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Kyrgyz Parties Get Down to Coalition-Building

Race to secure parliamentary majority before president formally anoints governing party.
By Pavel Dyatlenko, Timur Toktonaliev
  • Election race, Kyrgyz-style. These riders are backing the Ar-Namys party. (Photo: Igor Kovalenko)
    Election race, Kyrgyz-style. These riders are backing the Ar-Namys party. (Photo: Igor Kovalenko)
  • Banner of the Ata-Meken party, one of the five parties awarded seats in the Kyrgyz parliament. (Photo: Timur Rayimkulov)
    Banner of the Ata-Meken party, one of the five parties awarded seats in the Kyrgyz parliament. (Photo: Timur Rayimkulov)
  • Kamchybek Tashiev of Ata-Jurt, which won a narrow lead over its rivals but will need to forge alliances to build a ruling coalition. (Photo: Igor Kovalenko)
    Kamchybek Tashiev of Ata-Jurt, which won a narrow lead over its rivals but will need to forge alliances to build a ruling coalition. (Photo: Igor Kovalenko)

With no clear winner in Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary election, the five parties that gained seats have immediately plunged into a race to build a ruling coalition with the right to choose the next prime minister. 

The October 10 polls went off peacefully, a particular achievement given the political turbulence that has troubled Kyrgyzstan since Kurmanbek Bakiev was forced from presidential office in April and the mass violence that left over 400 dead in June. Not only that, but the conduct of the vote won rare accolades from international observers, who described it as largely free and fair.

“The last few weeks show that Kyrgyzstan can hold elections marked by pluralism, an independent election administration and respect for fundamental freedoms,” OSCE election monitoring mission head Corien Jonker said.

At a September 13 press conference, reported by the news agency, Justice Minister Aida Salyanova explained what would happen next – since no one party has won an absolute majority, interim president Roza Otunbaeva will ask one of them to form a coalition.

Clearly, if one party manages to forge a majority bloc in the interim, the president will have little choice but to give it the nod, so the five parties which won parliamentary seats are already deep in negotiations.

There are two main coalition options, one of which would involve Ata-Jurt, which emerged slightly ahead of the pack with nearly nine per cent of the vote, giving it 28 of the 120 seats in parliament.

Ata-Jurt is a new political force that won significant support in the south of Kyrgyzstan, and describes itself as a party of “national patriots” while rejecting accusations that it is holds ethnic Kyrgyz supremacist views.

The second possibility is a bloc allying the Social Democratic Party with Ata-Meken, which came second and fifth with 26 and 18 seats, respectively. Both parties are closely associated with the interim administration that replaced ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiev in April, and have members in key positions of power around the country.

To get the required absolute majority, either grouping will have to make up the numbers by winning over one or both of the remaining parties – the third-placed Ar-Namys with its 25 seats, and the newer Respublika with 23.

Leading political analyst Mars Sariev predicts a contest that pits a coalition consisting of Ata-Jurt and Ar-Namys against the Social Democrats and Ata-Meken. “Both these groups will fight to get Respublika as they need a third party to form a government,” he said.

Political analyst Valentin Bogatyrev says that apart from the two obvious blocs, “other, quite exotic coalitions are possible, as are coalitions of more than three parties providing they can agree on the distribution of jobs”.

There is also a possibility, he says, that some parties will opt out of the coalition-building process entirely so as avoid being associated with the difficult business of government, especially over the winter period when Kyrgyzstan often experiences energy shortages.

“Instead, they’ll build themselves up for the presidential election which will take place at the end of 2011,” he said.

The multiplicity of choices results from a constitution passed by national referendum in June designed to create greater democracy. It gave parliament more powers and diluted those of the president, to prevent the slide towards authoritarian rule that Kyrgyzstan experienced under Bakiev and his predecessor Askar Akaev.

With authority now residing in the legislature, no governing party able to fix the result in its favour, and the number of seats expanded from 90 to 120, the election drew an unprecedented field of 29 competing parties.

Political analyst Mars Sariev believes the election result means that Kyrgyzstan’s major political forces are now inside parliament rather than outside it, and that could be a good thing for stability. While some have accused Ata-Jurt of being a stalking-horse for Bakiev and seeking to engineer his return from exile in Belarus – something the party denies – Sariev does not see this happening.

“This configuration accurately reflects the true political spectrum in Kyrgyzstan…. I don’t think those parties that didn’t make it into parliament are going to be able to rock the boat, because the main players that would really have the resources to do that have got in,” he said.
“These elite groups will now seek an informal arrangement; they will negotiate a consensus, a balance of their interests, and a division of the assets of government and finance. I don’t think there’s going to be a return by Bakiev.”

Alexei Malashenko, a Central Asia expert with the Carnegie Centre in Moscow, said it was important for the elected parties to confine their arguments to the floor of the legislature.

“The party leaders are very ambitious. It’s going to be very difficult to reach compromises, but they must because if they don’t, it will be bad for everyone,” he said. “A power struggle is now under way, and if it takes place… within some kind of parliamentary format, that will be great. It will mean the difficult initial phase of parliamentarianism has been passed successfully.”

Talking about potential divisions in the political process, Malashenko said, “I don’t believe there’s going to be Kyrgyz nationalism, although that trend does exist and cannot be discounted. It’s also very important that no one tries to play the north-versus-south card.”

For Bogatyrev, “the main question is how viable the new government will be. There could be points where a minister from one party refuses to work under a prime minister from another. That would be fatal for Kyrgyzstan given the state it’s in at the moment.”

Pavel Dyatlenko is a political analyst with the Polis Asia think-tank in Bishkek. Timur Toktonaliev is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan.

This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. 

The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

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