Kyrgyz Opposition Faces Merger

Union between two strongest parties would improve chances of taking on Kyrgyzstan’s current rulers.

Kyrgyz Opposition Faces Merger

Union between two strongest parties would improve chances of taking on Kyrgyzstan’s current rulers.

Tuesday, 8 September, 2009
Defeat in July’s presidential election in Kyrgyzstan has prompted Ata Meken and the Social Democrats, the biggest of the opposition parties, to seriously consider joining forces.

Talk of a merger is given greater urgency by rumours that the administration of President Kurmanbek Bakiev is to bring the date of the next parliamentary election forward from 2012.

News that discussions were under way was revealed at an August 17 meeting of the United People’s Movement, UPM, the main opposition grouping which includes Ata Meken, the Social Democratic Party and a number of others.

Forged last year, the UPM bloc fielded a single candidate, Social Democrat leader Almazbek Atambaev, against the incumbent Bakiev in the July 23 presidential election.

Atambaev scored eight per cent of the vote while Bakiev swept to victory with 76 per cent, but the opposition said the poll was fatally flawed with numerous cases of election fraud.

In an IWPR interview, Atambaev said the initiative to join forces had come from the ground up, with rank-and-file members calling for a united front against the current governing administration.

Atambaev’s counterpart in Ata Meken, Omurbek Tekebaev, was similarly upbeat, describing unification as “the natural way to go”.

“Kyrgyzstan needs a few strong parties,” he said. “That’s the only way of providing balance and stability in the political system.”

Ata Meken and the Social Democrats share similar left-of-centre liberal ideologies, and both were set up in the early Nineties, giving them a longer track-record than most Kyrgyz parties. By contrast, the current governing party, Ak Jol, was only created two months before winning a landslide victory in December 2007 parliamentary polls.

In that election, the Social Democrats won 11 seats against Ak Jol’s 71, and the only other party to gain parliamentary representation was the Communists with eight seats. Despite what seemed to be a respectable performance, Ata Meken did not enter parliament, apparently excluded on the basis of a controversial system of national and regional thresholds introduced shortly before the polls.

Topchubek Turgunaliev a leading figure in the UPM, believes the two parties are wise to consolidate since in his view, Kyrgyzstan has far too many small, low-profile political parties.

He is encouraged by their cooperative mood. “During the presidential election, I could see members of the two parties working together hand in hand,” he said.

Political analyst Mars Sariev agrees that unification makes sense. “They have to unite ahead of the [next] parliamentary election. It’s a short-term strategy, but perhaps they really do want to form a strong party,” he told IWPR. “If they don’t unite, they will disappear over time.”

Sariev says this could be just the beginning, if other smaller parties decide to join the new opposition force.

Like a number of other analysts, Sariev sees it as particularly urgent for opposition parties to reform because of the possibility that President Bakiev will call an election earlier than the scheduled date of 2012.

“Everything is pointing towards a mid-autumn announcement that parliament is to be dissolved, so a new election could take place in December,” he said. “Bakiev’s political advisers have calculated that there won’t be much political turbulence over the cold winter period.”

President Bakiev has dismissed talk of an early election.

“Rumours are circulating that parliament is to be dissolved, but no one is considering this, nor is there any need for it,” he said in a September 1 speech at the opening of parliament, quoted by local media.

However, this is not enough to assuage fears of a surprise announcement.

“The president’s reassurances that he has no intention of dissolving the Jogorku Kenesh [parliament] should be treated as a warning signal,” Tekebaev told the Bishkek Press Club on September 3. “On occasion, the president does exactly the opposite of what he has said.”

Tekebaev believes President Bakiev wants to strike while the iron is hot, shaping the legislature while he is in a strong position to do so, rather than waiting until 2012 when his own term in office is nearing its end.

Others, including pro-government politicians and independence analysts, are dismissive of the Ata Meken-Social Democrat merger, saying that even as one party they will stand little chance of electoral success.

Analyst Orozbek Moldaliev says the opposition, and Atambaev as its joint candidate, performed poorly in the summer presidential election.

“Atambaev fell short of many people’s expectations during the election,” he said. “The opposition may now find it difficult to get people to follow it. It will need to make an immense effort to revive itself after this defeat.”

Miroslav Niazov, formerly secretary of Kyrgyzstan’s national security council, also doubts that the merger will prove effective.

He believes the deal is to the Social Democrats’ advantage, since their reputation suffered more in the presidential election, while Ata Meken retains greater public support.

The terms of the merger have still to be hammered out, although Tekebaev insisted it was merely a question of legal technicalities.

Atambaev has suggested calling the new entity the Social Democratic Party Ata Meken, preserving the legacy of both groups.

In a hint of recognition that he might be a liability, Atambaev also indicated to IWPR that he might step aside when the new leadership is being elected.

“I can step back if that’s what’s needed,” he said.

Dilbar Alimova is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan.
Support our journalists