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Kyrgyzstan Gets New Speaker

Marat Sultanov promises to unite a divided chamber, but some are concerned that President Bakiev will exert more control over parliament.
By Leila Saralaeva
Deputies are divided on whether Kyrgyzstan’s new parliamentary speaker will weaken the legislature or offer much-needed stability to a body torn by strife.



Marat Sultanov, the 46-year-old co-chairman of the Adilet party, was elected speaker after a close-run contest. After three rounds of voting on February 28 produced no clear winner, Sultanov entered the race and in a final run-off against Zamirbek Esenamanov was declared speaker on March 2. Forty five deputies voted for him and 14 against.



The job came vacant after the shock resignation last month of Omurbek Tekebaev, who stepped down after a public row with President Kurmanbek Bakiev. Tekebaev – who many said was the only force holding the parliament together – quit on February 27 after apologising for saying Bakiev should “hang himself”. That remark was in response to suggestions by the president that deputies were corrupt and obstructing the work of his administration.



Sultanov was chairman of the National Bank of Kyrgyzstan in 1994-98 and a former finance minister under Askar Akaev. He resigned in July 1999 and took a leading role in the pro-Akaev party Adilet when it emerged in 2000.



After his victory was announced, Sultanov promised to pursue policies to unite the divided chamber and promote order in Kyrgyzstan, which has suffered continuing turbulence since Akaev was ousted last March. “I am a sensible person. I want there to be peace in the country and dialogue between bodies of power and not confrontation. I will work in this direction,” he told IWPR.



He denied accusations that he is simply a presidential pawn, saying, “I was never a pro-Bakiev or pro-Akaev deputy. The presidential administration did not influence the deputies’ choice in any way.”



Bakiev promised before the election that neither he nor his administration would interfere in the process, and would respect the choice made by deputies. He also expressed his desire to work with whoever was elected.



He later praised the choice of Sultanov, who he said would protect the interests of all Kyrgyz without regard for the country’s traditional north-south divide.



Some parliamentarians remain unconvinced and are concerned that Bakiev –with Sultanov’s help – could be trying to turn the legislature into the kind of subservient institution seen in more repressive Central Asian states like Uzbekistan.



“You could say that the removal of a figure like Tekebaev and the election of speaker Sultanov is a victory for the presidential administration. Tekebaev and Sultanov are different political figures. The parliament will most likely lose its independence,” said deputy Iskhak Masaliev.



Melis Eshimkanov told IWPR that he is also concerned. “With Tekebaev’s departure, the parliament will become spineless. It will no longer be a truly independent body,” he said.



The editor of the newspaper Litsa, Bermet Bukasheva, expects the chamber to be a quieter place with Sultanov in charge. “After the March revolution… it became more lively, a more democratic and influential body,” she said. “Now everything is returning to normal. All the power is being concentrated in the hands of one person. The path is leading to authoritarianism.”



The majority of deputies, however, were more positive about Sultanov’s election.



Sooronbai Jeenbekov, who stood for the post of speaker and took part in the earlier rounds of voting before Sultanov came in, said the new chairman will be able to maintain “the balance between he Government House, parliament and the people”.



Deputy Kanybek Imanaliev agreed that Sultanov was a good choice. “He is a worthy candidate,” he said. “He has major experience in the sphere of state administration. He is an active deputy. For the sake of stability, in order to work constructively with the presidential administration, with the government, the majority of deputies made this choice.”



Deputy speaker Erkinbek Alymbekov agrees that parliament will be calmer with Sultanov as speaker but will maintain its independence.



“There won't be any confrontations with the president, but we will not become a fully tame parliament either. A certain mollification of parliament’s position will make it possible to work productively with the president and other branches of power.”



Political analyst Nur Omarov is also pleased with the election of Sultanov, “I assess this choice very positively. He is a young, well-known politician, distinguished for his restrained views and behaviour."



Leila Saralaeva is an IWPR reporter in Bishkek.

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