By Arslan Sabyrbekov (04/29/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On April 23, Kyrgyzstan’s Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev has announced his decision to step down, even though the country’s lawmakers have rated his government’s performance for the year 2014 as satisfactory. He is the fourth Prime Minister to resign in the last five years and the 26th since the country’s independence.
When announcing his resignation, the now interim Prime Minister thanked the majority coalition for recognizing his work as satisfactory. He refrained from giving any motive for his decision, simply stating that “No monopoly of power can exist in a democratic country. Therefore, the branch of government should be shaken again. I pursued the goal of the country’s development and advancement and hope that with this decision, the majority coalition can choose a more decisive head of the executive and that this will become a normal practice in the political culture of the country, when high officials leave their posts voluntarily.” Otorbaev also stated that his resignation will not affect the country’s path towards assuming full membership in the Eurasian Economic Union this May.
Immediately after Otorbaev’s decision, Kyrgyz political and expert circles put forward various reasons for his resignation. According to Asylbek Djeenbekov, the Speaker of Parliament, Otorbaev’s decision comes amid a renewed controversy over the operations of the Kumtor Gold Company, which remains one of the biggest unresolved issues for the country. Indeed, much of Otorbaev’s time in office was marked by difficult negotiations with Toronto-based Centerra Gold over the future of the Kumtor Gold Company, which according to various estimates accounts for 12 percent of the country’s GDP and nearly half of its industrial output.
Currently, the Kyrgyz government controls around one-third of the Company, with Canada’s Centerra Gold controlling the rest of the shares. In recent years, the country’s opposition and public have made numerous demands to nationalize the mine or to create a new joint venture with a 50-50 split in ownership, an initiative hampered several times by international tribunals. The Prime Minister opposed this idea as well, stating last month that the launch of a joint venture is no longer in the country’s national interest due to Centerra’s new, lower estimate of the gold reserves. Instead, Otorbaev expressed his intention to increase the government’s representation on Centerra’s board of directors, coming under massive attack from a number of parliamentarians.
However, a number of political experts believe that Otorbaev’s resignation has nothing to do with the fate of the Gold Company. Former MP Alisher Mamasaliev sees pure political motives behind the unexpected move. In his words, “the ruling political leadership cannot afford to have a government in place, which is very much unpopular in the eyes of the electorate, especially shortly before the parliamentary elections, and is striving to appoint a loyal head of the executive.” Others are already speculating who will become the 27th prime minister, mentioning the current Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Economy, both fitting the criteria that the Kyrgyz White House is currently looking for.
Otorbaev’s resignation has also prompted local political analysts to speak of the overall crisis in the country’s management system. Since last September, 10 out of 15 Ministers announced their decision to resign, with some elaborating on the matter and others giving no comments. This speaks in favor of the argument that in times of socio-economic instability in the country, with crucial issues unresolved, no one is willing to take responsibility. On April 24, President Almazbek Atambayev accepted the Prime Minister’s resignation, which according to the country’s constitution means the resignation of the entire government. The current three-party majority coalition has 15 days to nominate a new head of the executive to the legislature.
Local media are also speculating over Otorbaev’s future. Some claim that the urbane, Western-oriented, English-speaking politician, who previously worked for Philips Company and taught physics in the Netherlands for several years, might assume a senior position in one of the international financial institutions. Others argue that he will be competing for a parliamentary seat in the upcoming elections.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.