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.
By Arslan Sabyrbekov (04/02/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On March 26, Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev paid a one day visit to Kazakhstan. The sides used this meeting to discuss ways of further strengthening bilateral relations and ways to cooperate in the framework of integration processes taking place in Eurasia.
The meeting took place in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest and financially strongest city. The heads of the two states discussed a number of issues of bilateral concern, including trade, investment, water and energy, as well as aspects of cultural and humanitarian cooperation. Both presidents put special emphasis on the activities of the joint Kazakh-Kyrgyz Investment Fund, created in 2011 with the primary objective of assisting Kyrgyzstan in its economic development. Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev stated that the “Kazakh-Kyrgyz Investment Fund plays one of the leading roles in enhancing bilateral economic relations and since its creation, Kazakhstan’s trade with Kyrgyzstan has increased by 41 percent, therefore exceeding one billion dollars.” President Nazarbayev also informed the delegates that over the course of Kyrgyzstan’s independence, Kazakh businessmen invested over one billion dollars into the economy of the neighboring state.
In turn, President Atambayev thanked his Kazakh colleague for his kind invitation, noting that Kazakhstan is a leading country in the region in terms of its impressive socio-economic development and its tremendously important contribution to ensuring regional peace and stability.
Local experts made different assumptions after Atambayev’s visit to Kazakhstan. Some believe that the visit took place on the request of the Russian Federation with the objective of accelerating Kyrgyzstan’s entry into the Customs Union and encourage it to fully join Kazakhstan in recognizing the recent referendum in the Crimean peninsula as legitimate.
According to Guljigit Isakov, Director of the Bishkek based NGO Fair Elections, “in terms of its foreign policy towards Kyrgyzstan, Russia delivers its messages through Astana, which for example remains to be the case regarding Bishkek’s entry into the Customs Union under preferable terms.” Isakov added that the meeting might have focused on Bishkek’s two diverging positions on the situation in Ukraine, where it first officially recognized the current Ukrainian political leadership and also recently made a surprising statement that the referendum in Crimea was legal and demonstrates the peoples’ democratic choice, unlike Astana which fully supports Moscow’s position over the Ukrainian crisis. Isakov stated that Bishkek is on its way to losing sovereignty and might turn into a modern type colony.
Alikbek Djekshenkulov, Kyrgyzstan’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs and leader of the opposition political party Akyikat, has also strongly condemned Bishkek’s ambivalent position on Ukraine and called on the country’s leadership to pursue a stable and predictable foreign policy. According to Djekshenkulov, “in a globalized world and as a small country, Kyrgyzstan should conduct a multi-vector foreign policy and pursue its national interests.” Djekshenkulov justified Astana’s position on Ukraine as a preventive measure for preserving its territorial integrity and as yet another protection from Russian pressure, which can take place in the future.
Other local experts believe that the situation in Ukraine was not a major subject discussed during the meeting between the two presidents in Almaty. Azamat Akeleev, a Bishkek based civil activist and economist, expressed an unexpected point of view by suggesting that during the meeting President Nazarbayev could have called on his Kyrgyz counterpart to refrain from joining the Russia-led Customs Union. Akeleev believes that “President Nazarbayev wants to find a common position with Kyrgyzstan since the next project of the Russian Federation after the Customs Union is the establishment of a free economic zone. This project is alarming to Kazakhstan since it will severely undermine the country’s economic independence.” According to Akeleev, Astana is looking for options to diminish Moscow’s influence and pressure and has recently discussed Kazakhstan’s accession to the World Trade Organization with President Obama. Kazakhstan’s prospective WTO membership was also raised at the last G20 Summit in Saint Petersburg, where President Nazarbayev personally appealed to the heads of states and governments to support his country’s quick accession into the Organization.
Bishkek has already developed and submitted its terms to entry the Customs Union, which contains around four hundred preferences and is awaiting the next round of discussions.
By Arslan Sabyrbekov (03/19/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On March 11, Bishkek made its first official statement on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. The Kyrgyz Ministry for Foreign Affairs says that the ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych can no longer be considered the country’s legitimate leader, as he continues to claim.
Bishkek reacted to Yanukovych's statement on March 11 that he is still Ukraine’s only legitimate President. The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry stated that the current crisis in Ukraine was caused by widespread corruption and wrong decisions taken by the former authorities of that country. “The only source of power in any country is its people, a president who lost his people’s trust, who de facto lost his presidential authority and moreover, who fled his own country, cannot consider himself to be the legitimate leader,” the statement says. Furthermore, Bishkek described the people who died during the violent clashes in Kiev as “innocent people.”
The statement did not directly mention the critical situation in Crimean peninsula. But Kyrgyzstan expressed its concern over the development of the general situation in Ukraine and condemned all activities aimed at destabilizing the situation in the country, without specifying who it considers to be responsible for destabilization. The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry also called on the country’s current political leadership and all other actors to use peaceful methods in resolving the crisis and adhere to national and international law, citing specifically the Charter of the United Nations. Thus, the statement implicitly recognizes the new Ukrainian political elite and power holders.
Bishkek's reaction immediately turned into a source of discussion among local political analysts. In the words of the Bishkek based political analyst Marat Kazakpaev, “even though the statement of the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry against Yanukovych seems to contain some sort of political attack on Moscow, it is in fact very tuned and precise.” According to the expert, the statement from the Kyrgyz MFA will not cause a negative reaction from the Russian leadership, especially taken into account its growing economic presence in the Kyrgyz republic, particularly in the form of gas, hydropower, and mining investment projects.
Based on this opinion, the statement seems to be directed primarily to the domestic audience. On the one hand, it neutralizes a constant claim of the opposition that the current leadership is subordinated to Moscow. On the other hand, it would be illogical for the Kyrgyz authorities, who came to power by means of demonstrations and many casualties to express its support for Yanukovych, who has often been compared to ousted ex-president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Like Bakiyev, the ousted Ukrainian President Yanukovych had established a heavily corrupt authoritarian regime, used force against demonstrators, and also settled in a foreign country with continuous statements of his legitimacy. Even in terms of foreign policy, the ousted presidents resemble one another in terms of lacking a clear vision and playing with all the big actors in their efforts of maximizing dividends, which were often personal.
On the contrary, political analyst Mars Sariev believes that "the statement of the Kyrgyz Ministry for Foreign Affairs will negatively impact and cool down the Kyrgyz-Russian relations. As a response to this statement, the Russian Federation can and is in a position to block Kyrgyzstan’s entry into the Customs Union under preferable terms and conditions asked by Bishkek." Sariev also recalled that in 2008, Bishkek took another position than that of the Russian Federation over the Ossetia-Abkhazia conflict in Georgia, which at that time did not cause a heavy deterioration but cooled down relations between the two countries.
In turn, the U.S. Embassy in the Kyrgyz Republic issued its own statement commending the Kyrgyz Ministry for Foreign Affairs “for its strong statement recognizing the new Ukrainian government. By condemning all acts that would lead to further destabilization in Crimea and elsewhere, and affirming that the legitimate source of power in any country is the will of its people, the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic has shown respect for the democratic aspirations of both the people of Ukraine and the Kyrgyz Republic.”
While it remains to be seen what this statement will bring, it has turned Kyrgyzstan into the first member of the Russia-led Commonwealth of Independent States with a view that largely contradicts the Kremlin’s.
By Ebi Spahiu (03/19/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On March 5, an awareness-raising campaign in honor of International Women’s Day, conducted by a group of human rights activists from Bishkek Feminists SQ, a feminist organization based in Bishkek, turned into a violent attack at Osh Bazaar, one of the largest bazaars in Kyrgyzstan’s capital. As the activists were trying to engage with local vendors and bystanders on the history of women’s rights and provide information on domestic violence prevention resources, the crowd became increasingly hostile towards the group. As many mistook the female symbol for the Christian cross, they accused the activists of promoting Christianity and physically attacked them, leaving two of the activists injured.
For the second consecutive year, Bishkek Feminist SQ, a local feminist organization run by a group of young human rights activists, has challenged the grandeur of the March 8 celebrations - a Soviet legacy marking this day - by advocating feminist values and raising awareness on alarming statistics of gender-based violence in Kyrgyzstan. Their mission is to end all forms of oppression and violence against women and this year, in honor of International Women’s Day, they decided to hold an awareness-raising campaign at Osh Bazaar, one of largest and most crowded bazaars located on the west side of Bishkek. They had prepared quizzes on the history of women’s rights and informational brochures on violence prevention resources available for women in Bishkek.
The incident took place in the late afternoon of March 5. According to activists’ accounts to local news agency Kloop.kg, a group of 20-30 people, predominantly men, gathered around the event location and started asking insulting and intimidating questions to the young activists while they were trying to conduct their activities. According to Bishkek Feminist SQ's official press statement, most men confused the female gender symbol with that of a Christian cross and began asking verbally aggressive questions to the young activists: “Why do you have crosses at your booth?” “Are you not Muslims?” “You see that kalpak? It makes me Kyrgyz. If you’re Kyrgyz, you must be Muslim!” They also stated that March 8 should not be celebrated because it “is not a Muslim holiday,” says SQ. As verbal confrontation between the two groups escalated, the men grabbed the activists by their collars, spit on them and blew cigarette smoke on their faces.
Despite the activists attempts to appease the situation, some men were forcing the activists to repeat verses from the Quran while publicly shaming them. When the activists were preparing to leave, men in the crowd smashed their stand, followed them as they were trying to move away and kicked them on the ground. The event stand was set on fire while the activists were being beaten, claims Bishkek Feminist SQ. After minutes of physical abuse, two of the activists managed to escape and approach police officers, but their request for protection went to deaf ears. They eventually sought refuge at a local district court building after being chased by an angry crowd following them. Despite their pleas for help from the court’s staff, they were met with hostility by some of the staff who demanded they leave the building. Even though police eventually arrived at the scene and assisted the activists to get out safely, they “failed to provide adequate order among the crowd and did not take immediate actions to arrest the instigators and perpetrators,” writes Bishkek Feminist SQ.
This is not the first time that nationalist and religious rhetoric has been used to instigate violence against human rights activists in Kyrgyzstan. In recent months, especially following the release of a Human Rights Watch report on police abuse of gay and bisexual men in Kyrgyzstan, religious and nationalist groups have repeatedly called for violence against the LGBT community in the country. On January 30, Kyrgyzstan’s then acting grand Mufti issued a Fatwa against same-sex relations, calling on Kyrgyz authorities “to pay special attention to the activities of some public organizations that disseminate social discord while using humanistic ideas.” This move sparked a vocal debate in social media forums where many called for violence against openly gay community members. In addition, a new nationalist movement, Kalys, has staged a series of protests following the report’s release, calling for the adoption for an anti-gay propaganda law. According to Eurasianet.org, Kalys’ leader Jenishbek Moldokmatov “criticized HRW indirectly” and condemned the LGBT community for “screaming” about police abuse. Moldokmatov also burned a photo of Ilya Lukash, an ethnic Ukrainian blogger living in Bishkek, whom he labeled as a “gay activist” and accused him of attempting to foment a “Ukraine-style revolution in the country.”
As many analysts observe the rise of nationalism and discuss the likelihood of increasing Islamic influence in Kyrgyzstan, local human rights defenders are facing a strong nationalist and religious backlash as a result of Kyrgyzstan's aspirations to reclaim its national identity after decades of Soviet rule and respond to a Western push for democratic reforms, where at the center-stage are causes involving women, sexuality and ethnic identity. “These religious entities are influential, but there aren’t just Muslims living here in Kyrgyzstan. These statements can create negative public opinion, they bring violence and cause conflict,” says Dastan, a human rights activist from Bishkek.
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.