Political Battles on Kyrgyzstan’s Horizon

For the first time in Kyrgyzstan’s post-Soviet history, the elections which are due in the fall of 2011 present the republic with a chance to name a new country leader at the polling booths rather than at the peak of public unrest. Its previous two regime changes which culminated in the unseating of Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev resulted from the violent 2005 and 2010 coups. However, the widespread impression at the moment is that even the coming legitimate regime change is unlikely to bring the much-needed stability to the republic…

Uncertainty around the elections persisted until recently. It took Kyrgyzstan’s legislature and interim president Roza Otunbayeva suspiciously long to reach an agreement on the elections date which was set to October 30, 2011 only on the closing day of the parliament’s spring session. Even after sealing the deal, the parliament had to convene out of schedule to confirm the membership of the central electoral commission, thus finally enabling the actual preparations for the vote.

The central electoral commission unveiled a schedule of election activities on July 11. According to the plan, presidential hopefuls are to be nominated between June 30 and August 16. As the next step, candidates must prove their fluency in the Kyrgyz language. The official registration deadline is September 25 which is also the starting date for the presidential campaigns which are to close in the morning of October 29. The deadline for ballot counting is November 20, with an extra month left for a possible runoff. The election final result must be announced by December 31, 2011, the date Otunbayeva’s term expires.

The race over presidency in Kyrgyzstan is going to be serious. At the moment, there is no runner in the game with strong support in both south and north of the regionally divided republic, meaning that widening the regional connections will be critical to the success of every campaigner. According to Kyrgyz commentator Sergei Masaulov, the optimal strategy for candidates would be to build convincing partnerships outside of their home regions: southerners would have to seek out allies in the north and vice versa.

Nationalism is expected to factor significantly into the presidential campaign considering that – with memories of last year’s Osh massacre still vivid – some of the contenders will be selling their candidacies as those of defenders of the Kyrgyz nation and its traditional values. Combined with nationalist appeals, the emotionally loaded competition can easily escalate into a new round of inter-ethnic clashes which would further widen the gap between the north and the south of Kyrgyzstan.

It has to be taken into account that the key element of the election’s intrigue is perhaps not who prevails in the race but how the winner will be trying to rebuild the presidential authority in Kyrgyzstan. All the Kyrgyz constitution in its present shape leaves to the president is the control over the foreign policy and the law-enforcement plus the army conglomerate. In today’s Kyrgyzstan, the president has no authority to disband the government or to redirect the economic policies. With neither of the current presidential hopefuls willing to accept the limitations, a new phase of wrestling for power instigated by the new president appears imminent by the early 2012.

At the moment over a dozen Kyrgyz politicians appear to be ready to stake election bids, and the majority of Kyrgyz political parties have held campaign-opening congresses. Ata-Zhurt, the champion of the past parliamentary elections, announced that its leader Kamchybek Tashiev would run for president, though a month ago a question mark hung over his candidacy due to criminal charges pressed for beating up a party colleague Bakhadyr Sulaimanov. Tashiev had to publicly apologize to Sulaimanov to remove the obstacle to joining the presidential race.

Banker Marat Sultanov, also from Ata-Zhurt, plans to run on his own regardless of the party’s undivided support for Tashiev. Another Ata-Zhurt member, the party’s speaker Akhmatbek Keldibekov, used to be seen as a potential front-runner but seems determined to keep his current post at the cost of presidential ambitions.

The Ar-Namys party held primaries in which its leader and former Kyrgyz prime minister Felix Kulov stayed out of the list. The rivals were Anarbek Kalmatov and Akylbek Zhaparov. The former prevailed, but the Ar-Namys political council decided to postpone the nomination. The Ata-Meken party similarly remains undecided over its nominee and plans to announce its candidate this August, with the shortlist comprising party leader Omurbek Tekebayev and two former Kyrgyz attorney generals Kubatbek Baibolov and Rovshan Zheenbekov.

The Butun Kyrgyzstan party which suffered a crushing defeat in the last parliamentary elections is campaigning energetically in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan and hopes to stage a comeback as its leader Adakhan Madumarov intends to storm the Kyrgyz presidency.

Almazbek Atambayev, the Kyrgyz premier, a highly popular figure in Kyrgyzstan, and a clear potential favorite in the presidential race, says he will decide this August whether to enter the presidential race. Tentatively unsure of his prospects, Atambayev intends to wait till the finishing touches are put on the list of contenders and to assess his own chances based on what transpires.

Along with high-profile figures, several politicians evidently having no hope to make it to Kyrgyzstan’s presidential office do plan to run in order to end their bids with endorsing the luckier peers and earn posts in the new government as a reward.

The candidate who emerges from the presidential race in Kyrgyzstan – whoever the individual eventually happens to be – will face a challenging legacy. The Kyrgyz economy is in bad shape will hardly get any healthier in the coming two or three years. A group led by economist Azamat Dikambayev, which surveys on a regular basis Kyrgyzstan’s socioeconomic condition, says by the end of 2011 the budget deficit currently estimated at 22-24 bn soms will likely shrink to 14 bn, but 2012-2014 will put the republic under a difficult test. The budget will come under additional pressure as a result of the government’s decision to up teachers’ and medical doctors’ pay. It is unclear how Kyrgyzstan is going to handle its problems related to the borders with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, plus the volumes of re-export of Chinese products to CIS via Kyrgyzstan, a critical source of revenue for the Kyrgyz economy, are on a downward trend. Notably, the customs union – a joint enterprise of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, the tree countries accounting for over 50% of Kyrgyzstan’s foreign trade – could offer the republic a viable solution to a portion of its pressing problems.

Source: Strategic Culture Foundation

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