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

Kyrgyz Summit Fails to Impress

More protests planned as government and opposition fail to find middle ground.
By Leila Saralaeva
Leading opposition figures say little was achieved at a hastily-convened meeting with the Kyrgyz government, and have vowed to push ahead with plans for a big demonstration later this month.



President Kurmanbek Bakiev, Prime Minister Felix Kulov and parliamentary speaker Marat Sultanov met opposition members and civil society activists for two hours on April 19. The invitation came after the People’s Coalition of Democratic Forces – a broad grouping of party leaders, politicians and public figures – revealed plans for an April 29 meeting in Bishkek’s main square that they hope will attract 20,000 to 30,000 people.



Politicians are saying that Bakiev’s sudden decision to listen to the opposition was made to calm the situation at home ahead of his visit to Moscow on April 24. The session was so quickly arranged that Sultanov was forced to rearrange his schedule in order to attend.



Bakiev, who has been the subject of fierce criticism in recent months for not doing enough to battle crime and corruption in Kyrgyzstan, said he called the summit to hear the views of the opposition and give his response.



Participants, however, said it was the president who did most of the talking. Parliamentary deputy Kubatbek Baibolov complained that Bakiev was given 45 minutes to speak while everyone else got just five minutes each.



“This meeting was organised according to the best traditions of [former president Askar] Akaev’s time, and it resembled a dialogue least of all,” he said. “It was a monologue by the president about how everything is fine in the country. This meeting was prepared beforehand in the presidential administration, the questions were prepared in advanced and it was decided who would ask what.



“All in all, it was a mess. And there were no thorough answers to any of the questions put to the president.”



Kyrgyzstan has been rocked by protests since the overthrow of Akaev in March 2005. Many have focused on the growing lawlessness and the perception that the Bakiev government is not doing enough to tackle crime.



The minister for industry, trade and tourism, Almazbek Atambaev, joined that chorus on April 21, saying he was resigning because "the future of Kyrgyzstan is more important than a minister's post".



In a statement, the leader of Social Democratic Party attacked the country’s leadership for "fighting corruption only in words", "usurping power", "allowing criminals to freely enter the authority structures" and attempting to create a "tame parliament and media".



It was Atambaev – also a member of the People's Coalition of Democratic Forces – who on April 17 passed on a list of ten opposition demands to Bakiev, including swift implementation of constitutional reforms; reform of the law-enforcement agencies; the resignation of the president’s chief of staff, the prosecutor general, the state secretary and the head of the National Security Service; and the re-structuring of the state television and radio broadcaster.



The opposition statement said that if the government is unable to deliver on these demands, then both Bakiev and Kulov should resign.



If participants in the April 19 meeting – from which the independent media were originally barred until the opposition protested – thought it would be the beginning of a process in which these issues would be addressed, they went away disappointed. The session was instead a broader discussion touching on more general topics like corruption and stability.



Bakiev did address the controversial issue of constitutional reform, a subject of prolonged debate which effectively ended in stalemate late last year.



But he offered little hope that this process would be kick-started any time soon, as many had hoped. He insisted nothing could happen in coming months, as a reform would require the dissolution of parliament and government pending fresh elections.



“We would lose time again. We’d lose a year,” he said. “We need to tackle the economy and create jobs.”



On corruption, the president insisted there has been progress, citing an increase in tax and customs revenues. “We have diverted a flow of missing funds back towards the budget. We are fighting corruption not in words but in actions,” he said.



Bakiev warned that the recent trend of protest demonstrations is hurting the country’s investment prospects and distracting the government from more important matters like the economy and job creation.



“I call on all representatives of civil society, political parties, non-government, public and youth organisations… to apply all their efforts to ensuring stability in the country, and not to be led by those who would benefit from instability,” said Bakiev.



In final remarks, Bakiev rejected claims that Kyrgyzstan was under a tyranny, saying that with its active non-government sector, it is the most democratic of the former Soviet countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States.



“It pleases me when a society like this exists, when there are political parties and people speak directly,” he said. “In this society there will be progress. In this society, there will be forward movement.”



Kulov told the meeting he supports the calls for democratic reforms and understands the opposition’s “alarm and concern about many issues”.



Sultanov, the speaker of parliament, later described the meeting as a success and said it provided a good opportunity for all sides to express their views.



The opposition, however, was less enthusiastic.



“I got the impression that the regime, in the persons of Bakiev and Kulov, demonstrated that they regard their own views as the only correct ones,” said

parliamentary deputy Temir Sariev.



Omurbek Tekebaev, a deputy who has been one of the president’s main opponents, was more conciliatory, saying that the meeting was useful and that it showed the president is at least willing to listen to the people.



However, Tekebaev agreed that little was achieved. “I do not think there was any dialogue,” he said.



Tekebaev hopes the April 29 gathering in Bishkek, during which protestors are being asked to remain on the central square for several days, will hammer the opposition’s message home to the government.



“If 20-30,000 people gather on the square, then this should show the authorities that something in their programme is not right, that the people are not happy with the policies being followed,” he said.



“Under Akaev, the opposition could never gather more than 1,000 people. And if at the beginning of Bakiev’s rule, tens of thousands of people express their discontent outside his office window, I think that should bring the current rulers to their senses.”



As April 29 draws nearer, some public figures such as Alisher Mamasaliev, leader of the youth movement Kelkel, are calling for compromise.



Speaking at the meeting addressed by Bakiev, Mamasaliev said, “We call on the heads of the country and the opposition leaders to take the first steps towards each other. Let us reach out to each other, because then we will get a long way.”



Leila Saralaeva is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.

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