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Kyrgyz Parliament Rebuffs Ministers

Legislators turn down request to confirm key ministerial appointments.
By Cholpon Orozobekova

The Kyrgyz legislature took an unexpected stand this week, refusing to rubberstamp a list of cabinet members proposed by President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

Critics of parliament say the decision was a plot by reactionaries to undermine Bakiev’s reformist agenda and keep the old order intact. But others says the list of ministers suggested by Bakiev was itself disappointing.

Passions were already running high when parliament gathered on September 27 to review Bakiev’s government list. Demonstrators outside held banners aloft, while in the corridors inside, envoys sent by the government lobbied deputies to support this or that candidate for a ministerial post.

But at the end of the day, parliament approved only ten of the 16 ministers who had been put forward.

The six who were rejected included Roza Otunbaeva, the former diplomat who was a prime mover in the protest movement that led to the ousting of President Askar Akaev’s administration in March.

Other former opposition members who were rejected included Ishenbay Kadyrbekov, seeking confirmation in his acting post of minister of transport and communications, and Alevtina Pronenko, put forward as social security minister, a post she had held on an interim basis.

Kadyrbekov found himself the focus of not one but two demonstrations outside parliament – one calling for him to be confirmed as minister, the other opposing this.

Parliament’s decision to block these appointments was seen by some as a deliberate attempt to block the more reformist elements in the Bakiev administration.

“There are prominent people who did not get into government,” said Jypar Jeksheev, the chairman of the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan. “It seems there’s some kind of sabotage going on against the new regime. I think that there is a deliberate plan to weaken it. I am very concerned that Otunbaeva did not get in.”

Otunbaeva herself blamed forces which had sneaked into power on the coat-tails of the revolution.

“I stuck in the throats of certain people who came to… this building to resolve their own problems,” she said.

Kubatbek Baibolov, a former opposition member now in parliament, commented “They exacted revenge on Roza because she’d said it was necessary to dissolve this parliament.”

The following day, on September 28, a group of non-government organisations, NGOs – which were instrumental in the March revolution - issued a statement laying the blame on parliament.

“Parliament has already betrayed Beknazarov by forbidding him to even appear in the building. And yesterday there was another quiet, secretive act of revenge on the most popular politicians - those who embodied hope for better things,” said the statement.

Parliament’s newly assertive tone was in all likelihood prompted in part by two bombshell events the previous week – Bakiev’s dismissal of chief prosecutor Azimbek Beknazarov, another former opposition leader; and the murder of a leading politician and businessman, Bayaman Erkinbaev.

But its rejection of leading lights in the March revolution may also reflect parliament’s own controversial origins. It was the two rounds of parliamentary elections, in late February and early March, that galvanised the protest movement over concerns that the ballot was rigged to allow Akaev to stuff the legislature with loyalists – in some case his relatives.

After the revolution there was some talk of recalling the old parliament pending fresh elections – indeed old and new bodies existed and held sessions in parallel for a brief period. But in the end the former revolutionaries in the interim government plumped for the new parliament, to whose membership they had previously objected so violently.

Many of those who helped bring the Bakiev government to power believe it has been comprised by its failure to stand up to the unreformed Akaev-era politicians sitting in parliament.

“Now that the two or three most important candidates have failed to get through parliament’s net, no outstanding politicians remain in government,” said Baibolov.

Human rights activist Asiya Sasykbaeva believes Bakiev and his prime minister Felix Kulov – whose own appointment went through smoothly – should have done a lot more to ensure the cabinet team was appointed in its entirety.

In parliament, there was some consternation at the apparently bungled procedure for nominating some ministerial positions.

For example, there were three names for the single post of first deputy prime minister. “There’s no legal basis for selecting one out of three,” complained deputy Aidarbek Kerimkulov afterwards. Things got even more confused when two of the candidates withdrew their names, clearing the way for the third. But within three minutes, Bakiev sent a message withdrawing all three.

Deputy Melis Eshimkanov offered an explanation, saying that it was Prime Minister Kulov who had made the three nominations and Bakiev had withdrawn them almost immediately – although no one appeared to be aware of the latter move.

“Kulov himself doesn’t know anything about this,” said Eshimkanov. “I don’t understand what is happening with this government.”

Eshimkanov believes the confusion reflects deeper fractures within the administration, which may indicate that it is being pulled in different directions by external forces, some political and others murkier.

“We all need to get together and discuss this openly, otherwise the situation will take a turn for the worse,” he warned. “One gets the impression that it is being controlled either by outside or third-party forces, in short there are people manipulating events.”

The resulting cabinet is, say some members of parliament, less than impressive.

“It is not a professional government, and it is already clear that it is not up to the tasks presently facing it,”said former foreign minister Muratbek Imanaliev, who leads the Justice and Progress party.

Other deputies expressed disappointment at the lack of new faces.

“There are no new people in this government, they are all the same old guys,” said Kabay Karabekov. “Of course, there are some sympathetic characters, but where are the new faces the president promised?”

Karabekov believes far too many of the ministers are hold-overs from the Akaev regime, and even from the Soviet system before that.

“This regime has just followed in the footsteps of the old regime,” he said.

The non-government sector is just as disappointed in the new cabinet. According to Edil Baisalov, leader of the NGO Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, “They’re the same old people. What will they be able to do now, if they weren’t able to do anything in the past?””

Cholpon Orozobekova is a correspondent for Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of RFE/RL.

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