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Kyrgyzstan: Will Bakiev-Kulov Alliance Last?

  • Gulnoza Saidazimova

http://gdb.rferl.org/C6583628-FF85-4D76-A13B-BAFDBCEAC107_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/C6583628-FF85-4D76-A13B-BAFDBCEAC107_mw800_mh600.jpg Feliks Kulov Kyrgyzstan's new president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, is a native of the country's south. But he won the support of voters in northern regions by sharing his ticket with a prominent figure from the north -- Feliks Kulov. In exchange for Kulov's support, Bakiev promised him the premiership and a broad mandate. But some observers say the alliance isn't likely to last long.

Bishkek, 13 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- One of Bakiev's first announcements following his landslide victory on 10 July was that he would soon appoint a prime minister.

His choice came as no surprise.

“We urgently need to form a new government. As promised, I will put forward the candidacy of Feliks Sharshenbayevich Kulov for parliamentary approval as prime minister of the Kyrgyz Republic," Bakiev said.

Bakiev and Kulov, who both served under ousted President Askar Akaev, have different political styles.

Kulov, who largely built his career in law enforcement, came to be known as an implacable "iron fist."

Bakiev, an economist by training, is known by contrast as a good manager and executive.

But the most important distinction is that they come from different regional clans. Kulov represents the north, while Bakiyev is a native of the southern Jalal-Abad region.

In Kyrgyzstan, the north-south divide is often a key factor in politics.

Observers say the decision to run on a joint ticket was beneficial for both men. Bakiev removed his strongest rival from the presidential race. Kulov -- who speaks Kyrgyz poorly and was unlikely to pass presidential language requirements -- was able to salvage his sagging public image.

But now that they have risen to the top of the Kyrgyz political hierarchy, some are wondering how long their alliance will last.

Alexander Kim is the Bishkek-based editor in chief of "MSN," a popular pro-Bakiev daily. He tells RFE/RL the two men should be able to work together for the next five years -- the length of Bakiev's term in office.

"Right now, I would say there is likely to be some negative process -- some fight for power between Bakiev and Kulov. I wouldn't say there is going to be a major confrontation, simply because elections were held and there is now a legitimate president, a head of state. Kulov has said repeatedly the president will decide everything. The executive branch of the government must have ample authority to do its work," Kim said.

Bakiev and Kulov have declared their commitment to working together. But will their different professional images -- one strong, one soft -- hamper their relationship?

Ramadan Dyryldayev, a human rights activist, says Bakiev is not the mild-mannered politician that many people think.

"[Laughs.] Bakiev is not a soft man. Some might have gotten this impression from the past three months when he was in power. But he was under a lot of pressure from a lot of different parties, and he had to take that pressure into account in order to stabilize the situation. I would not say Bakiev will be a soft leader," Dyryldayev says.

Kim agrees. He says Bakiev proved himself to be a strong statesman last month, when supporters of a rival presidential candidate, Urmatbek Baryktabasov, seized the government building.

Bakiev ordered in riot police, who used clubs, tear gas, and stun guns to quickly disperse the crowd. Bakiev came away from the incident looking firm and in control. Kim says Kulov, by contrast, did not appear to be the "iron fist" the public once took him to be.

“This stereotype was strong in people’s minds until 17 June. Then, we saw confusion on Kulov’s face and dismay in his actions. What Bakiev did, and what Kulov was unable to do, had a significant impact on the country's political development. Everyone sees that Bakiev took the initiative while Kulov just stood on the sidelines -- and so his standing as the number-two politician was damaged," Kim said.

The two men also played different roles in the uprising that led to Akaev's ouster on 24 March.

Bakiev led the opposition movement in the country's south, and was one of the major figures behind Akaev's overthrow.

Kulov was serving a prison term until protesters released him just hours after the uprising in Bishkek.

Some observers say Kulov is likely to face resentment from Bakiev's fellow revolutionaries, who may be disappointed that he has risen to such a vaunted position.

Kim says some signs of conflict are likely to emerge soon.

"Of course, there have been [confrontations] all these past months. And we expect to see more conflict in the future. The People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, which united nine [anti-Akaev] parties [in the February parliamentary elections] was not a homogenous political unit. We couldn't expect any unity from them in the months [after the revolution], nor can we expect it now," Kim said.

Kim says it is not yet clear how the Bakiyev and Kulov will divide up power as president and prime minister -- or what authority will be added to Kulov's mandate.
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