The new Kyrgyz government, formed following the December 16, 2007, parliamentary elections, is comprised mostly of old faces who survived the numerous reshuffling efforts of former president Askar Akayev, the change of presidents in March 2005, and the recent parliamentary elections.
President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has surrounded himself in the new government with loyal political supporters primarily interested in the continuity of the current political regime and their public offices. This political clique will be interested in having Bakiyev re-elected in 2010. But the clique’s populist and corrupt politics almost certainly will prevent Bakiyev from peacefully and predictably transforming state power.
Most of the new ministers have low popular approval ratings. However, Bakiyev installed his candidates into the government with ease, as his newly formed Ak Zhol political bloc occupies the majority of parliamentary seats. Only two opposition political parties – Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan and Ata Meken – are represented in parliament.
The president’s choice of Igor Chudinov – a former businessman, director of KyrgyzGaz, and minister of energy – as prime minister came as a surprise for many. The energy sector in Kyrgyzstan is known for its endemic corruption. Chudinov is an ethnic Russian who was able to secure stable positions in public and business structures after Bakiyev came into power. He has already announced a few projects to develop energy sites in the country, but whether he will be able to successfully implement them and curb corruption in the energy sector remains to be seen. Chudinov is the fourth prime minister in Kyrgyzstan since Bakiyev became president in 2005.
Saparbek Balkibekov, former chair of Elektricheskiye stansii, replaced Chudinov at his ministerial position. Under Balkibekov, Elektricheskiye stansii, Kyrgyzstan’s major producer and retailer of hydropower, was infamous for having up to $40 million embezzled every year.
Former Bishkek mayor Arstanbek Nogoyev was appointed minister of agriculture. Nogoyev has been Bakiyev’s loyal political follower, notorious for carrying out all of president’s orders during his mayoral tenure. He is often ridiculed for his policies of cleaning streets and tearing down buildings after the president expressed his displeasure with the city’s appearance.
The new minister of education, Ishengul Bolzhurova, had been a loyal friend of former president Akayev and his family, but she reoriented her support toward Bakiyev’s regime in a matter of days.
A number of other ministers, including justice and foreign affairs, had proved their lasting loyalty to Bakiyev before the parliamentary elections and retained their posts.
The current Kyrgyz parliament is full of unprofessional people with uncertain political views. As one political observer in Bishkek comments, despite a better representation of women, ethnic minorities, and young politicians, “The parliament is full of ‘dead souls’ willing to follow the regime.” New Parliamentary Speaker Adakhan Madumarov is known for his populist politics during Akayev and Bakiyev’s presidency.
Meanwhile, Bakiyev’s opposition has chosen a rather passive position since its defeat in the December 16 elections. Although opposition parties underwent rapid development in the three months prior to the elections, most of them remain silent about the government’s widespread falsifications during the elections. Few public protests or media statements have occurred since the elections.
However, the political opposition will gain strength in the coming month if Bakiyev’s government is unable to respond to a looming economic crisis. Local experts expect that inflation rates in 2008 in Kyrgyzstan will reach 12-15% due to Uzbekistan’s increase of gas prices (from $100 to $140 per 1,000 cubic meters) and rising prices for oil and wheat products. However, remittances sent by Kyrgyz migrants in Russia and Kazakhstan, and to a lesser extent from Europe and the United States, will help blunt the economic crisis. According to the Economist’s data for 2006, labor migrants’ remittances comprise roughly 32% of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP. But the overall economic picture seems murky for Kyrgyzstan in 2008.
In the coming month the opposition might be able to mobilize the population to protest increasing prices for food and utilities. But it is likely that only elections, either parliamentary or presidential, will offer the next possible window of opportunity for the opposition to regroup against the regime. Bakiyev, the new parliament, and new Kyrgyz government members have invested resources and time into attaining offices despite strong opposition competitors. They will not give up their positions easily.
(Akipress.kg, 24.kg, Bely parohod, Economist, December 20, 2007-January 9, 2008)