly of influential businessmen, the cancellation could lead to destabilization and new riots against the government. Turgunaliyev himself is convinced that the referendum will take place next spring (Nezavisimaya gazeta, November 22).
Several leaders of the Tulip Revolution have distanced themselves from Bakiyev’s regime in recent months. Most of them are now pursuing an independent political line that often comes into conflict with the government, if not challenging its stability. There is still a strong contingent of pro-Akayev political figures, mostly in the parliament, who can still obstruct efforts by Otunbayeva and Beknazarov to return to the government.