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

Parallel Power in Kyrgyzstan

At local level, political change has brought a free-for-all where official jobs seem to go to anyone who can grab them.
By IWPR Central Asia

The change of administration in Kyrgyzstan has resulted in chaos at local level as newcomers get themselves appointed to positions that the incumbent officials refuse to vacate.


The absurdity of situations where two or more officials claim to be in charge in the same place masks deeper concerns about the government's ability to assert its control over the country's institutions.


For a time after the “tulip revolution” of March 24, Kyrgyzstan even appeared to have two parliaments and two heads of state, but both problems have since been sorted out. The most recently elected parliament has been recognised as legitimate despite concerns about procedural abuses in the ballot. The new prime minister, Kurmanbek Bakiev, is now unchallenged as acting president after Askar Akaev formally stepped down on April 4.


But in local government, police departments, universities and other parts of the public sector across the country, new claimants continue to try to wrest positions away from Akaev-era officials.


In some places, old and new rivals are heading parallel structures, and some observers say the situation is sufficiently anarchic to threaten governance and stability in Kyrgyzstan. As a result, head of state Bakiev has been forced to take action to stop such localised coups taking place.


Several local authorities have been thrown into disarray by disputes over positions.


In the southern region of Jalalabad, newly-appointed governor Jusupbek Jeenbekov had to step in on April 6 and assert direct rule over Bazarkorgon district, a subdivision of the province he runs.


“It was a measure we were forced to take,” explained Jeenbekov, “because the district’s population divided into four groups on the issue of who should be akim [district government chief] and started arguing about whose candidate should get the position.”


The local government offices were divided up between four separate factions, each of which had a leader who began acting as if he were now in charge in the district.


Jeenbekov also had to pay a visit to the village of Mombekov in Nooken, another district in his region. The village council had two rivals in charge of it, so Jeenbekov again imposed direct rule.


In the Naryn region of northern Kyrgyzstan, a dispute over a local position escalated into a fight.


The confrontation began when Akylbek Japarov, who has been appointed acting finance minister in Bakiev’s cabinet, came to the village of Kochkor to announce the appointment of a new district chief, Kachyke Beishebaev.


In the recent election, Japarov was prevented by the then authorities from standing as an opposition candidate in Kochkor, leading to demonstrations by his supporters which were part of the broader protest movement.


But when he showed up, some residents of Kochkor opposed his attempt to nominate Beishebaev – an ally of Japarov - as local government chief. They proposed Kurmanbek Baiterekov, who stood in the election, for the post instead.


On the night of April 4, Japarov entered the village with about ten armed men from the finance ministry’s police force. Residents say they went round people's homes to intimidate Baiterekov's supporters. The latter responded by trying to detain the police, and a fight ensued in which one of the officers had his pistol taken from him. A shot was fired and a local resident was injured.


The next day, villagers went to the regional centre of Naryn where they held a public protest to complain about what they alleged was Japarov’s high-handed behaviour.


Academic institutions have also been affected by the turmoil.


The university in the major southern city of Osh now has two rectors, each of whom claims the job for himself. One, Mukhtar Orozbekov, held the post when President Askar Akaev was in power. However, the city’s new mayor Mamasadyk Bakirov brought in a different rector 12 days after the “tulip revolution”. But the status of the new man, Tashmambet Kenensariev, remains unclear since university rectors are not normally appointed by the local mayor.


Jalalabad university in the region next door is in a similar position, with the incumbent rector refusing to give way to a man elected by a public meeting of city residents.


Staff of the law-enforcement agencies in the south of Kyrgyzstan are also complaining that they being subjected to seemingly arbitrary appointments and sackings.


The decision by the new local authorities in Osh to place a fairly low-ranking police officer, Kursant Asanov, in charge of the local branch of the National Security Service, NSS, caused a backlash, with staff reportedly walking out when their new boss appeared. Asanov was previously a district-level police chief with the interior ministry.


Asanov's appointment is part of a wider pattern where the new authorities both in Osh and in the neighbouring Batken region have sacked most provincial and city-level heads of the NSS and the interior ministry, which controls the uniformed police, as well as some district police chiefs and the head of the cross-regional interior ministry for the whole of southern Kyrgyzstan.


There have been allegations in local media that some of their replacements have underworld connections.


“It's total chaos and disorder," interior ministry spokesman Nurdin Jangaraev told IWPR. "It takes years to train police officers, yet now civilians lacking experience and professionalism are being appointed to these positions. Order needs to be re-established in the law-enforcement agencies, using tough legal measures, otherwise the situation will get worse.”


Muratbek Imanaliev, who heads the Justice and Progress Party, is worried that things could get out of hand. “This is a crisis moment. It is now extremely important that the centre regains control of the regions and re-establishes its authority.


"The situation is fairly dangerous, and a lot of minor leaders have appeared who are tearing up the country in their own interests. If it's not stopped, the worst-case scenario would be civil war. That's how it started in Tajikistan.”


For the government, Ishengul Boljurova, recently appointed acting deputy prime for social affairs, said, “Unfortunately, this is a side-effect of a popular revolution. One reason is the specific mindset of Kyrgyzstan's citizens, who think a new leader will come along and fix everything. The other reason is that…. a certain section of the population wants to exploit the post-revolutionary situation and seize official positions on the wave of emotion."


Azimbek Beknazarov, the former opposition figure who is now acting prosecutor general, sees the apparent anarchy as a symptom of political jostling that seems to have already got under way for the presidential election set for June 26.


“This chaos cannot be stopped immediately, because it is connected with the election campaign for the presidency. Certain political forces may be specially organising these disorders," he said, adding that the government and potential presidential candidates must work to end the disorder.


On April 3, Prime Minister Bakiev set up a government working group to look at the issue of parallel structures, and stop it happening by establishing some ground rules for how officials are appointed and dismissed.


Alisher Saipov is a correspondent for the Fergana news agency in Osh.
Ainagul Abdrakhmanova is IWPR’s programme coordinator in Bishkek.
Leila Saralaeva is an independent journalist in Bishkek.