Kyrgyz Disappointed Over Government Changes

Few believe the new Kyrgyz government will reverse the country's economic decline

Kyrgyz Disappointed Over Government Changes

Few believe the new Kyrgyz government will reverse the country's economic decline

Government changes at the end of last month will do little to pull Kyrgyzstan out of social and economic crisis, critics of the authorities say.

They insist that the newly constituted cabinet has merely strengthened the influence of President Akaev over the authorities. The head of state, they say, has appointed ministers noted more for their loyalty than their professional qualities.

"The political social and economic situation in Kyrgystan is critical, " said Melis Eshimkanov, the editor of the opposition newspaper, Asaba. "Therefore I expected Akaev to make radical government appointments. What he did in the end was just shuffle the deck."

Akaev's critics are just as dismissive of the President's decision to drastically reduce the number of government ministries from 42 to 27. They say the reforms, ostensibly designed to make the administration run more efficiently, are cosmetic and will have little impact.

They point out, for instance, that the National Security Ministry was merely re-named the National Security Service and brought under Akaev's direct control.

This followed the ministry's over-zealous hounding of the current leadership's political opponents during parliamentary and presidential elections last year.

Its arrest of the opposition leader Felix Kulov and prosecution of the independent newspaper Delo N... drew international criticism and is thought to have further tarnished Kyrgyzstan's image as an island of democracy in Central Asia.

"The ministry's change of name is meaningless, " said Kulov. " Unless it changes its policies, it will turn into an instrument for persecuting political opponents of the authorities."

The opposition says while Akaev has appointed a good administrator to the post of prime minister, Kurmanbek Bakiev, the ex-governor of Chuy Oblast, will not be able to implement the radical changes needed to pull the economy out of the economic doldrums.

Unlike his predecessor Bakiev has been put in charge of the whole economy, but he will not have the authority to ensure that ministries push through economic reforms, Kyrgyz journalists say.

Since the Akaev's hand-picked ministers will probably feel that they only have to answer to him, they may well be resistant to Bakiev's policies they don't like.

It seems that the appointment of Bakiev had more to do with an attempt to improve relations with the south of the country and maintain good ties with Moscow.

A mountain range separates Kyrgyzstan into two distinct regions with different customs and mentalities, but during Soviet times a political dimension was added. Party elite was drawn from the ranks of northern politicians; and as a result their region became the industrial centre of the country, while the south remained agricultural.

President Akaev, who is a northerner, needed to give the highest government post to someone from the south. The authorities can no longer afford to ignore the region - remote parts of which are increasingly being targeted by Islamic fighters.

High levels of unemployment in this densely populated area make it a potential breeding ground for Islamic groups opposed to the current leadership.

More generally, the region's worsening economic plight could turn the region against the Bishkek authorities.

Whether Akaev's prime ministerial appointment will pacify the south is questionable. The President has in the past declared his intention to better conditions in the south, but his pledges have largely come to naught.

Bakiev is more likely to play a useful role in relations with Moscow - Kyrgyzstan's main economic and political partner.

In the government reshuffle, the post of deputy-prime minister, a position normally held by a Russian, was handed to Nikolai Tanaev, the head of the state construction company.

This came as something of a surprise, as the post-holder normally plays an important role in relations with Moscow. Tanaev's appointment suggested there's a shortage of Russians in the upper ranks of the political leadership.

But since Bakiev was educated in Moscow, spent several years working there and has a Russian wife, diplomatic relations between the countries should remain on an even keel.

Overall, critics of the authorities argue that the government personnel changes and reforms are intended to enable Akaev to exercise greater control over Kyrgyzstan - and will have little if any effect in turning the country around.

"The economic situation is worsening - and I doubt whether the changes will arrest the decline, " said Kulov." Therefore I don't think the new government will last long - I give it six months maximum. "

Igor Grebenschikov and Meder Imakeev are regular IWPR contributors

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