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

Kyrgyzstan: Kulov May Unite Opposition

Many opposition leaders have said they are ready to rally around the former prime minister.
By Taalai Amanov
Felix Kulov’s pledge last week to unite factions opposed to the government of Kurmanbek Bakiev may strengthen the country’s opposition movement, but could also exacerbate the country’s north-south divide, analysts believe.

Kyrgyz citizens had been waiting with interest for Kulov’s first public statement since parliament scuppered his hopes of remaining prime minister earlier this month.

He resigned along with his cabinet on December 19 but stayed on in a caretaker capacity. Bakiev put his name forward again on January 18, but he was rejected by deputies. Legislators said no for a second time on January 25, and Bakiev then proposed Azim Isabekov who parliamentarians approved.

Though he’s no longer prime minister, Kulov made clear in his February 14 speech that he’s far from done with politics.

He said “he could not and would not be an outside observer of the political processes in the country”, adding he would not restrict himself to his own political party, Ar-Namys, but would “unite and head separate social and political forces, those which want fundamental positive changes”.

Kulov admitted he hadn’t fully justified voters’ faith in the so-called “tandem” – the alliance he forged with Bakiev to secure victory in the July 2005 presidential election and maintain stability.

He then went on to attack corruption in business and government that he suggested was similar to sleaze levels seen in the Akaev-era.

“The majority of television channels have already come under the control of people who are close to a certain family,” he said. “The government and politics are becoming criminalised. Threats are being made once more, and persecution has begun of people who do not agree with the so-called ruling line.”

Since Kulov’s speech, many Kyrgyz opposition leaders have said they are ready to join him.

Deputy Melis Eshimkanov urged opposition groups to put aside their differences and rally around Kulov. “For the first time in two years, having freed himself from the fetters of the tandem, Kulov has told the bitter truth,” he said. “Kulov has taken a rational, courageous step, and he has been fully rehabilitated in the eyes of the Kyrgyz opposition.”

Kabai Karabekov, another opposition deputy, also urged his counterparts to join the former prime minister.

“Felix Kulov justly remarked in his speech that at the presidential elections, the majority of people voted not for Kurmanbek Bakiev, but for the Bakiev-Kulov tandem. All of us who care about the country’s fate should unite today, otherwise the present regime will bring the country to collapse,” he said.

Other opposition leaders, however, were less enthusiastic.

Edil Baisalov, leader of the coalition For Democracy and Civil Society, told IWPR that Kulov should make public any information he has about cases of corruption in power, backed up with evidence.

The leader of the opposition For Reforms movement, Almazbek Atambaev, was sceptical about Kulov’s motives.

“[His] words are very eloquent,” he said. “But you ask yourself, if Kulov had been approved by parliament, would he be saying these things? Or would he just have kept working? So it’s hard for me to believe him at the moment.”

Political analyst Alexander Knyazev speculated that the split between Kulov, from the north of Kyrgyzstan, and Bakiev, whose power-base is the southern Jalalabad region, could lead to an escalation of the existing conflict between north and south.

“I think that there will be a consolidation of northern opposition forces around Kulov,” Knyazev told IWPR.

He did express some optimism, however, saying that with a charismatic and experienced politician like Kulov leading the opposition, political life could change for the better.

“It is clear that Felix Kulov is taking a tough position. He is able to consolidate powerful forces around himself. The opposition which Kulov is joining will seriously oppose the government,” said Knyazev.

Political analyst Nur Omarov agrees that Kulov’s change of sides bodes well for a more stable Kyrgyzstan. “People have long expected that he will be able to lead the constructive opposition in the country,” Omarov told IWPR.

The government had little to say about Kulov’s announcement with the only comment coming from the presidential press secretary Nurlan Shakiev, who focused on the Kulov’s departure from the government. He denied Bakiev had violated the conditions of the tandem.

“The head of state could not dissolve the supreme legislative body of the country [parliament] for the sake of one person’s interests,” said Shakiev. “This would have inevitably led to a worsening of the already complex political situation in the country.”

Taalai Amanov is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.