Kyrgyzstan: Political Confrontation Intensifies

Anti-government coalition accuses authorities of persecution and intimidation.

Kyrgyzstan: Political Confrontation Intensifies

Anti-government coalition accuses authorities of persecution and intimidation.

Tension is mounting between the Kyrgyz political opposition and the country’s leadership following the creation of an alliance of moderate and radical anti-government forces.

Opposition activists – who have joined forces and presented a list of radical demands, including the resignation of the president – accuse the authorities of putting pressure on its leaders and intimidating its supporters.

The United People’s Movement, UPM, has also announced the creation of a committee to support people persecuted for their political views.

The government, meanwhile, has been dismissive of the coalition, accusing its members of breaking the law by calling for the head of state’s resignation.

The UPM, which was established in December, includes major parties like Ata Meken, Ak Shumkar, Asaba and Jany Kyrgyzstan, as well as the Social Democrats – the only political group represented in parliament apart from the ruling Ak Jol.

Its founding document states that its aims include replacing current president Kurmanbek Bakiev, setting up a coalition government, and adopting a new constitution to replace the current presidential-style system with a parliamentary-based one.

At its first meeting on January 12, the UPM said it intended to organise nationwide protests calling for an improvement to the economic situation in the country. It has also called for a halt to a planned privatisation programme under which strategic assets in energy, gold production and telecommunications industries are to be sold.

Previous attempts to form a broad coalition of anti-government groups – including one in November last year – have foundered.

Observers note that the latest coalition includes not only hardliners such as Azimbek Beknazarov, whose People’s Revolutionary Movement pursues an agenda of removing the head of state, but also more moderate groups such as Jany Kyrgyzstan.

The opposition groups joined forces last month, after the financial crisis in Kyrgyzstan went from bad to worse.

The global financial crisis has hit migrant workers particularly hard, causing Kyrgyz labourers’ remittances to be slashed by the equivalent to19 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Unemployment has soared, and following the onset of winter, the population has increasingly felt the bite of ongoing electricity shortages.

The opposition politicians – who have called for drastic measures to be taken to stop living conditions deteriorating further – say that their political activities have prompted the authorities to stage a campaign of politically motivated persecutions.

On December 30, almost a week after the UPM was founded, a criminal case was launched against the leader of Jany Kyrgyzstan – former defence minister and ex-secretary of the Security Council Ismail Iskakov.

The charges against him, which date back to his time as defence minister, include accusations that he misused public funds, allowed illegal sales of vehicles and spare parts by military personnel, and allowed his son to rent out an apartment provided to him free during his tenure as minister.

At a press conference on January 15, Isakov rejected the accusations and said the legal case against him was the result of a “political order” from the president.

“This is an attempt to intimidate the opposition,” he said.

On January 9, the prosecutor general’s office opened a criminal case against leading member of the Green Party Erkin Bulekbaev for allegedly insulting the president. It was reported that police found satirical cartoons depicting Bakiev.

On January 14, the Bishkek prosecutor’s office sent a warning to Alikbek Jekshenkulov, the coordinator of the Movement for Justice, about an article he had published in the Uchur newspaper last November.

In this, he outlined various political aims, including changing the constitution, forcing the president to resign, and warned of mass protests.

The prosecutor’s letter stated that the article could be interpreted as a call for the overthrow of the government. It warned that if he continued to produce such material, action would be taken against him, according to the AKI-Press news agency.

The following day, Ata-Meken party published a press release outlining instances of pressure it said had been applied on its members prior to local party meetings on January 17 and 18.

According to Ata Meken’s statement, the prosecutor’s office in the northern

Talas region warned their members not to break the law.

The party also claimed that “at the same time, the Pervomaysky district prosecutor’s office in Bishkek summoned Ata-Meken activists for interviews about forthcoming gatherings”.

“These are methods of political intimidation. The authorities are trying to put pressure on leaders [of the opposition] themselves or through their relatives. This means that they can’t ignore our union, which is the only real opposition force,” said Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebaev.

Tekebaev said that the authorities were driven by fear that the UPM enjoyed wide public support.

According to him, the current climate in Kyrgyzstan was similar to that which preceded the so-called Tulip Revolution of 2005, when popular protests ousted the then president Askar Akaev and brought Bakiev to power.

“Both then and now, you could see people mistrusted those in power, who lacked moral authority. Both then and now, public opinion was completely controlled by the authorities, and there was persecution of journalists and dissidents, criminal persecution of political opponents,” he said.

Temir Sariev from Ak Shumkar agreed that people had plenty of reasons to protest.

“Look how people’s living standards are falling, how people live in rural areas when the power is cut for 18 hours a day, and there is no coal to use for heating and large families are forced to be cramped into one room [to keep warm],” he said.

Jekshenkulov said that as the economic crisis continues, he was confident that the opposition’s views would strike a chord with the public.

“I would like to say that the wider the crisis in the country becomes, the more people will support us,” he said.

However, officials have been dismissive of the new alliance.

The president’s press secretary Nurlan Shakiev told IWPR that the opposition coalition was only temporary, and suggested that underlying divisions between the various parties would prevent a long-term alliance.

“At the moment, they are united by a common interest, but because of their personal ambitions and inability to reach a consensus, they will very soon disintegrate,” he said.

Shakiev warned that unless the opposition reconsidered its more radical demands, the authorities were unlikely to negotiate.

Other officials have said the opposition’s demands are unconstitutional.

“Their calls for the early resignation of the head of state are not only illegal, but are also groundless and are against the people,” State Secretary Dosbol Nur-Uulu told journalists on December 25.

Anara Yusupova is the pseudonym for a journalist in Bishkek.

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