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Three Years On, Kyrgyz President Taken To Task For Rampant Nepotism

  • Gulnoza Saidazimova

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev

Kurmanbek Bakiev was elected Kyrgyzstan's president on July 10, 2005, in the aftermath of the popular uprising that swept Askar Akaev from power.

It was the attempt by Akaev's children -- Bermet Akaeva and Aidar Akaev -- to enter parliament in February 2005 that helped to trigger Kyrgyzstan's revolution in the first place.

It was commonly believed at the time that Aidar Akaev and presidential son-in-law Adil Toigonbaev controlled key sectors of the economy. And many had had enough of what they saw as the first family's grip on the country.

Three years later, however, many see a familiar pattern repeating itself.

President Bakiev’s son Maksim, dubbed "The Prince," is believed to control important businesses, including some of those that belonged to Aidar Akaev.

Bakiev’s other son, Marat, is a government official.

One of the president’s brothers, Janysh, heads the State Protection Service, which is in charge of providing security for the president and government officials, members of parliament, the Supreme Court, and the Constitutional Court.

Bakiev's 'Mistake'

Two more of the president’s brothers -- Marat and Adil -- work in Kyrgyz embassies abroad. One is the ambassador to Germany; the other is an official at the Kyrgyz Embassy in China.

Another brother -- Kanybek Bakiev -- heads a village administration, while brother Akhmat is a successful businessman in their home town in the Jalalabat region.

And yet another of Bakiev's brother -- Jusupbek Bakiev -- was briefly the deputy director of Kyrgyzstan's Agency for Community Development and Investment before his death in early 2006.

We didn’t see [nepotism] for many years during Akaev’s rule. At least for the first five years, he ruled the country democratically.
Cholpon Orozobekova is the editor-in-chief of "De Facto," the Kyrgyz independent daily that is facing closure after reporting on corruption and nepotism, including reports about the alleged misdeeds of President Bakiev’s nephew. Orozobekova tells RFE/RL that nepotism during Bakiev’s three years in office has become more egregious than during Akaev’s rule.

"We didn’t see [nepotism] for many years during Akaev’s rule. At least for the first five years, he ruled the country democratically. We didn’t see Bermet Akaeva or other members of his family. We did not know them," Orozobekova says. "Bakiev’s mistake is that everyone immediately felt that the situation worsened. Bakiev should have kept the balance [among different clans]."

The country’s political system has historically been clannish.

In Kyrgyzstan, a clan implies not only kinship but is also based on geographical origin.

As high mountains divide the country’s north from south, the division also extends to economic and political disparities.

Clan Rivalries

Experts say the northern group includes the Chui (including the Kemin district of former President Askar Akayev), Talas, Naryn, and Issyk-Kul regions, whereas Osh, Jalalabat, and Batken represent the political south. Historically, they have always competed for power.

Soviet leaders skillfully used the traditional rivalry between the clans to keep control over the Kyrgyz republic.

Former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev
The first post-Soviet Kyrgyz President, Askar Akaev, originated from the north. During his 15 years in office, Akaev’s administration, as well as parliament, were overwhelmed by representatives of northern clans, while southerners made the bulk of the opposition.

The so-called Tulip Revolution brought Kurmanbek Bakiev to power in March 2005. Originally from Jalalabat in the country’s south, Bakiev represents the southern clans.

While not every southern politician supports Bakiev, the region acts as his main power base.

Bakiev was arguably not the most popular revolutionary, however.

Feliks Kulov, a political prisoner during Akaev’s rule and the leader of the then-opposition Ar-Namys (Dignity) party, was probably the most popular politician at the time. He was freed from prison near the capital, Bishkek, by a crowd of supporters on the day of the revolution -- March 24, 2005.

Also among Bakiev’s fellow oppositionists was Roza Otunbaeva, then-leader of the Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) opposition movement.

Bakiev was able to win the July 10, 2005, election by a landslide mostly due to his alliance with those key politicians. Kulov and Otunbaeva publicly renounced any presidential ambitions and supported Bakiev. The alliance with Kulov, an influential figure from the northern clans, became a crucial factor in Bakiev’s victory. Kulov’s appointment as a prime minister in the Bakiev administration helped to ease the north-south confrontation.

But Bakiev has gradually gotten rid of his fellow revolutionaries and brought his relatives into key positions.

Critics say the latest reshuffles in the top echelons of power reveal Bakiev’s attempt to consolidate his grip on power.

Bakiev recently replaced the parliament speaker -- well-known politician Adahan Madumarov -- with dark-horse Aitibai Tagaev, a southerner and a Bakiev supporter. Another little-known politician, Bakytbek Kalyev, was appointed as the country’s defense minister to replace Ismail Isakov, an experienced military officer.

Representing The Clan

Orozobekova says that in the Bakiev system, some 80 percent of politicians in the government and parliament are representatives of his clan.

Kyrgyzstan does not have a national agenda. All groups fight for their own interests. Therefore, I believe Kyrgyzstan is close to becoming a failed state.
Representatives of the Jalalabat clan hold the top positions in at least five ministries -- interior, defense, finance, justice, and emergency situations -- as well as the position of the presidential press secretary.

The secretary of the security council, the prosecutor-general, and the ministers of transport, culture, labor, tourism, and several others are also Bakiev supporters and represent the southern clan.

Sergei Mikheev, vice president of the Center of Political Technologies, a Moscow-based think tank, tells RFE/RL that Kulov’s dismissal from the position of prime minister in late 2007, as well as several other reshuffles, have made the Kyrgyz political system more unstable and vulnerable.

He says growing nepotism amid economic hardship could even bring Kyrgyzstan to collapse.

"Political life and political processes in Kyrgyzstan remains chaotic, with Bakiev trying to somehow stabilize it," Mikheev says. "The interests of separate groups are still seen as priorities and prevail over national interests. National interests are not defined yet. Kyrgyzstan does not have a national agenda. All groups fight for their own interests. Therefore, I believe Kyrgyzstan is close to becoming a failed state."

Not everyone shares Mikheev's dire prediction, but there is increasing concern about the pattern of nepotism emerging in the Bakiev administration and the effect it could have on the country's politics and economy.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report