Wednesday, 02 April 2014

Kyrgyzstan's Ata Meken Party Breaks Up Parliamentary Coalition to Dismiss Prime Minister

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By Jamil Payaz (04/02/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On March 25, Kyrgyzstan’s Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiev resigned following the dissolution of the parliamentary coalition, which was triggered by the withdrawal of the Ata Meken party on March 18. Ata Meken accused Satybaldiev of, inter alia, corruption issues while he headed a state agency that reconstructed Osh and Jalal-Abad after the ethnic clashes in 2010. Ata Meken’s leader boasted later that his party got rid of the government with which the public was dissatisfied.

There are various speculations as to the motives of Ata-Meken’s decision. Many consider the action as an attempt by the party to resurface on the political scene ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2015. The party won the lowest number of seats in parliament in 2011, despite the popularity of its leader Omurbek Tekebaev, who authored the Constitution introducing what is considered the first semi-parliamentary system in Central Asia. Equally important, the party has also been struggling to recover its reputation after its opponents branded it as a party of “marauders,” claiming its members raided the properties of the former president’s family. 

Over the last year, Tekebaev has aggressively exploited the issue of the Kumtor gold mine to attack Satybaldiev’s government. Eloquently using populist rhetoric, he contended that Kyrgyzstan should own at least 67 percent of the shares held by the mine’s operator Centerra, claiming that the government took too soft a stance in the negotiations and urged not to be afraid of renouncing the existing agreement. However, Ata Meken was less enthusiastic about supporting Respublica, the party of Tekebaev’s rival former Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov, when it tried for several months to gather MP signatures to call for a vote of no confidence in Satybaldiev in relation to largely the same issues.   

It is not clear what Ata Meken gained from exiting the coalition in the long run since President Atambaev, through his SDPK party, suggested that Vice Prime Minister Joomart Otorbaev be appointed Prime Minister of the future cabinet. Although nominally an Ata Meken member, Otorbaev has abstained from political intrigues and was firmly moving ahead with strategic projects buttressed by the president, including the creation of a Bishkek-based parity enterprise with Centerra, accession to the Russia-led Customs Union, the sale of KyrgyzGaz to Gazprom, and the tentative decision to sell half the shares in Manas International Airport to Russia’s Rosneft. Following his appointment as acting Prime Minister on March 26, Otorbaev reaffirmed his commitment to the deal reached between his predecessor and Centerra, and no deviation is expected from the course President Atambaev has taken. Therefore, it remains to be seen how Tekebaev will react to these controversial issues closer to the elections. They are likely to become politicized further, especially due to increasing fears among the public that the transfer of state assets to Russian companies undermines Kyrgyzstan’s independence.      

Former Finance Minister Akylbek Japarov argues that the five factions with a relatively equal number of seats in parliament will produce only a technocratic government, which will be further crippled by the need to respect the views of the coalition faction leaders and the president. Although supported by the President, Satybaldiev had no united team, as the coalition factions have divided among themselves the ministerial posts, as well as state agencies. President Atambaev has called on the factions to stop this practice, which he said leads to “political corruption.”         

SDPK has invited all five factions to enter a coalition, but MPs believe that the same factions, SDPK, Ar Namys, and Ata Meken, are likely to form a new coalition. Respublica unequivocally wants to bring back its leader Babanov to the post of Prime Minister, despite the fact that size of the party’s parliamentary faction has shrunk. A dozen of its members have organized into MP groups, with some even revoking their party membership and expressing interest in joining SDPK or other parties outside parliament. Currently, it has 12 seats as opposed to the initial 23. 

In fact, all factions except for SDPK have become smaller with the creation of a number of MP groups, such as Onuguu (Progress), Democrats, Bir-Bol (Stay United), and Yntymak (Harmony). The other opposition party, Ata Jurt, is facing internal obstacles to join the coalition, since three of its MPs were stripped of their mandates after spending a year in prison and two have been arrested on charges of corruption. It thus seems that SDPK's attempt to form a broader coalition is not likely to materialize, and the future coalition will not be immune to impulses of faction leaders like Tekebaev at least until the next elections in 2015.         

Edil Baisalov, a well-known public activist, argues that this system leaves the government and legislative branches negligent to the actions they take. He says the government should be formed of MPs to ensure their accountability for decisions they make, and cabinet members should return to parliament after their work ends to make sure they are held accountable to their voters.

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