Kyrgyz Political Elite Hit by Infighting

Beneath surface of a simple personnel switch there is layer upon layer of political and regional rivalries.

Kyrgyz Political Elite Hit by Infighting

Beneath surface of a simple personnel switch there is layer upon layer of political and regional rivalries.

Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiev’s choice of Adakhan Madumarov to head the powerful Security Council appears to be an attempt to coopt the former speaker of parliament and avert the possibility that he might join the opposition, local analysts say.

At the same time, both Madumarov’s comeback and the sudden departure of his predecessor Ismail Isakov are being seen as the outward signs of turbulence within the political elite, in which several rival factions are competing for the president’s attention.

Bakiev named Madumarov as secretary of the Security Council on October 15, five days after Isakov announced he was stepping down because he was unhappy with the president’s domestic, foreign and personnel policies. In particular, Isakov talked about “increasing signs of authoritarianism”, and the spread of corruption in the police and judiciary.

Isakov also spoke out against what he said were procedural irregularities in the October 5 local elections, in which the Jany Kyrgyzstan party he heads performed disappointingly. Jany Kyrgyzstan is a long-established group with a pro-government rather than opposition stance, and includes many prominent establishment figures within its ranks.

Some analysts say Jany Kyrgyzstan has felt slighted by the emergence of Bakiev’s Ak Jol party, which swept the board in the December 2007 parliamentary election just two months after it was set up.

In a statement on October 7, Jany Kyrgyzstan leaders blamed the Kyrgyz government and Ak Jol for the current economic crisis, in which the whole country is suffering periodic power-cuts, and threatened to stage protests in November if things did not improve.

President Bakiev was dismissive of the stand taken by Isakov. He suggested that his own criticism of Isakov’s work had left him feeling aggrieved.

However, many analysts see Isakov’s departure as a real blow to Bakiev, while Jany Kyrgyzstan’s threat to mount protests should be taken seriously.

“Isakov’s reputation is impeccable,” political analyst Orozbek Moldaliev told IWPR, noting in particular that Isakov’s time as defence minister prior to joining the Security Council had won him a lot of credit in the military.

“He and his Jany Kyrgyzstan party could win support regionally. As of today, there are real preconditions for nationwide political action,” said Moldaliev.

Chronic shortages of fuel, food and electricity are likely to get worse over the winter, and would provide a potent set of issues for anti-Bakiev protests, and Jany Kyrgyzstan might find strategic allies in opposition parties like Ata Meken and Ak Shumkar.

After months of silence, the opposition – which in past years repeatedly staged large demonstrations against Bakiev – has begun warning of fresh protests over the economic situation, and has indicated that it will work with anyone who shares its general aims. (For a recent attempt to capitalise on dissent within the regime, see Kyrgyz Opposition Rears Head Over Video Scandal, RCA No. 551, 08-Oct-08.)

Soon after Isakov’s resignation, Ata Meken leader Omurbek Tekebaev told the Bishkek Press Club that “there are issues on which politicians with polar opposite views can come together”.

According to Mukar Cholponbaev, himself a former speaker of parliament and now an independent political analyst, “Bakiev now needs to move towards a coalition government, constitutional reform and an early parliamentary election – that is how he will hold onto power. If he will fail to do this, then opposition forces will unite.”

Appointing Madumarov may have been a first attempt by Bakiev to address these issues.

Madumarov was a major force in the opposition movement which ousted President Askar Akaev in the March 2005 revolution and brought Bakiev to power. He served as speaker of parliament for a year until May 2008, when he was forced to step down because of a controversy over the refurbishment of the Kyrgyz parliament.

It gets more complex than that, though. While Bakiev and the opposition are at loggerheads, analysts say that within the political establishment there are a number of rival groupings vying for influence and plotting against one another other.

One faction, led by presidential aide Usen Sydykov, is believed to be at loggerheads with another group headed by the president’s son Maxim Bakiev and presidential chief of staff Medet Sadyrkulov. A third faction within the regime is led by the president’s brother Janysh Bakiev.

Regional allegiances are important in Kyrgyzstan. Most of the leading revolutionaries – and hence most of the current administration including the president – hail from the south. But these days, the Maxim Bakiev/Sadyrkulov faction is thought to represent northern interests.

By contrast, Sydykov’s group still includes many southerners, many of them leading lights in the 2005 revolution, and is linked to the Jany Kyrgyzstan party. The departure of one of them – Isakov – can thus be seen a blow to this faction and southern politicians generally, and a victory for the Maxim Bakiev/Sadyrkulov grouping.

As Alikbek Jekshenkulov, a leading figure in the opposition Movement for Justice, put it in a recent interview for RFE/RL, “The statement made by Isakov, one of the most influential southerners, shows that Bakiev is starting to lose [the support of] the southern elite.”

In that context, the president may have calculated that after losing Isakov, it was important not to gain another opponent in Madumarov.

A southerner, Madumarov is not known to be associated with either Sydykov or Jany Kyrgyzstan, but he clearly harboured a grievance – he was so annoyed by having to resign as speaker that he also stepped down as an ordinary member of parliament. If he had chosen to act, he might well have gravitated towards Jany Kyrgyzstan rather than to the opposition.

Appointing him to head the Security Council therefore kills two birds with one stone – it brings an influential politician back into the fold, and deprives both the opposition and Jany Kyrgyzstan of his potential support.

As Green Party member Erkin Bulekbaev told the Akipress news agency, “The appointment of Madumarov as head of the Security Council clearly shows that the president… is attempting to bring back influential politicians so that they don’t join the opposition.”

Asel Sultanalieva is a pseudonym for a journalist in Bishkek.

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