Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kyrgyz Heavyweights Team Up

The two leading election candidates agree not to compete but to work together as future president and prime minister.
By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova

Kyrgyzstan’s two political heavyweights have forged a powerful coalition that they hope will help them sail through the forthoming presidential election, and also prevent a split opening up between the north and south of the country


Kurmanbek Bakiev, who became acting prime minister and, ex officio, also acting president of Kyrgyzstan after the March 24 revolution, signed the deal on May 12 with Felix Kulov, the leading opposition figure who was freed from jail as a result of the regime change.


The deal means Bakiev will run for president on July 10 and Kulov will be part of his campaign team. If the former wins, he will appoint Kulov as his prime minister.


Both men had previously declared themselves candidates and were seen as the front-runners.


Many analysts had expected the deal, but some thought it would be Kulov who ran for president.


In the interim, Kulov becomes first deputy prime minister since the post of premier is already held by Bakiev.


Explaining the thinking behind the agreement, Kulov said in a May 14 statement that "the idea is to ensure that the interests of the whole of Kyrgyzstan are represented in the national leadership”.


Referring to the fact that he is a northerner while Bakiev is from the south of Kyrgyzstan, and that they are widely viewed as representing these different – often rival – regional constituencies, Kulov said, “It’s our job to prevent a situation where after the election, one group of the population believes it has won, and the other thinks it has lost. The entire people of Kyrgyzstan should come out as the winner.”


Both men are powerful figures, and it is a significant step that one should defer to the other. Kulov, who is head of the Arnamys party, reassured his people that he would not come out of the deal any the weaker. “I say to my supporters: I will live up to your hopes. I will use my expanded powers as prime minister to see through the points on my election programme.”


The agreement certainly locks the two politicians together in an cast-iron relationship. Once elected, Bakiev has three months to change the constitution boosting the powers of the prime minister, and he cannot sack Kulov without stepping down himself.


Kulov, for his part, commits himself to Bakiev to the extent that if the latter loses the election, his partner cannot take a job in the winner’s government.


Many politicians welcomed a deal which they saw as a way of bringing cohesion to a still fragile political set-up, and avoid a situation where either southern or northern politicians are seen to come out on top.


Member of parliament Marat Sultanov told IWPR, " Bakiev and Kulov were forced to unite by a situation where Kyrgyzstan faced a north-south split. The presidential election results would have been clear in advance: northerners would vote for Kulov, and the southern electorate would lend their total support to Bakiev. That could have led to a new confrontation along regional lines, and the consequences of that are frightening even to think about.


“Both politicians acted wisely. Unlike [former president Askar] Akaev they do take public opinion into account."


Sadyk Sherniyaz, who is deputy to Kyrgyzstan’s human rights ombudsman, was similarly pleased, saying the coalition reflected the will of one million people who were polled on the subject.


“I’m glad that politicians of the calibre of Kulov and Bakiev have paired up.... It’s just what we need. This union happened under the influence of the people, [but] it can also be said that there were political forces which created the conditions for it to take place. We ought to be pleased about that, since recently there’s been a trend towards disunity."


Opinion differed on which man had more to gain from the deal.


Edil Baisalov, who heads the NGO Coalition for Civil Society and Democracy which played a leading role in the Kyrgyz revolution, believes Bakiev will now have a freer hand to sort out problems facing the country.


“People in Kyrgyzstan have been quite nervous and tense over the last month and a half. The revolutionary interim government was weakened by the lack of this partnership, and its members were forced to fight among themselves rather than against the Akaev regime,” said Baisalov.


The deal changes things “fundamentally”, Baisalov continued. “It now becomes possible to root out the remainder of Akaev's regime in a more resolute manner. Now we will expect more decisive measures from Bakiev, and that he will break with the remnants of Akaev's regime as he no longer needs them as he did when he had to seek their support in his internal struggle with Kulov.”


Political scientist Elmira Nogoibaeva thinks Kulov remains the stronger figure and that this could still cause problems in the relationship. “I expected it to be the other way around, with Bakiev as prime minister and Kulov the president. Bakiev is more of an economist... he lacks the firm ideological support enjoyed by Kulov, who’s got a mythical aura as a victim of the Akaev regime and a lot more charisma, too.”


Nogoibaeva added, “I’m surprised that Kulov made the concessions. I don't think he did so out of magnaminity.... I don't think this is an ideal pairing, especially since relations between Kulov and Bakiev were never close, quite the reverse in fact. I believe that it’s a marriage made not of reason but of compromise, and that a major role was played by aggressive political forces lobbying their own interests."


Some were equally uncharitable about the way the merger has been announced as the formula which will save Kyrgyzstan.


Dooronbek Sadyrbaev, a renowned film director who is also a parliamentary deputy, said,"The fuss that’s been made about this pairing reminds me of the best traditions from the Akaev days, when the president was praised to the heavens and people made absurd statements such as that the Kyrgyz wouldn’t survive one day without him.”


Ainagul Abdrakhmanova, is IWPR programme coordinator in Bishkek. Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC correspondent in Bishkek.


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