Whirlwind Cabinet Changes in Kyrgyzstan

President creates new team to handle economic crisis now and manage his re-election later.

Whirlwind Cabinet Changes in Kyrgyzstan

President creates new team to handle economic crisis now and manage his re-election later.

An ongoing reshuffle of the Kyrgyz government reflects President Kurmanbek Bakiev’s desire to strengthen his team as the economic situation worsens and the opposition unites.

Numerous ministers and officials have resigned, changed jobs or been sacked in the last two weeks, many of them at the forefront of implementing the government’s anti-crisis programme.

Perhaps the most significant change was the resignation on January 8 of Medet Sadyrkulov, the influential head of the president’s administration. He was replaced by Daniyar Usenov, a former mayor of Bishkek and successful businessman with previous experience in government.

Two days later, deputy interior minister, Temirkan Subanov stepped down because he had reached retirement age, and Uktomkhan Abdullaeva was promoted to the post of deputy prime minister from her previous post of labour and social development minister, which was filled by Nazgul Tashpaeva.

Then, on January 14, Finance Minister Tajikan Kalimbetova and Social Fund chief Marat Sultanova swapped jobs.

January 23 saw the biggest changes yet, with 12 officials dismissed by the president. They included Agriculture Minister Arstanbek Nogoev, Education Minister Ishenkul Boljurova, First Deputy Prime Minister Iskenderbek Aydaraliev, and Murat Ismailov, the government’s chief-of-staff.

Three officials from the presidential administration were also dismissed, and local government also underwent a clearout. The governor of the northern Chuy region, Kubanychbek Syydanov and the mayor of the southern city of Osh, Jumadyl Isakov, were the most senior officials removed. Finally, the ambassadors to China and Iran and the Kyrgyz consul in Istanbul were recalled.

Speaking about the earlier personnel changes at a January 12 cabinet meeting, President Bakiev said they were a response to the changing demands on the business of government, and had nothing to do with politics as such.

“In 2009, there are going to be a lot of difficulties stemming from the global crisis, but nevertheless we need to move forward,” he said. “The task of government is to take adequate steps to soften the negative impact [of crisis] on our economy.”

The reshaped cabinet faces numerous challenges, above all to steer Kyrgyzstan through the current world economic slowdown without provoking popular unrest.

The Kyrgyz economy is slowing, with the International Monetary Fund, IMF, predicting that growth rates will fall drastically. The government introduced an economic programme last year to address the knock-on effects of the crisis, and in December these efforts received a boost with a 100 million US dollar loan from the IMF.

Unemployment is rising, and this will be compounded when Kyrgyz migrants are be forced to return from the contracting job markets in Russia and Kazakstan. The decline in the remittances sent home by these migrant workers will affect family livelihoods, banks and the economy as a whole. (See
Kyrgyzstan Steels Itself for Slowdown, RCA No. 561, 09-Jan-09.)

Meanwhile, electricity shortages continue, with many residents facing 12 hours of power cuts a day.

The deteriorating economic conditions have been seized on by opposition groups, which recently joined forces. (See Kyrgyzstan: Political Confrontation Intensifies, RCA No. 562, 17-Jan-09.) There is a risk they could stage major protests later this year if there is no sign of the situation improving.

Topchubek Turgunaliev, an opposition member who heads the Institute for Freedom and Human Rights, said the latest round of sackings on January 23 confirmed him in his belief that President Bakiev is surrounding himself with loyalists with a view to calling a presidential election ahead of the scheduled date in 2010.

“He might call an early presidential election in autumn 2009 or at the beginning of 2010,” Turgunaliev told IWPR earlier.

Many observers see the elevation of Usenov as part of Bakiev’s forward planning. As mayor of the capital, Usenov is believed to have conceived controversial new rules restricting the right to hold protest rallies to certain locations. That ability to take tough decisions may have made him the ideal candidate for his new job.

As independent analyst Tokgotul Kakcheev put it, “The election result depends on the head of the presidential administration.”

Sadyrkulov, meanwhile, appears to have left office without rancour.

“I consider my job done,” he told the RIA Novosti news agency.

Appointed in 2007, he is credited with helping Bakiev survive a series of mass rallies staged by his opponents, and then weakening the opposition forces by coopting some of their members.

When Bakiev sacked Foreign Minister Ednan Karabaev last week, many predicted he would offer the post to Sadyrkulov. In an interview for RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service, Sadyrkulov said he met the president on January 19. and turned the job down.

Mirgul Akimova is a pseudonym used by a reporter in Kyrgyzstan.

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