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Kyrgyz Opposition Upheaval

Oppositions forces in Kyrgyzstan have been rattled by damaging defections
By Igor Grebenshikov

Key Kyrgyz opposition leaders have jumped ship in the wake of last month's re-election of President Askar Akaev.


Former deputy president Felix Kulov and president candidate Almazbek Atambaev have both indicated that they intend to ally themselves with Akaev, leaving the opposition without any prominent politicians.


This is likely to further weaken the opposition whose effectiveness has been blunted over the years by its failure to mount a unified front against Akaev.


Kulov, a former national security minister still facing charges of abusing his ministerial powers, said that he held exactly the same position as Akaev on many issues.


"There are two options: to ignore the results of the elections or, alternatively, to work with the existing authorities. I chose the second ," he said in a statement on November 16.


Kulov's manoeuvring is treated with scorn by the public who see it as demonstrating his inconsistency and the general weaknesses of opposition leaders.


The hasty tactical union between Kulov and presidential candidate Omurbek Tekebaev during the campaign for the October 29 election failed to convince voters. Shortly after the ballot, Kulov split with Tekebaev, who received just over 13 per cent of the vote.


Social Democratic Party presidential candidate Almazbek Atambaev also announced his return to the political mainstream after the vote.


Atambaev, who built his campaign around criticisms of Akaev's economic and political policies, fears the authorities will undermine his business interests unless he becomes more cooperative.


The communists remain the only stable form of opposition in Kyrgyzstan. But Akaev's government no longer sees them as dangerous. They are well organized, but generally restrained and rarely manage to stir up the public.


The authorities admitted their most dangerous opponent was Topchubek Turgunaliev. The former Bishkek University rector was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment just before the election on charges, widely held to have fabricated by the Ministry for National Security, of organizing an assassination attempt on the life of the president. Turgunaliev, the leader of the Erkindik opposition party, has been three times declared a "prisoner of conscience" by Amnesty International.


The opposition has not been helped by the authorities crackdown on the independent press, which faced intense pressure during the campaign. Many titles were drawn into judicial proceedings which effectively bankrupted them.


The newspaper Delo No is perhaps the only remaining publication which attempts to cover political events objectively. But even this newspaper is increasingly moving away from political coverage as, after the defence of Felix Kulov, it has been subject to pressure from the authorities.


The authorities have also targeted non-government organizations which form an arguably more effective form of opposition than anti-Akaev politicians.


The Chairman of the Central Election Commission Suleyman Imanbaev has denounced the influential Coalition of Non-Government Organizations for being "politically partisan". Lidia Fomova's Society for Social Defence stands accused of financial infringements and swindling. The Chairman of the Committee on Human Rights Ramazan Dyryldaev faces imminent arrest.


The political opposition, however, bears some responsibility for its present condition. Their leaders do not see each other as allies, but as competitors. Their parties represent regional interests, and many of their programmes present only a ramshackle collection of principles.


Most Kyrgyz opposition figures are former high-ranking bureaucrats, but they have failed to establish a unified system for opposition. Even on a parliamentary level, they do not work together to resist the authorities and influence the direction of the country.


The largest parliamentary faction, where the communists form a bloc with the Ata-Meken Socialist Party, confines itself simply to seeking a more limited mandate for the president.


Igor Grebenshikov is a regular IWPR contributor