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Ignominious End to Akaev Era

Kyrgyz parliament secures president's resignation but has yet to sign off on it.
By IWPR Central Asia

As Kyrgyz deputies prepared to formally accept the resignation of ousted president Askar Akaev, some opposition figures insisted he should not have been allowed such an easy exit.

The transitional government that emerged in the week after the main government building in the capital Bishkek was seized on March 24 faced question marks about its legitimacy because the president, who had fled the country, insisted he was still head of state.

A delegation led by newly-elected speaker of parliament Omurbek Tekebaev met Akaev on April 3 to negotiate a solution, and secured his agreement to step down – which he duly did the following day.

His resignation opens the way to a fresh presidential election which the new administration has already announced for June.

There was a slight hitch when the Kyrgyz parliament convened on April 5 to complete the constitutional niceties by accepting Akaev's resignation – not enough deputies turned up to make up the required quorum, and the vote had to be put off until April 6. The reasons for the delay appeared to be technical rather than political: snowfalls prevented some deputies from flying in from southern Kyrgyzstan.

Akaev had originally been set to tender his resignation when he met the parliamentary delegation at the Kyrgyz embassy in Moscow on April 3.

An eyewitness told IWPR that the president's son Aidar and daughter Bermet –both of whom were voted into parliament in the recent, controversial election - were smuggled into the embassy even though it had been agreed they would not take part in negotiations about their father's fate.

"When our deputies spotted them, they demanded that all the conditions must be met," said the eyewitness, who did not want to be identified. "Both son and daughter looked scared and lost."

At a press conference for Russian journalists later in the day, Akaev announced that although he had not yet resigned, he had agreed in writing to do so. He noted that the deal would allow him to retain the rights and guarantees that former presidents are granted under the Kyrgyz constitution, and said Russia and Kazakstan would act as international guarantors of the agreement.

On April 4, Akaev officially signed his resignation at a meeting with the Kyrgyz parliamentarians, once again at the embassy.

"The signing took place in a flat atmosphere; the deputies did not organise any banquet or farewell speech," said one of those in attendance, who asked to remain anonymous.

Bermet Bukasheva, an aide to Tekebaev, told IWPR that the president looked calm and collected, "He met deputies with a smile and positive emotions… [and] expressed his wish for further democratic progress and successful elections."

Bukasheva said the outgoing president also reminded the deputies that he had said more than once that he would not run in the next election, originally scheduled for October this year.

Analysts had been sceptical about the president's claims on this front, many suggesting that he might seek a referendum or other constitutional change that would allow him to remain in power.

According to Bukasheva, Akaev said those who organised what he termed "the March national catastrophe" had done so in pursuit of selfish interests.

"Chroniclers will refer to the Akaev era as a bright period," said the president, quoted by Bukasheva. "I apologise to those whom I have hurt… I had only good intentions."

Akaev also made an 18-minute videotaped address to the people of Kyrgyzstan, which is intended to be viewed by deputies when they meet to consider his resignation.

In the meantime, some members of what used to be the opposition are angry that the former leader should have been let off so lightly.

"Akaev is a runaway and has no moral right to set any conditions," said Adakhan Madumarov, a prominent politician who has announced plans to run for the presidency.

Another leading political figure, Azimbek Beknazarov, who is now acting chief prosecutor of Kyrgyzstan, insisted that because Akaev had fled the state which he headed, he had "automatically lost his immunity and privileges".

Beknazarov continued, "If parliament nevertheless accepts his resignation, I will demand that he is stripped of all the privileges due to an ex-president."

Members of the large non-government sector expressed similar concerns.

"Civil society cannot forget the mistakes and offences committed by [Akaev] and his entourage," said Bubusara Ryskulova, head of the Sezim Crisis Centre, which works with vulnerable women. "That is why we are demanding impeachment."

Others agree that impeachment would have been a better solution than simply easing Akaev out.

"Impeachment is the most constitutional of procedures," said Edil Baisalov, leader of the NGO Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society.

Though he acknowledged that the process would be very complicated and probably unrealistic in the present conditions, he insisted that "the investigation, hearings and trial in parliament would themselves have a cleansing effect on the public and would serve as an inoculation against future dictatorships".

Valentin Bogatyrev, director of the International Institute for Strategic Research, a body that comes under the presidential administration, said impeachment would have been legally possible, but in practice the lengthy process would have left the country in an "ambiguous position".

"The parliamentary commission had no alternative…. It arrived at the optimum solution to the problem," said Bogatyrev.

When the end came for Akaev, IWPR's anonymous eyewitness source reported that it was something of an anticlimax, "They just took the piece of paper, shook hands and left.

"Akaev stayed in a small room for quite a long time, waiting for someone to come in and talk to him. But the deputies didn't go near him, and neither Akaev nor members of his family attended the embassy reception held the same day."

Leila Saralaeva is a freelance journalist in Bishkek. Ainagul Abdrakhmanova is IWPR's programme coordinator in Bishkek.

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