Books on Kyrgyzstan
Update No: 307 - (27/07/06)
Bakiyev faces growing opposition
There is always a period of disillusionment that sets in after a successful
revolution. The high hopes it generates are never fully met.
Just over one year after Kyrgyzstan's March 24 Tulip Revolution Kyrgyz President
Kurmanbek Bakiyev faces outspoken criticism of his regime from both political
and non-governmental sources. Although the current political situation in
Kyrgyzstan largely resembles the final years of former president Akayev's
regime, when the general public was dissatisfied with widespread corruption and
ineffective economic policies, most political actors now strive to avoid another
revolution. That is one gain of the turn events have taken.
The majority of Bakiyev's opponents are his former political allies who helped
him to oust Akayev's regime. Corrupt regime politics are driving more and more
prominent political figures into the opposition camp. To date, Roza Otunbayeva,
Azimbek Beknazarov, and Omurbek Tekebayev are Bakiyev's most active challengers.
All three leaders were also strong opposition forces against former president
Akayev. For several years they acted separately by leading their own political
factions, but in late 2004 they united into one block.
The new political opposition claims that Bakiyev is repeating the mistakes made
by Akayev. Specifically, the president is becoming increasingly authoritarian in
appointing government members and curbing freedom of speech. To avoid a further
deterioration of political transparency in Kyrgyzstan, the new opposition is
acting more thoughtfully than their counterparts did during the Akayev era. In
particular, former foreign minister and Akayev critic Otunbayeva is drawing
attention to the success of political party building in Kyrgyzstan. According to
her, the current opposition values social cohesion and seeks to involve large
numbers of people, as opposed to clustering around a few charismatic
The new political opposition is also revealing some previously unknown details
about the March 24 revolution. According to Otunbayeva, shortly before the
parliamentary elections in February-March 2005, Bakiyev was pushed forward by
political figures from southern parts of the country. She claims that three
years ago, when Absamat Masaliyev, an "elder statesman" of Kyrgyz
politics and a parliamentarian from the south, was still alive, he informally
anointed Bakiyev to become the next presidential candidate. Political figures
such as Usen Sydykov pledged to follow Masaliyev's orders after his death and
supported Bakiyev as the Tulip Revolution unfolded.
Otunbayeva has been criticized for not revealing the nuances of the current
political regime while she was still part of the post-March 24 government (analitik.kg,
March 12). However, she claims that she was not able to remain in the government
because she constantly confronted the president's cadre politics and opposed the
many manifestations of nepotism. She was offered various positions in the
foreign service before parliament rejected her nomination to become foreign
Otunbayeva and Beknazarov had asked Bakiyev to make a report on March 24 about
the progress made by the new government since last year. Both opposition leaders
are pessimistic about changes brought by the revolution, yet neither denies the
fact that the revolution was necessary.
Meanwhile, the president had announced beforehand that March 24 would be a
public holiday, with nation-wide celebrations organized by the government. Top
government officials -- Bakiyev, Prime Minister Felix Kulov, Head of
Presidential Administration Usen Sydykov, State Secretary Dastan Sarygulov, and
Vice Prime Minister Adakhan Modumarov -- were all actively promoting the day's
symbolic significance. Celebrations were held in all of Kyrgyzstan's largest
cities, and a special monument commemorating the Tulip Revolution was erected in
Jalalabad, Bakiyev's birthplace.
Bakiyev's efforts to celebrate the March 24 anniversary show the president's
detachment from society's prevailing mood. Behind the spectacle of the upcoming
events, there is deep disappointment with the regime among both the urban and
rural populations. For many Bishkek residents the events of March 24, 2005, are
still closely associated with the looting and banditry that followed the
takeover of the government headquarters and the demoralization of
law-enforcement agencies. Businessmen who suffered from arson and theft still
have not received monetary compensation for their losses. "March 24 should
be called the day of triumph for looters and hooligans," one student from
Bishkek commented bitterly.
Speculation was circulating in Bishkek that another mass uprising against
Bakiyev government might have taken place on March 24 this year. However, it did
not. Members of the new opposition have confirmed that they are determined to
build exclusively constructive relations with the government until the next
presidential and parliamentary elections are held in 2010.
EU in support
As the only country in Central Asia attempting democratic reforms,
Kyrgyzstan won praise in mid-July in Brussels at a meeting with senior EU
officials. However, the praise was tempered privately by EU diplomats, who
stressed the challenges still facing the country.
Finnish Foreign Ministry Secretary of State Pertti Torstila, who led the EU
delegation at the meeting, said the EU understands the difficulties facing
Kyrgyzstan. "We [understand] the difficult situation which currently [the]
Kyrgyz Republic is facing and welcome the earnest efforts of Kyrgyz authorities
to address the problems such as widespread corruption and organized crime,"
"[The] Kyrgyz Republic is an exception in the region," Torstila added.
"The responsible handling of protests and demonstrations by the authorities
is exemplary, but we on the European side emphasized continuing engagement which
is needed to stabilize the political situation."
Still Far To Go
However, EU officials say privately that there remains a world of difference
between Kyrgyzstan and countries like Ukraine and Georgia, which have undergone
recent democratic "revolutions."
One EU official who was present at the meeting told RFE/RL on condition of
anonymity that "there is hope" for Kyrgyzstan, but added that he
"wouldn't say there is light at the end of tunnel yet."
The official said the EU expected "big changes" in the aftermath of
recent political upheavals, which did not materialize. In fact, he noted,
"things got worse," with "criminal gangs" entering the
political arena and the government.
Organized Crime In Politics
He said a turning point may have come with the killing of a leading alleged
criminal figure, Ryspek Akmatbaev, who was suspected of having close links to
the "clan" of President Kurmanbek Bakiev.
The EU official said the killing put an end to a climate of "physical
fear" and brought "enormous relief" to Kyrgyz society. He praised
the Kyrgyz government, which is now trying to "get to grips with the
situation," carry out constitutional reforms, and attract investment.
However, the official noted, these remain daunting tasks -- while it is
"very, very important" to secure investments and revitalize the
economy, there are virtually no EU investors in Kyrgyzstan.
Financial Help Needed Above All
The EU-Kyrgyz meeting covered a wide range of issues. Apart from political
and economic reforms, Torstila highlighted the role of the Organization for
Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE), the treatment of Uzbek refugees, and
The head of the Kyrgyz delegation, First Deputy Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov
said "over 40" issues were covered. He said Kyrgyzstan is looking to
the EU as "a model of democracy and successful regional integration."
However, he said Bishkek most values concrete economic assistance.
"We would like to have more economic cooperation in our bilateral
relations, we would like investments from the EU, we would like to invite
private business from the EU to Kyrgyzstan," Usenov said. "We would
like to say that our legal groundwork and tax reforms have thrown the doors wide
open to [such investments]."
Usenov said Kyrgyzstan has compiled a list of concrete projects in the fields of
hydroelectric energy, mining, and water management, among others, for which EU
financing or investors are sought.
Usenov also said that Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev will visit EU
headquarters in Brussels in October.
Limited EU Assistance
At the mid-July meeting, the European Commission promised financial aid to
some of the projects floated by the Kyrgyz delegation. The EU also said it will
help Kyrgyzstan finance reforms of its penitentiary system, develop the energy
sector, and fund a poverty-alleviation strategy.
EU sources said after the meeting all these issues are crucial in persuading
European investors to target Kyrgyzstan.
Another EU official said the EU had to remind the Kyrgyz side that EU investors
were not at the beck and call of EU governments. He said Kyrgyzstan needs to do
more to persuade investors they and their property would be safe. He noted
tourism would have "enormous potential," adding that "tourists
like adventure, but not when there are people with shotguns everywhere."
Better Regional Ties Needed
The official said Kyrgyzstan was in the first instance much more likely to
attract investors from neighbouring Kazakstan or Turkey, than the EU.
The official noted Kyrgyzstan remains a very poor country even against the
backdrop of its own region. He said that while Kyrgyzstan's annual gross
domestic product (GDP) per capita struggles to reach US$300, that of Kazakstan
is US$3,000-US$5,000 "and growing."
As a result, large numbers of impoverished Kyrgyz citizens are forced to seek
work in neighbouring countries, contributing to regional tensions.
The EU official noted that Kyrgyzstan has "difficult neighbours" in
any case. Relations with Uzbekistan are tense in the aftermath of the Andijan
massacre last year, and a largely still under-demarcated border serves to
complicate matters. Bishkek's cooperation with Tajikistan has improved, but, as
the EU official noted, the situation on Kyrgyzstan's borders remains
New power supply project
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan signed a quadrilateral
agreement on implementation of power supply project from Tajikistan and
Kyrgyzstan to Pakistan via Afghanistan at Power, Transit and Trade International
Conference in Turkey, Radio Kabul, reported.
On arrival at Kabul international airport, Afghanistan's Energy and Power
Minister, Muhammad Ismail, said that Afghanistan and Pakistan signed the
agreement as power consumers while Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan signed as power
suppliers. A two-day conference held at Istanbul city of Turkey at the
initiative of US Trade and Development Agreement was also attended by the US
Altimo buys cellular operator
Russia's Altimo, formerly known as Alfa Telecom, has completed a deal to buy a
100 per cent stake in Sky Mobile, which owns a licence to provide GSM services
in Kyrgyzstan, Altimo said recently, New Europe reproted.
"Countries in Central Asia are a priority for Altimo business development.
We consider Kyrgyzstan to be one of the most promising mobile communications
markets in the region and plan to actively develop Sky Mobile as the third
national GSM operator. In the very near future we will develop an investment
programme to plan and build mobile communications networks throughout the
republic," the press release quoted Altimo Vice President Kirill Babaev as