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

Kyrgyz Speaker Resigns in Row with President

A personal conflict between president and parliamentary chairman mirrors the chasm between the institutions they represent.
By Leila Saralaeva
The shock resignation of the speaker of Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has left deputies asking what comes next, with some saying he was the only force holding the fractured legislature together.



Omurbek Tekebaev announced he was stepping down on February 13 after admitting that he had overstepped the mark in an escalating war of words with Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiev.



The row began on February 3 when Bakiev used an address to parliament to accuse its members of obstructing his administration, blocking legislation, responding “hysterically” to any crisis, and lining their own pockets.



Tekebaev – whom Bakiev had identified as the leader of parliamentary obstructiveness – responded on February 7. But in his remarks he said Bakiev had “brought shame on himself”.



“If he is a man, he should hang himself,” he added.



The following day, Tekebaev issued a retraction admitting that “the form and tone of his statement were not suitable to the high position which I occupy, I regret this”. He also announced that he would be resigning.



The day after that, February 9, the parliamentary head and the president were both supposed to be present at a session of Kyrgyzstan’s Security Council. Bakiev let it be known that he did not want to see Tekebaev there, but members of parliament insisted he go.



As Tekebaev’s spokesman, Zalkar Kamalov, told IWPR, “In accordance with the deputies’ wishes, Tekebaev went to the Government House for the Security Council meeting. There, presidential administration chief Usen Sydykov, and Security Council secretary Miroslav Niyazov informed those present that the president was unable to join them, as he did not wish to sit down at the same table as Tekebaev.”



On hearing this, Tekebaev announced he was leaving the meeting as the Security Council’s work was too important to be disrupted. As he left through one door, President Bakiev came in through another.



There was no let-up in the confrontation as the same day, Kyrgyzstan’s chief prosecutor appeared in parliament to say Tekebaev’s remarks could be construed as an offence under the criminal code section dealing with slander.



The prosecutor went much further than this personal dispute, suggesting that a grave constitutional crisis was emerging.



Referring to “insurmountable contradictions between the Jogorku Kenesh [parliament] and other branches of state authority”, he suggested that this might be grounds for the president to use his powers under the constitution to dissolve the legislature before its term was up. Elected last spring in controversial polls, the current parliament would normally sit until 2010.



After parliament turned down Tekebaev’s request for a debate on his resignation, he formally handed in his notice on February 13. His two deputies Bolot Sherniyazov and Erkinbek Alymbekov submitted their resignations along with him, but parliament later refused to discuss this possibility, so they will stay on in their posts.



“On Friday, [Prime Minister] Felix Kulov and Kurmanbek Bakiev made it clear to me that I should leave, and that they were united in this view. I kept my word and resigned,” Tekebaev said in a statement that mixed defiance with apology.



“I have resigned mainly because I myself have assessed the form of my remarks as being inappropriate and unworthy. The form, that is, but not the content, because almost everyone agrees with that.”



He went on to say that as parliament had grown in stature and became the focus for national debate in recent months, “certain people have become very jealous, and have accused the Jogorku Kenesh of seeking to usurp the role of head of state”.



The resignation of his two deputies was, said Tekebaev, a clear indication of the strength of parliamentary opposition to the Bakiev government, which he accused of “lacking willpower, compromising with lawless elements, ignoring difficulties, and avoiding solutions to important problems facing the country”.



He said the dispute showed that most “progressive political forces” now favoured the idea of a strong parliament rather than a strong presidency. The question of how the state is structured came to the fore during months of discussion on the constitution last year, a debate which ended inconclusively with President Bakiev promising a national referendum on the system of government later in 2006.



Tekebaev’s comments were mirrored in statements by both his deputies. Alymbekov suggested that the current government was striving to follow the pattern set by former president Askar Akaev - ousted last March - even though times had changed. He even accused Bakiev of trying to turn the legislature into the kind of subservient institution seen in the repressive Central Asia states of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.



For his part, Sherniyazov said the speaker had been forced out by political intrigue among a leadership that was groomed in the Soviet period. “We must make way for a new political elite, an elite of young people,” he said.



Bakiev’s team were not sorry to see Tekebaev go. The president’s official representative in parliament, Daniyar Narymbaev, said that after the kind of remarks the speaker had made, his resignation was “a very manly and worthy action on his part”.



In the parliament, many were concerned at the loss of their chairman.



“Tekebaev united us all like a monolith,” deputy Melis Eshimkanov told IWPR. “After he resigns, deputies will begin internecine squabbles and parliament’s work will be practically paralysed.”



Another deputy, Kanybek Imanaliev, believes that “Tekebaev is the strongest parliamentarian in the 15-year history of Kyrgyzstan”, adding that “as for his emotional statements - these are emotional times”.



Others were less sympathetic. “The speaker overdid it. He referred to the head of state in an insulting manner,” said deputy Kubanychbek Isabekov.



Deputy Iskhak Masaliev described the incident as “a slip of the tongue” for which any self-respecting politician should resign. But he insisted parliament would be able to carry on regardless.



Other observers were less sure about this, saying that the personal conflict between speaker and president was mirrored by a broader rivalry been legislators and the executive. They disagree on which conflict came first, however.



According to political analyst Alexander Knyazev, the personal dispute is merely an external manifestation of a more profound crisis. “On the one hand, we have President Bakiev’s aspiration for increased authoritarianism, and on the other, parliament’s desire to change the form of rule, or at least shift it closer to parliamentary rule,” he said



“In this conflict, parliament is showing greater political maturity, as it is more inclined towards compromise.”



But others such as deputy Omurbek Babanov say the personal problem has created the political one. The result, he says, is “a misunderstanding between parliament and the regime, because the leaders of these two branches of power are unable to meet each other inside parliament”.



Babanov notes that since the new administration and legislature came into being ten months ago, Bakiev has only been inside parliament twice, and on both occasions he delivered a speech and left without waiting to hear the response.



Members of parliament are due to vote formally on Tekebaev's resignation on February 20. If he goes – as seems more than likely - it is not clear what lies in store for parliament or who might take charge of it.



Tekebaev’s own departure seems a fait accompli. As he said, “Every politician should have the courage not to defend his position, but instead to leave when necessary.”



Leila Saralaeva is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.