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Kyrgyz Opposition Fears 'Reasonable Balance' Masks Power Grab

  • Farangis Najibullah

President Bakiev: Looking for trouble?

President Bakiev: Looking for trouble?

The Kyrgyz public has been reminded that while personal interests cannot stand in the way of the greater good, individual voices are an important part of the effort to advance the common motherland.

But the message of unity, delivered by President Kurmanbek Bakiev during a nationally televised address this week, came with a caveat.

"In order to carry out our national interests, the main ideology for our country in the coming years will be an ideology of 'reasonable balance,'" said Bakiev, whose tenure has been dogged by spells of political deadlock. "A reasonable balance needs to be ensured between innovations and the preservation of national identity, between the market economy and state regulations, between democracy and the ability to control the country."

In the wake of a major cabinet reshuffle and a crackdown on political opponents, however, there are signs that Bakiev may be tipping the balance more toward control than democracy.

That could mark a disappointing turn of events in a country that is widely hailed in the West as a bright spot in representative government in a region dominated by well-entrenched autocrats.

Official Shuffle

A number of high-ranking Kyrgyz officials, including the presidential chief of staff and the agriculture, education, and foreign ministers, have been either dismissed or given new duties this month. Many heads of local governments have been replaced. And a number of opposition politicians have recently found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

Omurbek Tekebaev, who was briefly detained earlier this month for attending an unauthorized opposition meeting and is now part of an investigation into a related weapons-possession charge, is one such example.

Since allying with Bakiev during the 2005 Tulip Revolution that swept the sitting president to power, Tekebaev has emerged as a vocal presidential critic and a potential contender in the 2010 presidential election.

During a trip to the United States in December, the head of the Ata-Meken party used an appearance in Washington to warn that Kyrgyzstan's political system has led to authoritarian leadership and paved the way for nepotism and corruption.

Upon his return, the Ata-Meken party united with several other opposition parties, including For Justice, Ak-Sumkar, and Asaba, to form the United Popular Movement. The new grouping brings together two former prime ministers, Almazbek Atambaev and Amangeldy Muraliev; two former foreign ministers, Roza Otunbaeva and Alikbek Jekshenkulov; and a former defense minister, Ismail Isakov -- among others.

They and others in the opposition have called for fresh waves of public protests this spring if the government fails to adequately address the ongoing economic and financial crisis, and demanded that Bakiev reform what they call a "semiautocratic" political system.

Targeting Opponents?

As a result of their outspokenness, Tekebaev claims, he and other opposition members are being targeted by Bakiev. He said the charges against him are part of an effort to prevent him from voicing similar criticisms during an international conference being held by the Carnegie Endowment Center in Moscow on January 30.

"As far as I'm concerned it is slander," Tekebaev says. "They want to frighten me and the others."

The other opposition figures Tekebaev refers to include former Defense Minister Isakov, who along with his son has been accused of misusing public funds.

Great Unity Party leader Emil Kaptagaev faces corruption charges relating to his former position as a deputy governor of Issyk-Kul region.

Ravshan Jeenbekov, a former head of the government property committee who now lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, is also accused of corrupt practices.

Erkin Bulekbaev, the leader of the Green Party, stands accused of trying to damage the president's reputation, a criminal offense under Kyrgyz law.

All deny the charges against them, saying they are being targeted for their political activities.

But Beishenbek Abdrasakov, a member of pro-presidential Ak-Jol party, denies such claims, saying the cases against Tekebaev fall within the "framework of the country's laws."

He says that considering the way past actions can enter the political scene in post-Soviet countries, the best way for politicians to stay on the good side of the law is to be mindful of it.

"Finding a fitting article in a criminal law to stick to someone -- for example, it has been used in by [Vladimir] Putin in Russia against [jailed tycoon and former Yukos head Mikhail] Khodorkovsky," Abdrasakov said. "This is kind of a method that leaders use against the opposition. Therefore, the opposition has to stay clean."

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report

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