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

Political Manoeuvring in Kyrgyzstan

As party seen as troublesome is sidelined by its partners, some see the shift as a way of allocating top posts to president’s party and allies.
By Timur Toktonaliev
  • Allies no longer: Almazbek Atambaev (left) with Ahmatbek Keldibekov, when both were part of a governing coalition in Kyrgyzstan. At the time, Atambaev was prime minister. Once he became president, Keldibekov did not last long as speaker of parliament. (Photo: Igor Kovalenko)
    Allies no longer: Almazbek Atambaev (left) with Ahmatbek Keldibekov, when both were part of a governing coalition in Kyrgyzstan. At the time, Atambaev was prime minister. Once he became president, Keldibekov did not last long as speaker of parliament. (Photo: Igor Kovalenko)

With the formation of a new ruling coalition in Kyrgyzstan, President Almazbek Atambaev’s Social Democrats have successfully engineered an overwhelming majority in parliament while excluding their former partner Ata-Jurt, even though that party came first in last year’s election.

After protracted negotiations, the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, signed a coalition deal with the Ata-Meken, Ar-Namys and Respublika parties on December 16. Shortly afterwards, they agreed that the small Respublika party would get the prime minister’s post.

The new governing bloc controls 92 of the 120 seats in parliament. This majority is important because under the 2010 constitution, which reduces the powers of the president, the majority party or coalition gets to form a government.

Until two weeks ago, the governing coalition consisted of Ata-Jurt – which came first in the October 2010 parliament polls but did not secure a majority – plus the Social Democrats and the smaller Respublika.

After winning the October 31 presidential election Atambaev, previously the prime minister, was inaugurated on December 1. His party walked out of the coalition the following day, citing disagreements on various matters including judicial reform and economic policy.

There is little doubt that Atambaev waited till he had secured the presidency to ditch Ata-Jurt and forge an alliance more to his liking.

When the coalition broke up, Social Democrat Damira Niazalieva said a new grouping was needed to bring together like-minded members of parliament and make lawmaking more effective.

“We would like to see old as well as new partners in the new coalition,” she told the state news agency Kabar on December 2.

ATA-JURT SIDELINED ONE YEAR AFTER ELECTORAL SUCCESS

Ata-Jurt, which came to the fore only last year, was never a partner the long-established Social Democrats were going to be comfortable with.

“That coalition was an enforced one,” Pavel Dyatlenko, a political analyst with the Polis Asia think-tank told IWPR. “It didn’t emerge because the [constituent] factions shared a common view of Kyrgyzstan’s present and future.”

The Ata-Jurt party has a pronounced Kyrgyz nationalist streak, and its unexpected electoral success last year followed ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the south in June 2010, after which the established parties in the then interim government, including the Social Democrats, were accused of inaction.

Ata-Jurt was also seen as a vehicle for former allies of President Kurmanbek Bakiev, ousted following mass unrest in April 2010.

To remain in the political game, the Social Democrats had little option but to work with and accommodate Ata-Jurt.

“It was a transitional coalition, designed to maintain stability,” Dyatlenko said.

He added that the frictions were already in evidence.

“There were cases where the Ata-Jurt faction came out against the coalition government, and thus breached the coalition agreement,” he said.

Marat Sartpaev, the pseudonym for a blogger who writes for the leading website www.neweurasia.net, said Ata-Jurt’s star seemed to be waning after an initial burst of popular enthusiasm following the June 2010 ethnic violence.

“Times have changed and that topic [nationalism] no longer tops the agenda,” Sartpaev said in a December 9 blog posting.

Ata-Jurt will be none too pleased at being ejected from government. So far, its statements have been measured. Speaking to journalists on December 16, its leader Kamchybek Tashiev said that the party planned to unify opposition groups to prevent power being concentrated in Atambaev’s hands.

Ata-Jurt suffered another setback on December 14 with the resignation of parliamentary speaker Ahmatbek Keldibekov, a politician from the party who was assigned the post as part of the coalition share-out. His resignation came after he was subjected to a parliamentary investigation and a threat from Ata-Meken to call a vote of no confidence in him.

Analysts say Keldibekov was seen as building up his own position at the expense of other institutions.

“He was replaced because the speaker and parliament were trying to place themselves on the same level as the government and president,” Dyatlenko said.

Tashiev was fairly cautious on the loss of the speaker’s post, as he himself has had public differences with Keldibekov.

“It isn’t necessary to keep Keldibekov in the job to ensure the legislature is independent. That would be wrong thinking,” Tashiev told IWPR. “It’s just the usual political struggle between someone who held power and others who wanted that power.”

NEW GOVERNMENT TAKES SHAPE

As it sidelines Ata-Jurt, the Social Democratic Party will have to reward those who have joined it in government. These include the long-established Ata-Meken and Ar-Namys, which stayed outside the last coalition, and the newer Respublika, which was part of it but is no doubt hoping for a bigger share this time round.

After announcing the coalition on December 16, the partners agreed that Respublika leader Omurbek Babanov was to be Kyrgyzstan’s new prime minister. The post of speaker went to Asylbek Jeenbekov of the Social Democrats, who was previously deputy speaker.

Somewhat surprisingly, a seven-member faction within Ata-Jurt signed a separate agreement with the coalition on December 16. They include well-known politicians like former Bishkek mayor Nuriman Tyuleev.

But this development had already been predicted by Sheradyl Baktygulov, an expert on state governance, who argued that Ata-Jurt was not a homogenous force, so some members were likely to align themselves with the winning side while others went into opposition.

According to Baktygulov, all this merely show how little Kyrgyzstan’s politics have changed – it is individuals, not policy or ideological differences, that count.

“The only real thing that can force coalitions to break up are the personal interests of the leaders, the politicians who are in coalition, and those [groups] whose interests are represented by members of parliament,” he said.

“It’s all about which of our friends and relatives is to get a government post. The basic thing is to ensure that more of our friends and relatives get them, as opposed to the friends or relatives of others.”

Timur Toktonaliev is IWPR editor in Kyrgyzstan

If you would like to comment or ask a question about this story, please contact our Central Asia editorial team at feedback.ca@iwpr.net.


 

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