Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Kyrgyzstan's President Announces 2014 as Year of Strengthening Statehood

Published in Field Reports

By Jamil Payaz (the 19/02/2014 of the CACI Analyst)

On January 30, President Almazbek Atambayev signed a decree announcing 2014 as the year of strengthening statehood. He stated that the main threats to Kyrgyzstan’s statehood emanate from tensions within the political elite and irresponsible activities of some politicians that jeopardize national security and people’s unity. The decree comes at a time when the opposition has grown increasingly weak after a number of corruption cases have been launched against its leaders.  Critics say the government’s campaign for enforcing the rule of law and against corruption are applied selectively. 

In his decree, President Atambayev identified the state of the political elite as the main problem and a source of major challenges to the state. He faulted some members of the elite for lacking a statesmanlike approach and using populist rhetoric in order to gain access to state resources or avoid justice for abuse of power committed as former officials. He stressed that a special category of politicians has emerged who possess the manpower and control of media outlets to destabilize some regions by fuelling interregional, tribal, and interethnic issues.  The decree recommends that the parliament and the government streamline the legislation and take measures aimed at ensuring the rule of law and effective state management through balancing the central and local governments’ powers; and at preventing political extremism, regionalism, and nationalism.

In fact, the prospect of arrests for organizing protests advocating nationalization of the Kumtor gold mine, which resulted in a hostage taking and violent clashes with the police last year, effectively muted many opposition leaders. This is especially true for the Ata Jurt faction in the parliament, which enjoys major support in the country’s south. Former Ata Jurt MP Sadyr Japarov, who spent over a year in prison and was stripped of his MP mandate, left for Minsk, Belarus, in October following an anti-Centerra protest in Karakol, Yssyk-Kul, apparently mobilized by him and his relatives. There the protesters, some on horseback, kept the governor of the province, Emil Kaptagayev, as a hostage in a gasoline-soaked car, which, local authorities stressed, belonged to Japarov’s sister.  Shortly after this incident, another vociferous opponent of the government who has likewise lost his MP mandate, Kamchybek Tashiev, was cowed into silence after his teenage son was caught with a petty crime. 

Practically, the absence of these ardent critics of Atambayev in the parliament helped the government to pass controversial deals through the legislature, including the sale of Kyrgyzgas to Russia’s Gazprom and the new arrangement with Canada’s Centerra over the Kumtor gold mine.      

It is clear that the opposition Ata Jurt party, which harbors many former officials once close to the former president’s regime, asymmetrically suffered from the anti-corruption campaign, as some key members of the current cabinet are believed to have committed equally grave crimes. Ata Jurt’s two MPs, Nurlan Sulaimanov and Kurmanbek Osmonov, left Kyrgyzstan following news of their possible arrests on embezzlement and corruption charges. The election authority has recently stripped Sulaimanov of his mandate for failing over 30 times to take part in parliamentary sessions. Yet, the most publicized case of all is the arrest of another Ata Jurt MP, Akmatbek Keldibekov, who is accused of corruption, abuse of power, and fraud while he headed the Social Fund in 2005 and the State Tax Service in 2008, and was the Speaker of the parliament in 2010. Few doubt his guilt, but his wealth and a network of supporters in the south might pose real challenges to the government in the event of his conviction. 

The decree also comes two weeks after the mayoral elections in Osh, which resulted in the victory of a pro-Atambayev candidate, Aitmamat Kadyrbaev, over the controversial mayor Melis Myrsakmatov. Myrsakmatov gained popularity in Osh, particularly among ethnic Kyrgyz, following the June 2010 interethnic clashes by using nationalist rhetoric and embarking on reconstructing the city’s infrastructure, as well as erecting monuments of Kyrgyz heroes in the city. As the only high-ranking official who remained in his position after the ousting of the Bakiyev regime in April 2010, Myrzakmatov was viewed as unbridled by Bishkek as he single-handedly ran the country’s second-largest city, criticized the central government, and buttressed Keldibekov’s supporters in the south. 

It is not clear what awaits Myrzakmatov, but he will likely lose control of the OshTV channel. The decree coincides with a criminal case launched against the channel for allegedly inciting interregional hatred while covering the January 15 mayoral elections. Representatives of law enforcement agencies have already said that the channel’s ownership documents, controversially signed in 2010, are under review and that its antennas will be dismantled. In the wake of the June events, Myrzakmatov reportedly took over the channel from an ethnic Uzbek owner. Up until the elections, the channel was used to feed his popularity and counterbalance his coverage in the state channels. In spring, when Myrzakmatov has promised to resume his political activity, he might have no means to wage his media campaign. 

On February 12, the fragmented opposition groups joined a United Opposition Movement, to oppose what they called a revival of authoritarianism, one-man rule, and economic crisis. A pro-U.S. MP, Ravshan Jeenbekov, was elected leader of what looks like a discordant movement, harboring conflicting views on major issues including the Customs Union, foreign investment, and minority issues. However, Atambayev’s failure to show impartiality in enforcing laws and fighting corruption might easily generate a wide support for this group.

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