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Kyrgyzstan: Disputed Candidate Tests Government On Corruption

  • Bruce Pannier --> (RFE/RL) Kyrgyzstan's political leadership has found itself in a difficult position just a year after it was ushered into power by a popular uprising. Officials have made their campaign to cleanse the government of corruption and criminal elements a priority. But an alleged crime boss is poised to win a seat in the national parliament in elections on April 9. Kyrgyzstan depends heavily for foreign investment and loans on its reputation as the most democratic state in Central Asia. Now it faces a dilemma over whether officials are compromising that image by softening their fight against organized crime.

PRAGUE, April 4, 2006 -- The latest chapter in the saga of alleged crime boss Rysbek Akmatbaev came on April 3, when the Supreme Court upheld a lower-court decision to allow Akmatbaev to run in a parliamentary by-election.

Supreme Court justice Larisa Gutnichenko read out the court's ruling: "The Judicial Collegium [of Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court] has decided to uphold the ruling of Birinchi Mai District Court of the Bishkek city from April 2, 2006, on this case. The reviewing appeal by the representative of the Kyrgyz Central Election Commission has been rejected."

The Central Election Commission had sought to bar Akmatbaev's candidacy on the grounds that he had not permanently resided in Kyrgyzstan for the past five years.

Charges...And Countercharges

But for many, the question of Akmatbaev's suitability hinged more on allegations of criminal wrongdoing. Akmatbaev was exonerated on murder charges in January because the statute of limitations had run out on the crime, leaving many convinced that justice was not served.

Supreme Court Chairman Kurmanbek Osmonov explained the circumstances of Akmatbaev's eventual acquittal to RFE/RL: "[Rysbek Akmatbaev's] previous convictions [in 1998] were nullified because the time defined by the law [by which the case must be tried] had passed. If a person's convictions are annulled or eliminated, then that person is considered not convicted. [Otherwise] according to such logic [eds: condemning a person on the basis of allegations], then you might also exclude people like Prime Minister [Feliks Kulov from running for office], saying that he was even jailed -- not just convicted -- in the past."

Rysbek Akmatbaev at a March 31 rally in support of his candidacy

Akmatbaev is hoping to fill the seat left open when his brother, Tynychbek, was killed while inspecting a besieged prison facility in October. Akmatbaev has accused Prime Minister Kulov of complicity in that killing -- a charge that Kulov has strongly denied. A parliamentary probe into the prison riot also concluded that Kulov played no part in the murder.

Underlying Problem

Two other members of parliament had been killed in the months before the Akmatbaev slaying, with each appearing to shed brighter light on corruption and criminal influence within the government.

Confronted with myriad problems, President Kurmanbek Bakiev was forced to make cleaning up the government a priority.

Edil Baisalov heads a coalition of NGOs called For Democracy and Civil Society. He suggests that the president's pledge to clean up government might be taking a backseat to avoid interfering in the democratic process. Baisalov argues that the Supreme Court erred in paving the way for an Akmatbaev candidacy.

"This [Supreme Court decision to allow Akmatbaev to run] is illegal. Maybe they were afraid of Rysbek Akmatbaev or of something else -- [perhaps] protest rallies? Maybe, they have some political purposes. Maybe this is a step against [Prime Minister] Feliks Kulov. My personal opinion is that there was pressure from the White House [the seat of the Kyrgyz presidency] on the Supreme Court."

Supreme Court Chairman Osmonov rejected such an accusation: "There was not any [pressure] from the White House. The decision made by the Birinchi Mai district court in Bishkek also was correct."

U.S. Ambassador Mary Jovanovich said late last month that attempts by some criminals to become members of parliament could create serious problems in Kyrgyzstan. The chairman in office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Karel De Gucht, echoed Jovanovich's concerns during a visit to Kyrgyzstan last week.

Akmatbaev seems likely to win a seat in parliament. Unofficial polls show him with the support of some 80 percent of voters in his district.

(Tynchtykbek Tchoroev, Aziza Turdaeva, and Venera Djumatayeva of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)
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