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

Kyrgyz Opposition Yet to Seize Reins of Power

While negotiations continue about how to form a new government, there is a sense no one is in charge.
By IWPR Central Asia

Kurmanbek Bakiev, acting Presidnet and Prime Minister
Adakham Madumarov, acting deputy Prime Minister
Roza Otunbaeva, acting Foreign Minister
Felix Kulov, in charge of Security
Photos by Vyacheslav Oseledko

As the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek witnessed further scenes of unrest, opposition leaders here seemed at a loss as to how to consolidate the hold on power they won so rapidly.

Meanwhile, President Askar Akaev reappeared, issuing a statement asserting that he was still the rightful president, and that although he had left the country it was only a temporary move.

When parliament held an emergency meeting late on March 24, it appointed one of its members as the new speaker - Ishenbay Kadyrbekov, a leading opposition figure who was once minister for construction.

Another opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiev, who hails from the south of the country, was named as interim prime minister, with instructions to form a cabinet within a few days.

Kyrgyzstan’s constitution says that in the absence of the president, the prime minister takes his place, and if he is unable to do so the speaker of parliament steps in. That makes Bakiev acting head of state, with Kadyrbekov as number two.

The parliament that met was the outgoing one, not the new body created by the recent elections in which allegations of ballot-rigging were the immediate cause of the protests.

Any possible confusion about which legislature was now viewed as legitimate was dealt with when the supreme court cancelled the mandate of the new parliament. The old one will stay in power for the moment; its legal mandate does not run out until April 14.

On March 25, national television announced a number of key ministerial appointments made by Bakiev: Myktybek Abdyldaev becomes interior minister, Usen Sydykov is head of the presidential administration and Akylbek Duyshembiev presidential charge d’affaires. Kadyrbekov, the new speaker, is also named as transport minister.

Azimbek Beknazarov, a noted opposition leader from the south, becomes prosecutor general, and Dastan Sarygulov is state secretary.

Bakiev also named some new regional governors, appointed on an acting basis: Anvar Artykov, the ethnic Uzbek who has been coordinating the opposition protests in Osh region, takes charge there; Jusupbek Jeenbekov becomes governor of Jalalabad, another southern region; and Turgunbek Kulmurzaev gets Chuy region.

Bakiev sacked the previous incumbents of these posts, as well as Deputy Prime Minister Kubanychbek Jumaliev and Emergencies Minister Temirbek Akmataliev.

Some other important appointments are also known: Abdylda Suranchiev, a former deputy interior minister, becomes interim minister, General Ismail Isakov has been named as defence minister, and Kalyk Imankulov keeps his job as head of the National Security Service.

Felix Kulov, a substantial opposition figure who was released from prison by opposition supporters on March 24, does not yet have any formal post although the parliament put him in overall charge of the country’s law-enforcement agencies – a job he has some qualifications to do as a former security minister.

Despite the steps taken so far to create mechanisms to secure a legitimate transition of power, there is a strong sense that a power vacuum is developing. These fears were strengthened by unrest, looting and arson in Bishkek which was at its height overnight but continued into March 25 (see accompanying story).

There were demonstrations outside parliament on the morning of March 25, apparently by rival groups supporting different opposition leaders. Each grouping called for its respective favourite - Kulov, prime minister elect Bakiev, or Adakhan Madumarov – to be made Kyrgyz president.

IWPR has learned that supporters of these three politicians plus Kadyrbekov are now campaigning for the presidency.

Each man has a different powerbase. Bakiev heads the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan and the Coordination Council for People's Unity, the latter group set up to make the regional protests coalesce into one. Like him, Madumarov is a southerner – an important distinction in Kyrgyz politics – and represents the Atajurt movement. The other two are northerners: Felix Kulov is chairman of the Arnamys party and Ishenbay Kadyrbekov, a major figure in the Naryn region, has links with the Communist Party.

Supporters of various politicians – and their opponents too - are being broadcast live on national television. The process of negotiating for position appears to be difficult, and may be holding up the much-needed emergence of a united government.

“I’m counting on the prudence of our politicians,” Ishengul Boljurova, the deputy head of the People’s Movement of Kyrgyzstan, told IWPR. “They need to go for a sensible compromise in order to save and strengthen Kyrgyzstan. Wisdom must prevail, as our homeland is having hard times.”

Yrysbek Omurzakov, the editor-in-chief of the human rights newspaper Tribuna, said the opposition had not expected to face the task of building a government so quickly.

“No one expected that Akaev, who was shown every day on national television, would fly away by helicopter within an hour – whether to Kazakstan, Russia or Switzerland. The opposition are going to have to work under extreme conditions. It’s going to be very hard to accomplish, because until today, they were united only by the aim of toppling Akaev,” he said.

Akaev and his family were nowhere to be found, disappearing from public view on March 24. Akaev’s whereabouts still remain unknown. One account has it that he flew to Moscow but his plane was not allowed to land, diverting to Kazakstan.

United States government sources claimed Akaev was still in Kyrgyzstan. But the president himself denied this.

On March 25, a defiant Akaev reappeared, apparently issuing a statement to the national news agency Kabar.

“In the situation that has arisen I took a decision to leave Kirgizia [Kyrgyzstan] temporarily,” he said. “I did so in the name of humanism, so as to avoid bloodshed and prevent casualties.”

He went on to stress, “As legally elected head of state, I will continue to be an inalienable leading participant in the republic’s state and political processes. Any attempt to deprive me of my presidential powers by unconstitutional means will be a state crime.”

Akaev promised that the “current revolutionary viruses would be overcome”, and concluded, “My present sojourn outside the country is a temporary one.”

Ainagul Abdrakhmanova is IWPR programme coordinator in Bishkek. Sultan Kanazarov is a correspondence for Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of RFE/RL.

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