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New Kyrgyz Leaders Struggle to Win Legitimacy

Faltering steps by the new administration and uncertainty about the status of President Akaev mean the political transition is only half complete.
By IWPR Central Asia

A week after mass protests swept away the administration of President Askar Akaev, Kyrgyzstan remains locked in political crisis over exactly how to build a stable working government.

Since Akaev, who has fled to Moscow, shows no sign of resigning - a step which would make life a lot easier for his opponents who are undecided whether he is still legally head of state - there are suggestions he should be impeached.

Politicians in Bishkek spent the week trying to put together political mechanisms that work and that will be seen as legitimate and constitutional. That process was complicated by signs that at the same time, the disparate groups that made up the former opposition were beginning to vie for power.

The lack of a clear, cohesive line was most apparent in the strange phenomenon – now resolved - of Kyrgyzstan's two parallel parliaments.

Because the anti-Akaev protest movement grew out of grassroots anger over ballot-rigging in elections held in two rounds on February 27 and March 13, it was to the previous legislature that the opposition turned late on the day the government building was stormed, in a bid to sanction their attempt at a smooth transition.

For a time, it seemed that reverting to the outgoing parliament would provide the definitive solution, and Kyrgyzstan's supreme court appeared to remove any room for confusion by annulling the mandates of the newly-elected deputies. Kurmanbek Bakiev, the interim prime minister and acting head of state, also seemed to favour keeping the old legislature.

Yet there was also talk of both legislatures being recognised on a temporary basis, and they even held rival sessions in different parts of the parliament building on March 27.

Then, the same day, the Central Electoral Commission – which retained the same members who had overseen the much-criticised ballot, but which had acquired a new head after the incumbent resigned by fax from Kazakstan – ruled that the new parliament was the legitimate one.

Crucially, that view was shared by Felix Kulov, the opposition leader who had been sprung from jail by jubilant supporters and took overall charge of the country's security and defence agencies, a job he resigned from on March 30.

By March 28, it was clear the new, single-chamber parliament had gained the upper hand over its predecessor, a larger bicameral structure. Its deputies went into session and approved Bakiev as prime minister and acting president – posts he had first been granted by its predecessor. By extension, Bakiev also had the deputies' blessing for the cabinet appointments he was making.

The legislature picked one of the very few opposition candidates to win a seat in the election, Omurbek Tekebaev, who is head of the left-of-centre Ata Meken party, as its speaker.

Rank-and-file opposition supporters who had spent weeks campaigning against an institution they believed had been elected unfairly were taken aback to see some of their leaders apparently executing a complete volte face. Some began fresh protests outside the parliament building, which coalesced into a group calling itself the March 27 Movement.

Adakhan Madumarov, an influential opposition leader who like Bakiev and many of the protesters comes from the south of Kyrgyzstan, is in no doubt that some of his fellow-politicians have got it badly wrong.

"The new authorities have started out by endlessly dividing up [ministerial] portfolios," said Madumarov, who has turned down an offer of the job of deputy prime minister. "They've forgotten the wave on which they rode to the Olympian heights of politics."

The protesters' original wishes, he said, have only been half satisfied so far, "During the protest actions, the nation put two demands – that the election results be annulled, and that Akaev resigned. The latter has been achieved, with the people's help. The former demand, which led people to come here crying 'Down with the illegitimate parliament!', has not been fulfilled."

Madumarov believes the legal uncertainties surrounding the new parliament, coupled with other miscalculated steps, make for a dangerous mixture.

"Askar Akaev drove Kyrgyzstan into a dead-end, but the new authorities are driving it further in," he warned. "It's not just the authorities who are in danger now, it's the whole of Kyrgyzstan, due to the dubious legitimacy of the new sitting parliament."

IWPR asked Professor Zainiddin Kurmanov, who lectures in constitutional law at the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University, to shed some light on the legalities of the process now in hand.

Citing the Kyrgyz constitution, Kurmanov began by saying that, technically, "the revolution which we've had is illegal and anticonstitutional… the people who have carried out this action are criminals under the law".

In addition, he said, "Akaev's claim to come back and hold power is, unfortunately, legal."

The only ways in which a president can be removed are if he chooses to step down voluntarily, if he is impeached, or if he is incapacitated or dies.

Short of a surprise resignation by Akaev, impeachment now seems the most workable option – but even that is problematic. "The question is whether the new parliament, where about two-thirds of the seats are filled at present, can take such a decision because it requires the assent of no fewer than four-fifths of its total [75] membership," explained the law professor.

As the politicians and experts continue debating these issues in Bishkek, the one missing piece in the jigsaw is of course Akaev himself.

Now in Moscow, he spoke on the Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy – which is heard in Kyrgyzstan – on March 29 to insist he was still head of state and saw no grounds for resignation.

That is a direct challenge to the actions undertaken by the emerging leadership in Kyrgyzstan, who have already scheduled a presidential election for June.

"One state cannot have two presidents: Akaev, who has not legally resigned, and another one, whoever is elected on June 26," said lawyer Marat Mergenov.

Although Akaev has circulated a statement saying he will come back to Kyrgyzstan, political scientist Elmira Nogoybaeva believes there's little chance of this happening.

"Akaev won't be able to return in the near future, at least not as president," she told IWPR. "Many people view the way in which he departed as treachery. He pushed the country into chaos and left it very politically fractured, with divisions among the opposition and also among his own people."

Nogoybaeva predicted, "If he does come back, no one's going to offer him serious support. After all, it wasn't just the country he abandoned on March 24, it was his inner circle, his own team."

Professor Kurmanov believes there is a danger that the present constitution could become an obstruction in the political process, "The longer the present constitution remains in effect, the more vulnerable the current revolutionaries will be in the eyes of the law, and the greater the likelihood that Akaev's political regime will be restored, with or without him personally.

“It's possible that there could be outside intervention to restore constitutional order and bring the legally elected president, Askar Akaev, back to Kyrgyzstan."

As politicians tie themselves in knots trying to maintain a semblance of continuity and legality, Kurmanov thinks their behaviour stems from an awareness that in constitutional terms, they are right out on a limb.

"Most of today's revolutionaries, who were bureaucrats only yesterday, realised in the wake of the unplanned storming of the White House [central government building] that they had carried out an anti-constitutional coup. And now they are trying to move back onto a constitutional footing," he said.

"So the revolution is visibly starting to acquire the features of a 'bureaucrats' revolution'."

Ainagul Abdrakhmanova is IWPR's programme coordinator in Bishkek

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