On March 25, 1998, there was a joint session of the two houses of Kyrgyzstan’s Zhogorku Kenesh, or parliament — the Assembly of People’s Representatives and the Legislative Assembly. Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev spoke to the joint session, informing those present of a statement made by then-Prime Minister Alas Dzhumagulov. Dzhumagulov had offered the president his resignation from the post of prime minister. His being at retirement age (64 years old) was given as the reason for his voluntary departure.
Of course, Dzhumagulov’s departure was dictated not only by this plausible external reason, but also for internal reasons, hidden from the eyes of those who are innocent of what goes on within the elite at the republic’s highest echelons. In order to find out these internal reasons, one must answer the following questions: “What is Dzhumagulov’s political image?” and “How did he become prime minister?” The answers to these questions will help give a more objective assessment of the political situation in the republic.
Alas Dzhumagulov comes from Chui Region, graduated from the Moscow Oil Institute, and began his career after graduating, as a laboratory assistant at Kyrgyzneft. From 1963 to 1973, he worked as that organization’s chief engineer. From 1973 to 1984, he was a section chief, and later a secretary of the Central Committee of Soviet Kirgizia’s Communist Party, and from 1986 to 1990, he was Chairman of the republic’s Council of Ministers. He holds the degree of Candidate of Geological and Mineralogical Sciences, and is a member of the International Academy of Engineers.
Thus, Dzhumagulov is one of the republic’s top government officials, who enjoys great prestige among the population. Moreover, by nature, he is more of a manager than a politician. It is this character trait which made it possible for Dzhumagulov to remain in the high posts of Central Committee secretary and Chairman of the Council of Ministers under two different first secretaries: Turdakun Usubaliev and Absamat Masaliev.
Realizing that Dzhumagulov had no ambitions to be a political leader, Akaev picked him out of five candidates nominated by the deputies of the Zhogorku Kenesh in November 1993, even though he only came in second (to then Communist leader Zhumgalbek Amanbaev) in a poll of the deputies themselves.
Akaev’s choice proved to be a shrewd one; Dzhumagulov did not run for president in the 1995 elections. If he had decided to do so, the bureaucracy would have been divided into two camps: Akaev’s supporters and supporters of the prime minister. And quite probably, Akaev would not have been re-elected. But Dzhumagulov decided against such a step, and the bureaucracy united behind one man: Akaev. This, to a significant degree, predetermined his success in the presidential elections.
After his election, Akaev held a referendum, on February 10, 1996, to introduce amendments to the republic’s constitution. These amendments gave broad powers to the president, while limiting the authority of the Zhogorku Kenesh. Moreover, the president could form the government at his own discretion and approve its members. The Assembly of People’s Representatives has the right to confirm the appointment of the prime minister. But if it rejects a candidate three times, the president has the right to dissolve parliament.
In his first two years (1994-1995), Dzhumagulov somehow managed to resolve economic problems on his own by adroit maneuvering between the president and the parliament. But after the constitutional amendments were introduced, the prime minister lost many of his powers. For example, in forming the government, the president only has to consult with the prime minister, who himself does not have the right to appoint ministers, governors, or the heads of city and district governments (akims). According to the law “On the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic,” the prime minister can only appoint and remove deputy ministers, deputy regional governors, deputy akims, and the directors of state enterprises. Therefore, it is the president who is the head of the government; the prime minister is only his deputy. Paradoxically, it is nevertheless the prime minister who is responsible for the government’s work. Naturally, this benefits the president: he can take credit for successes while blaming the prime minister for any failures.
Of course, this situation could not satisfy Dzhumagulov for long. Therefore, the main reason why Dzhumagulov left his post was because he could not make independent decisions, either in personnel policy or in economic policy. The prime minister’s limited authority made it impossible for Dzhumagulov to work out a strategy for the government’s economic reforms. Dzhumagulov only carried out purely executive functions, and was bogged down in organizational matters.
All of the government media reported that GDP increased by 5.6 percent from 1995 to 1996. GDP increased by 10.4 percent from 1996 to 1997. But this is nothing but the usual disinformation, because official GDP figures are measured in terms of the national currency–the som. GDP figures expressed in soms are very impressive; the curve goes up every time. If the same GDP figures were expressed in US dollars, the GDP curve would be falling, not rising.(1)
Clearly these results could not satisfy Askar Akaev, whose main political goal is to be reelected president for a third term. This would be a crude violation of the Kyrgyz Constitution, Article 43 of which states that: “The same person cannot be elected President of the Kyrgyz Republic for more than two consecutive terms.” But Akaev has always managed to change the constitution to fit his aims. There won’t be any technical problems in introducing the necessary changes. The president can simply issue a decree saying that a referendum will be held on the issue. Then, all he has to do is attract the voters to his side. In this situation, what he needs is a populist political idea, which boils down to promising to turn Kyrgyzstan into “a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Dzhumagulov, a pragmatist “to the marrow of his bones,” would have been unable to come up with a such a populist idea. The former prime minister, due to his practical mindset, would not have been able to support the president’s adventurist ideas. Therefore, Akaev had to remove him. He needed a like-minded prime minister, who would support all his initiatives wholeheartedly, no matter how reckless they are.
Unlike an experienced administrator, Akaev, due to his lack of government experience, is usually unable to name a subordinate’s shortcomings and remove him from office. Many ministers are removed when they are on foreign trips or are unexpectedly fired, without any notice or explanation. A new method was used to remove Dzhumagulov. Materials began to appear in the pro-presidential mass media accusing the prime minister of having control over fuel and lubricants and liquor. Rumors were spread that Dzhumagulov was the richest man in the country. This massive psychological pressure on Dzhumagulov played the final role in the prime minister’s voluntary departure.
Immediately after Dzhumagulov’s resignation, Akaev named the former chief of his administration, Kubanychbek Zhumaliev, acting prime minister.
The new 42-year-old prime minister, after graduating from Ryazan Radiotechnical Institute in 1978 (specializing in physical electronics), began his career as a junior research assistant at the Frunze Polytechnic Institute [FPI]. From 1979 to 1982, he was a graduate student at FPI, where Askar Akaev was his academic advisor and the head of the department of computer engineering. From 1983 to 1986, he was the chief engineer and the secretary of the FPI’s Komsomol committee. From 1986 to May 1992, he was a senior research assistant at FPI, at the Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Physics, and the director of the Optoelektronika laboratory. After that, until March 1998, he was the director of the Academy of Sciences’ Scientific and Engineering Center, the head of the State Committee on Science and New Technologies, the first deputy state secretary, and head of the president’s administration. He holds the degree of Doctor of Technical Sciences, and is a member of the National and International Academies of Engineering.
From his biography, it is clear that Zhumaliev has no managerial experience i.e., he has not been the director of a large firm or enterprise. Akaev admitted this shortcoming before the deputies. He asked them all to help the new prime minister with their advice, and to share their economic experience with him.
At the March 25 joint session of the Zhogorku Kenesh, the deputies, without any objections, confirmed the appointment of Kubanychbek Zhumaliev as prime minister. There are two reasons for this. First, the deputies did not want a confrontation with the president, which could end in the dissolution of parliament. Second, clearly the deputies thought that Zhumaliev, having no managerial experience, would discredit not only himself as a leader, but his teacher — the president–as well. In this case, the chances of certain deputies who are going to run for president in the year 2000 will be much better.
The fact that Zhumaliev was his former graduate student, who was accustomed to trust him implicitly and who had never let him down, played a decisive role in the president’s choice. Moreover, it was also important that the national anti-poverty program “Araket,” planned for the period 1998-2005, was drawn up under Zhumaliev’s leadership.
An analysis of this program shows that it is yet another utopian scheme, very similar to the one in which Askar Akaev intended to transform Kyrgyzstan into “a second Switzerland” in three years. For example, according to the program, the goal is to raise the minimum wage to 445 soms in 2005, and the average wage to 2,290 soms. But if one considers the rate at which the som falls each year in relation to the US dollar, (in May 1993, one dollar was worth 3.4 soms), one can’t help thinking that this is nothing but another unfounded adventuristic scheme.
The program is intended for the average voter, and is reminiscent of the utopian plans of Nikita Khrushchev and Mikhail Gorbachev. The first, as is well-known, promised the people that communism would be built by 1980, and the second guaranteed that every Soviet family would have an apartment by the year 2000.
But winning votes with the help of the Araket program, of course, will not be enough. Akaev and his entourage understand this quite well. Therefore, his political strategy is built on exploiting voters’ regional consciousness. For example, 51 percent of the republic’s voters live in the south. To receive their support, southerners are being appointed to key posts in the government and other state structures. In addition to the prime minister, other prominent southerners include: Abdygany Erkebaev, the speaker of the Assembly of People’s Representatives; Karimsher Abdimomunov, the minister of agriculture and water resources; Zhantoro Satybaldiev, the minister of transportation and communications; and Omar Sultanov, the new chief of the presidential administration. Sultanov’s brother–Marat Sultanov–is the chairman of Kyrgyzstan’s national bank.
In addition to regionalism, Akaev is placing his bets on the largest national minority–the Russians, who make up about 20 percent of the republic’s voters. For this reason, Akaev has appointed Boris Silaev, the former mayor of Bishkek, first deputy premier. Unlike Zhumaliev, Silaev has a great deal of experience working in state enterprises, and has also worked for many years in leading party positions. This tandem of an academic and a manager should, in Akaev’s estimation, give him the effective result he needs in resolving these and other political and economic problems.
In addition to preparing for the 2000 presidential elections in the ways noted above, the primary organizations of the “party of power” in the localities are being intensively reinforced. All this is being done under the slogan of reforming local government.
At the present time, 458 rural administrations have been created. Last year, the leaders of these rural administrations were sworn in. During the swearing-in process, reliable supporters of the “party of power” and of Akaev personally were put in these posts. But when devotion to the power structures, and not competence and administrative ability, are the main criteria in the choice of local leaders, it leads to tragic consequences.
Leaders of the central and local governments were responsible for two tragedies which took place in May which resulted in hundreds of millions of soms worth of damage to the republic (and loss of life–which the local authorities are trying to cover up): the break in the dike in Suzaksk district in the south of the republic, and the truck accident which caused a potassium cyanide spill in Barskaun canyon in the north, and led to the poisoning of the Barskaun river and Lake Issyk-Kul. According to official figures, more than 1,400 people have reported to doctors with medical complaints. Dozens of people are in the hospital. The true scale of the environmental tragedy has not yet been determined.
Two years ago, money had been appropriated to reinforce the dikes in Suzaksk district, but it was used for other purposes. The second incident was the fault of the Canadian corporation “Kumtor Operating Company,” which was working at the Kumtor gold field. The company did not comply with its obligations to transport poisonous substances safely under its general agreement with the Kyrgyz government. But the government did not monitor whether the companies were complying with these obligations.
Naturally, these cases have not brought political dividends to the present government, led by Askar Akaev. In spite of the measures he has taken to remain in power, discontent is slowly but surely on the increase. The reason for this discontent is the irresponsibility at all levels of government. It is clear to everyone today that those at fault in both tragedies will not be subjected to serious punishment, since in the end, it will come out that they are “reliable” people, loyal to President Askar Akaev.
1. Res Publica, No.3, (January 1-February 2, 1998)
“Sadji” is the pen-name of a Bishkek journalist who contributes regularly to the weekly newspaper Res Publica.
Translated by Mark Eckert