Kyrgyz Leadership Tests Re-election Support?

Opposition say president’s inner circle is canvassing public’s attitude to President Askar Akaev remaining in office for another term.

Kyrgyz Leadership Tests Re-election Support?

Opposition say president’s inner circle is canvassing public’s attitude to President Askar Akaev remaining in office for another term.

Speculation over who will lead Kyrgyzstan after the 2005 presidential elections has taken an unexpected twist after an influential business group called for Askar Akaev’s re-election.

The republic’s constitution presently forbids Akaev from seeking a fourth term as president, but opposition rumours persist that a referendum may be held to alter these rules and allow him to cling to power.

Now the Association of Kyrgyzstan Entrepreneurs, which held its annual conference on September 27, has voiced support for the president to remain in office after his current term expires in two years’ time.

Analysts say their move falls into a pattern where the Kyrgyz leadership has used apparently independent organisations to float controversial constitutional change. Indeed, some opposition activists have suggested that members of the president’s inner circle may have prompted the entrepreneurs.

The development came just two days after an IWPR round table in the capital Bishkek, where international analysts and Kyrgyz politicians debated the future of the former Soviet republic and discussed potential successors to Akaev.

At the entrepreneurs’ congress, Sergey Voronin - general director of the Modern Commerce Technologies company - said the president was the logical person to continue to implement the nation’s market reforms.

“Kyrgyz entrepreneurs believe that the started reforms need to be concluded and, taking into account the immense contribution of the president, we ask Askar Akaev to serve as the leader of our state for another five-year term,” Voronin said, to loud applause.

Some of those present said that Akaev, a guest at the congress, received this endorsement with a smile, but made no comment.

The news has triggered opposition bewilderment, as Akaev has repeatedly stated in public that he does not intend to run in the next presidential elections – and has promised to hand over power.

Prominent opposition politician Adakhan Madumarov told IWPR that Akaev will a decide on whether to try to change the constitution to allow him to run for a fourth term if the population responds favourably to the entrepreneurs’ proposal.

“If the public becomes indignant, we will be told that it was purely the opinion of the entrepreneurs - but if they are not angered by it, the president’s team will continue to work in this direction,” he said.

Topchubek Turgunaliev, director of the Kyrgyz Human Rights Institute and one of the president’s most vocal critics, believes Akaev will definitely seek a fourth term.

“Our leadership is bogged down in allegations of state crime and is naturally afraid of losing power - because when they do, they will no longer have immunity, and they will be held fully responsible,” he said.

Akaev’s supporters are meanwhile keen to express their support for the president’s apparent re-election bid.

Toktayim Umetalieva, the head of the local Association of Non-Governmental Organisations, told IWPR that Kyrgyzstan will need stability in order to implement vital reforms and that a new president would take at least two years to find his feet.

“Therefore, I support this idea because Askar Akaev has extraordinary skill in diplomacy, a good external image and inexhaustible potential,” she said.

Isa Tokoev, deputy and chair of the Assembly of Peoples of Kyrgyzstan, said, “ I feel Akaev should go for a new term by means of a referendum. He deserves to be a president because he is an intellectual and, more importantly, he is supported by Russia.”

Bolot Januzakov, head of the presidential administration’s security and defence department, assured the public and the media that the president’s position on re-election had not changed. “Askar Akaev has already expressed his position and we should not constantly concentrate on this issue,” he said.

When asked to comment on Voronin’s statement at the entrepreneurs’ congress, Januzakov added, “This is the opinion of one particular spokesman and is his personal business. We cannot control everyone bringing forward various initiatives.”

Leila Saralaeva is an independent journalist in Bishkek.

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