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Kyrgyz President Impeachment Threat

A power-struggle is brewing in Kyrgyzstan between president and parliament
By Sultan Jumagulov

Kyrgyz parliamentarians are calling for the impeachment of President Askar Akaev, after a deputy made a speech in which he claimed many in the assembly lacked confidence in the head of state.


The motive behind the calls is a speculative report that the president has signed a secret agreement with China to transfer a considerable part of disputed border territory in Kyrgyzstan to Beijing.


In his speech, the deputy, Azimbek Beknazarov, urged his colleagues to take firm action if it is confirmed that Akaev signed an agreement on the transfer of 90,000 hectares of Kyrgyz land.


Even deputies who feel uneasy over Beknazarov's call say they will support impeachment if there is official confirmation of an agreement.


This has not been forthcoming, but Salamat Alamanov, representative of the Kyrgyz government on state border issues, has admitted to IWPR that Akaev and the chairman of China's State Council, Jiang Zemin, did sign a document in 1999 on border regions.


Alamanov said the disputed frontier had hindered the relationship between China and Russia, and, later, the Soviet Union, for more than 150 years.


"After seven years of negotiations, the two sides managed to come to a mutual agreement," he said. " For the first time in recent history, external borders were clearly defined. This was a huge success for our young state."


In response to the impeachment calls, the state media have begun a campaign to discredit the legislators, marking a new phase in the information war between the executive and parliament. According to analysts, the authorities have methodically tried to discredit the assembly by creating an image of deputies as men who line their own pockets, and who are political plotters.


However, the deputies's standing was restored after some publicised the reported border agreement with China and a separate recent scandal involving the Uzbek frontier came to light.


They may now have an opportunity to rehabilitate their image and present themselves as the true defenders and guardians of their homeland.


According to the vice-speaker of the assembly, the opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev, the authorities are bent on suppressing parliament "The deputies have become a serious obstacle to the president, " he said. "It is precisely because of this that they try to weaken us politically."


One of the most experienced deputies, Absamat Masaliev, says increasing pressure on the parliament is a tried and tested tactic of the authorities. He believes they will pass off all their mistakes onto the assembly, diverting public attention from increasing social hardship.


The attempt to stymie the parliament began immediately after the elections held at the end of last year. Akaev expressed dissatisfaction with the work of the assembly, claiming that instead of passing essential laws, it was preoccupied with swelling the number of deputies.


It is hard to know if these public reproaches will result in a crackdown on parliament. The fact that the state-controlled media have launched a sustained attack on the legislators doesn't bode well for the assembly.


The parliamentary speaker, Abdigani Erkebaev, and a well-known journalist and deputy, Kabai Karabekov, declared a dirty war was being waged against parliament. "The state media try to slander us by all possible means," Erkebaev said.


" Our patience also has its limits. If these insinuations do not come to an end, we will defend our honour within the law. Since parliament is one of the branches of power, the state media should be more objective towards us."


Erkebaev hit back at government claims that deputies were only interested in lining their pockets, and pointed out that the parliamentary budget was tiny compared with that of the executive.


Meanwhile, some deputies have called on government and the assembly to desist from making any rash moves. "Impeachment of the president or dissolution of parliament are extreme actions - they will harm the country," commented the MP Toshpolot Baltabaev. " Before initiating such procedures, any branch of government should ask itself, 'How will this benefit the people?'. They are sick of reshuffles and elections, they want to see its leaders coming up with constructive steps."


Impeachment is a complicated procedure. It is necessary to prove the president short-changed Kyrgyzstan in his border deal with China.


Secondly, the impeachment must be upheld by the constitutional court. If it doesn't, parliament will have to dissolve itself.


In 1994, the Communist-dominated parliament was suspended and its speaker, a serious contender for the presidency, replaced. Significantly, this followed a sustained media campaign on the assembly. History may be about to repeat itself.


Sultan Jumagulov is a regular IWPR contributor


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