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Kyrgyz Interim Government Winds Its Way Through Obstacles

  • Farangis Najibullah

Kyrgyzstan's interim leaders: Roza Otunbaeva (center) and her deputies, Almazbek Atambaev and Omurbek Tekebaev

Kyrgyzstan's interim leaders: Roza Otunbaeva (center) and her deputies, Almazbek Atambaev and Omurbek Tekebaev

Less than two months after the bloody political upheaval that resulted in regime change in Bishkek, life -- at least on the surface -- seems to have returned to normal in Kyrgyzstan.

It is business as usual for government institutions, schools, and businesses. And most importantly for ordinary people, they are getting their wages and pensions on time.

Despite the sense of normalcy, however, Kyrgyzstan's interim government still lacks legitimacy and international recognition -- and financial, political, and security challenges loom.

Both supporters and critics of the interim leaders wonder whether Roza Otunbaeva's government can last long enough to implement even its most immediate plans, such as conducting a nationwide referendum and parliamentary election this year.

A nationwide referendum on the new constitution is scheduled for June 27, but interim officials say the budget for the referendum hasn't been approved yet. Besides, the officials still haven't worked out how to conduct the referendum without trained specialists and in the absence of the some 30 percent of the electorate that has left for seasonal jobs in Russia.

The government is still being challenged by supporters of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiev, at least in the south, where support for the ex-president has been strongest. One week ago, pro-Bakiev forces staged protests in all three southern provinces -- Jalal-Abad, Osh, and Batken -- that left two people dead and dozens injured. The country narrowly avoided an interethnic conflict between the Kyrgyz and the south's sizeable Uzbek minority.

Split Loyalties?

During the protests in the south, local residents criticized what they called inactivity on the part of the police and indifference to their duty to protect people.

Police and security forces' loyalty to the interim government still remains under question. The former president's influential brother, Janysh Bakiev, had enormous sway over security and law-enforcement forces.

The interim government has replaced both police and security chiefs. However, Orozbek Moldaliev, a Bishkek-based political analyst, says that among the high-ranking and mid-level officers in police and security structures, many Bakiev loyalists remain.

During Bakiev's rule, “many police officers were hired not because of their professional qualifications, but for their loyalty to the previous government,” Moldaliev says. “Many others got high-ranking positions through corruption -- by paying bribes. Therefore, certain problems remain in this structure. But we have skilled professionals in the country and they are being hired to those posts."

"The surfacing on the Internet of recordings of phone conversations among interim cabinet members creates many questions about the security services," added Moldaliev.

The purported phone conversations Moldaliev refers to were posted on YouTube and have cast a shadow not only on the security services, but also on the reputations of the country's interim leaders.

In the recordings, speakers identified as interim government members Azimbek Beknazarov and Temir Sariev discuss a money transfer of nearly $1million. They also accuse Almazbek Atambaev, the first deputy leader of the interim government, of involvement in large-scale bribery.

Both Beknazarov and Sariev maintain the conversation was taken out of context. Atambaev denied taking bribes and ordered an inquiry into the allegations.

Nazira Tashtemirova, a Kyrgyz analyst on domestic politics and social issues, says the scandalous development has caused "disappointment and suspicions among people." It has "stirred rumors about possible divisions inside the interim cabinet," which includes members of many different political parties, she said.

"Nevertheless, people want the interim government to succeed, they want to give it a chance," says Tashtemirova. "People are willing to trust the interim government. In this situation, it's not easy to change everything all over again, to find new people and bring them to power -- we can't predict what policies they would employ. So it is in everybody's interests that the interim government stay in place and work together."

Moldaliev says the interim government enjoys strong support among the younger generation, many of whom "have set up civilian patrol groups all over the country helping to restore order and security, helping families of victims of the April riots, and conveying their readiness to help the interim government to find ways out of the crisis in the country."

Both experts say the government should use the momentum to carry out its promises and avoid repeating mistakes made by Bakiev's government. Bakiev also came to power through street demonstrations in 2005.

"Exploitation of political power, corruption, and bribery are the last things people would want to see from the interim leaders," Tashtemirova says. "These were the reason people threw out the previous regime."

No Plans To Stay

Unlike Bakiev's team, interim leader Otunbaeva and her first deputy Atambaev have announced that they have no intention of staying in power for long. Both have said they are not going putting forward their candidacy for parliamentary or presidential elections.

Moldaliev, however, does not expect Atambaev to leave politics. "Nothing is wrong if Atambaev takes part in elections, as long as he is one of many contenders who are given equal chances," the expert adds.

Tyntchtykbek Tchoroev, the director of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, says most Kyrgyz political observers say that because of the political diversity within the interim government, it is in a unique position to make positive changes in the country.

Kyrgyz experts “say the interim government consists of different political views,” Tchoroev says. “It is [like] a multiparty system even before the general elections; it represents views and approaches from different social strata. And that is their strength."

The interim government's performance is being watched not only by the Kyrgyz people, but also by the rest of Central Asia.

Other countries in the region are ruled by autocratic leaders, who like Bakiev have long been accused of suppressing democratic reforms and widespread corruption and nepotism.

Kyrgyzstan is the only country in the region where the people have taken to streets to change the regime they were not satisfied with.

The interim government's ultimate success or failure will have an impact on the political mood in Central Asia. If the interim leaders carry out their promises of conducting free and fair elections and rooting out corruption, it would ultimately demonstrate the power of the people's will to change the statue quo.

However, if the interim cabinet members divert from their publicly announced democratic agendas and instead exploit political power for personal gains, it would only prove their critics correct in saying that the interim leaders were no more than a power-hungry "gang," and that "now there isn't a thread of democracy in Kyrgyzstan."

Ironically, it was Bakiev who said five years ago that if the people don't see results soon, "we'll be the next" to be thrown out of power.

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