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Kyrgyzstan: Fragmented Opposition Up Against Entrenched Interests (Part 2)

  • Gulnoza Saidazimova

http://gdb.rferl.org/CB80056F-DCAD-42DA-B4EC-CC8DAC3AF00C_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/CB80056F-DCAD-42DA-B4EC-CC8DAC3AF00C_mw800_mh600.jpg President Akaev (file photo) Following the recent peaceful political transitions in Georgia and Ukraine, the idea of a "Velvet Revolution" occurring in Kyrgyzstan is being widely discussed ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections. Even President Askar Akaev has voiced concern over attempts by what he calls "some Western forces" to establish a new government in Bishkek. Opposition leaders in Kyrgyzstan say their main goal is simply to prevent election fraud, while the country's students appear ready for genuine change. In the second and final part of a look at Kyrgyzstan's upcoming polls, RFE/RL examines the political forces at work in the country.

(See also Kyrgyzstan: Can Kulov Unite the Opposition From Behind Bars? Part 1")

Prague, 5 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Could Kyrgyzstan witness its own "Orange," "Rose" or -- as President Askar Akaev put it -- "Tulip" revolution?

Following on the heels of last month's opposition victory in Ukraine's rerun election, it's a question being discussed by both sides of the political divide in Kyrgyzstan.
Akaev said such a revolution would not serve the "core interests of the Kyrgyz people."


Akaev voiced concern about "foreign-funded" revolutions during a televised speech on 25 December. He said Kyrgyzstan will not follow the path of Ukraine or Georgia: "Is it really possible that we would sacrifice all these achievements in our economy, the achievements of our nation, in order to fulfill the interests of the 'international Internationalism' [ed: Western political groups] -- of those who want to carry out a 'Tulip Revolution' in Kyrgyzstan? I think we have to strive for a consensus in the country."

Akaev said such a revolution would not serve the "core interests of the Kyrgyz people."

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 27 February, and Akaev aims to have a parliament loyal to him. The pro-government Alga, Kyrgyzstan! (Forward, Kyrgyzstan!) party, which currently has a majority in the Jogorku Kenesh, or lower house of parliament, will try to maintain it.

To further this goal, Zamira Sydykova of the Kyrgyz opposition daily "Res Publica" reports that Akaev's wife, Mayram, his daughter Bermet, and son Aydar -- as well as several other relatives -- plan to take part in the election as candidates from Alga, Kyrgyzstan!, which some in Kyrgyzstan have taken to calling the "family party."

Other reports suggest that 32-year-old Bermet Akaeva plans to establish a new party that will formally compete with Alga, Kyrgyzstan! The new party may try to unite forces that have not yet joined with either pro-government or opposition parties. The opposition daily "Moya Stolitsa" reported 3 January that a campaign to collect signatures for Akayeva has already started.

Last week, five opposition parties -- the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, the social movement Ata Jurt (Fatherland), Jany Bagyt (New Direction), the People's Congress of Kyrgyzstan, and the For Fair Elections movement -- united in an effort to prevent fraud during the upcoming polls. They signed a memorandum of understanding and cooperation, pledging to work together to ensure that the February elections are free and fair.

But a fair vote is not the opposition's only goal. They are also aiming for a majority in parliament.

Roza Otunbaeva is a former Kyrgyz ambassador to Britain and a former foreign minister. She spoke about the election plans of her Ata Zhurt (Fatherland) party, which was established in December:

"The core of our political activities today is to participate in both parliamentary and presidential elections. We intend to fight together with all the constructive forces for a majority in the future (Kyrgyz) parliament. Our task is to win two-thirds of the seats in the new parliament."

The results of the February poll are seen as crucial, since they will set the stage for presidential elections in late October.

Despite their common goals, competition among Kyrgyzstan's opposition parties is strong.

Muratbek Imanaliyev is a former Kyrgyz foreign minister and is a leader of Jany Bagyt: "Despite the cooperation, there is competition for seats in parliament because different parties have their candidates nominated in the same election districts. We will see this kind of political competition during the presidential race, as well, because I think almost all political parties will nominate their candidates for president."

But with some 40 parties, the Kyrgyz opposition is viewed as fragmented and weak. The Brussels-based International Crisis Group concluded in a report last August that the Kyrgyz opposition is seriously divided and in many cases actually depends on the regime, with whom its members make implicit deals over parliamentary representation and other issues.

Meanwhile, several opposition parties -- including Jany Bagyt and the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan -- have threatened massive protests if the authorities rig the elections.

But other groups appear more hesitant. The AKI Press news agency quoted eight opposition leaders as saying last month that a "Rose" or "Orange" revolution would be undesirable in Kyrgyzstan since it would "lead to instability in the country's government structures."

On 17 December, Akaev warned that the political situation in Kyrgyzstan might deteriorate amid what he called the "alarming rise of terrorism in the region." He emphasized the government's role in preserving stability.

The opposition perceived this statement as an attempt to tighten the government's grip on power. Topchubek Turgunaliyev is the leader of the opposition Erkindik (Freedom) party. "This is just a fantasy of Akaev's team," he said. "This is their attempt to blacken the opposition's reputation. There are no radical forces in Kyrgyzstan in the meaning that was put forward by Akaev."

Muratbek Imanaliyev of Jany Bagyt said Akaev's warning is groundless and shows that the authorities are "in hysteria."

Kyrgyz youth appear ready to join their Georgian and Ukrainian contemporaries in saying "kmara" (enough) or "pora" (it's time).

On 29 December, several Kyrgyz student organizations, including Aliko, New Kyrgyzstan, and New Century, issued a declaration. They praised the role of youth in the "Rose" and "Orange" revolutions and said Kyrgyz students must become more involved in politics.

The same day, President Akaev announced a 60-percent increase in student scholarships in 2005.

Yesterday, the Assembly of the People criticized the U.S. ambassador in Bishkek, Stephen Young, for what they said is interference in Kyrgyzstan's internal affairs. Young has repeatedly voiced his support for Akaev's oft-stated intention to step down. Akaev is now serving what is understood to be his second -- and according to the constitution -- final five-year term. He has been in power since 1991.

Young also says Washington supports efforts to hold fair and open elections.

The Assembly of the People accused the United States of trying to instigate a "velvet revolution" in Kyrgyzstan.
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