Speculations on Sariev’s possible resignation appeared in the media after a statement by Kyrgyzstan’s Minister of Transport and Communication, Argynbek Malabaev, on April 6. The minister publicly accused the prime minister of involvement in a tender to build a strategic 100-kilometer road in the Issyk-Kul province, linking the towns of Balykchy and Korumdu. The estimated cost of the project is ca US$ 100 million and the tender was won by the Chinese company Long Hai, which according to Malabaev “even lacked the license and the needed technical equipment to go ahead with the construction.” Malabaev claimed that he was out of the country in neighboring Kazakhstan during the selection process, and that his deputy helped the prime minister conclude the deal in order to attain personal gains for both of them from this large-scale project. In further support of his allegations, Malabaev also stated that Long Hai’s representative in Kyrgyzstan is a member of the prime minister’s party Ak-Shumkar.
In response to these allegations, Sariev sent a note to President Almazbek Atambayev, requesting Malabaev’s dismissal. The president’s office officially responded that there were no formal grounds to dismiss the minister. A specially created parliamentary commission was set up to investigate the case, chaired by Kanat Isaev, leader of the “Kyrgyzstan” parliamentary faction. Sariev issued a statement declaring that he does not believe in the objectivity of the commission “since its chair Mr. Isaev wanted to participate in the tender himself, but was late with the submission of documents.” However, before the parliamentary commission could complete its investigation, the prime minister announced his decision to step down. Standing in front of the parliament, Sariev stated, “I am resigning from the post of the prime minister, but for the sake of my good name, I am ready to fight till the end. I was never engaged in political intrigues and never will be. Even in the most difficult times, I have fought for my beliefs and principles and therefore, I am demanding an objective investigation of the case, not by a biased parliamentary commission, but by the Anti-Corruption Agency of the State Security Service.”
In his statement, Sariev also expressed his intention to remain active in politics. But according to former MP Ravshan Jeenbekov, “if after his resignation, Sariev will turn into an opposition politician, the authorities might open a criminal case against him regarding the tender. Therefore, he has the option to remain silent just like his predecessors.” Time will tell which path the former prime minister will choose; Sariev has previously stated his intention to pursue the presidency in the 2017 elections.
The unexpected resignation of Sariev, appointed less than a year ago, has generated varying reactions in Kyrgyzstan’s expert and political circles. According to political analyst Emil Juraev, “in a parliamentary system, the resignation of the head of the government is a normal and legitimate procedure. But given the recent border dispute with neighboring Uzbekistan as well as socio-economic challenges, this is not the best time to change the government.” Indeed, all former prime ministers of Kyrgyzstan since independence have served less than a year on average, without demonstrating any significant results and progress, be it in the economy or the social sphere.
Nevertheless, within one day, the ruling coalition chose a new prime minister; the former deputy head of the presidential administration Sooronbai Jeenbekov, who is considered extremely loyal to the president. Jeenbekov took office on April 13, without even presenting his government’s program, simply stating that he will pursue the agenda of his predecessor. There were no significant changes to the government. Malabaev is not included in the new government, but has publicly stated that the President has promised him another position, also in the transport sphere.
Following the appointment of a new prime minister, the speaker of parliament has also voluntarily stepped down, for the simple reason that he is Jeenbekov’s younger brother. The parliament now has to elect a new speaker.
Image attribution: pbs.twimg.com, accessed on May 3, 2016