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Ex-Leader's Daughter Considers Comeback in Kyrgyzstan

Controversy as Bermet Akaeva is nominated for parliament.
By Akylbek Isanov
A return to frontline politics could be in the works for the daughter of Askar Akaev after residents in the former president’s hometown nominated her to run in an upcoming by-election.

Bermet Akaeva arrived in Kyrgyzstan on March 5 to meet with supporters in the northeastern Kemin district. She is there to weigh up her chances of success in the April 29 election after being nominated as a candidate by a little-known women’s committee in Kemin.

Kemin is an Akaev family stronghold, and the seat she may contest is the one vacated by her brother Aidar when the family fled Kyrgyzstan for Russia following the March 2005 revolution.

Analysts are speculating that this nomination could be the first step towards political rehabilitation for the Akaev family.

Known as the “Kyrgyz Princess”, Akaeva worked as an advisor to her father, then founded and led the pro-presidential party Alga Kyrgyzstan, which won the most votes in the 2005 parliamentary election that sparked the revolution. She herself won a parliamentary seat in Bishkek’s university district, but in the months following the regime change, she was stripped of that victory by the Central Election Commission, which alleged fraud.

Announcing the nomination on February 21, the women’s committee chair Lira Termechikova, told journalists, “She is our fellow countrywoman. She is educated, cultured and most importantly she is courageous and carries weight in society.”

Added group member Anara Abdrakhmonova, “We want to ask her - no, we demand that she return to us and stand for election here.”

Akaeva must register as a candidate by March 19, and if she did run would be up against stiff opposition including the former interior minister Keneshbek Duishebaev.

Another potential obstacle is a change to the election code introduced by her father before the 2005 poll that all prospective members of parliament must have lived permanently in Kyrgyzstan for the last five years. That stipulation has now been removed from the Kyrgyz constitution, but remains in the election code that will govern the April by-election. The code does allow would-be parliamentarians to spend up to six months a year abroad, and Akaeva may argue that she is within these rules and thus eligible.

Observers interviewed by IWPR say she would have a good chance of winning in Kemin.

“She is a native of Kemin, she has political weight and she’s already shown herself to be an independent politician. She does not bear responsibility for her family, especially as two years have already passed since March,” said analyst Sergei Masaulov.

“In Kyrgyzstan, people who reach the level of national politics traditionally do not leave it. Everyone stays in the loop – they all come back, and return to the surface somehow or another,” he told IWPR.

Deputy Bolotbek Sherniyazov is sure Akaeva will do well in the vote. “Anyone from the Akaev family will win in Kemin. The entire Kemin clan will unite around her and try to get into power,” he said.

Political analyst Alexander Knyazev believes the disillusionment that many Kyrgyz feel about the performance of Akaev’s successors could also help pave the way for Akaeva’s return.

“Not just in Kemin, but all over Kyrgyzstan there has been great disappointment in the wake of the events of March 2005,” Knyazev told IWPR. “Human memory has the tendency to see the past in a positive light. Even objectively, the period since March has been no better than the preceding one. But under Akaev there was at least predictability and stability.

“If the revolutionaries who brought about the coup had offered anything positive to society, the attitude to the Akaevs would be different, but they have only made things worse.”

Not surprisingly, however, an advisor to President Kurmanbek Bakiev roundly dismissed the possibility that the ex-president could be rehabilitated.

“Askar Akaev should be convicted, and Kyrgyzstan society must make sure this happens. He robbed the country, and where is the retribution for this?” said Bakiev’s advisor Bolot Shamshiev.

It is this animosity from the current regime that could scupper Akaeva’s parliamentary hopes, says one analyst, Tamerlan Ibraimov, the director of the Centre for Political and Legal Studies. He expects the authorities in Kemin to do their best to ensure Akaeva does not win.

“Bermet is a person who is well-off and known in the country, but [the] local administration will work against her,” said Ibraimov.

Opposition deputies and human rights groups expressed dismay that Akaeva could end up back in parliament if the women of Kemin get their way.

Member of parliament Kabai Karabekov believes she is partly responsible for Kyrgyzstan’s troubles. “It’s no secret that the Alga Kyrgyzstan party was her brainchild, and the methods by which candidates from this party got into parliament were the main thing that prompted the events which shook the country on March 24, 2005,” said Karabekov.

The director of the human rights centre Citizens Against Corruption doubts the people of Kyrgyzstan are ready to forget the past. “Akaev and his family should understand that the people of Kyrgyzstan will never forgive him for the policies that he pursued for almost 15 years,” said Tolekan Ismailova.

“Akaev should not think about returning to the country, but rather about how he could help Kyrgyzstan while he is in Moscow.”

However, Ismailova worries that Akaeva’s return is inevitable. “Akaev has a lot of money, and as long as he does he, will call the tune in politics,” she said.

But deputy Omurbek Tekebaev questions why Akaeva has to get involved in politics at all.

“There are a lot of spheres outside politics,” he said. “Given the political situation today, it is not desirable that members of the former or current president’s family take part in parliamentary elections,” he said.

Akylbek Isanov is the psuedonym of a reporter in Bishkek.

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