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Omurbek Babanov (left) and Kamchybek Tashiev are no longer a team.

It was clear it couldn't last for long, but now it's official: Kyrgyzstan's Respublika-Ata-Jurt party is splitting up.

Respublika and Ata-Jurt joined forces in October 2014, with an eye on boosting their chances in the country's parliamentary elections a year later. But while they succeeded to some extent in that goal, the announced dissolution of the parties' merger just weeks before local elections, and about a year before the presidential poll, has created a confusing situation.

The Respublika party, led by Omurbek Babanov, and the Ata-Jurt party, led by Kamchybek Tashiev, won 28 seats in the 120-seat parliament in 2015, coming in second after the Social Democratic Party, once President Almazbek Atambaev's party, which won 38 seats.

But Tashiev nevertheless decided to break up the "tandem" the two formed, telling RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on November 17, that he had met with Babanov to discuss Ata-Jurt's withdrawal. Tashiev said he and Babanov reached agreement "without any scandals or arguments."

Tashiev explained that the decision meant that after the elections to local councils scheduled for December 11, the same day Kyrgyzstan will conduct a national referendum on amendments to the constitution, "each party will act under its own party name."

Tashiev clarified, however, that for this election day only Ata-Jurt would be running separately, while Babanov would use Respublika-Ata-Jurt and then revert to simply Respublika in the future.

This could be a bit confusing for voters on December 11.

Babanov, one of the richest men in Kyrgyzstan, founded Respublika in June 2010, just after former President Kurmanbek Bakiev was ousted from power by protesters. Respublika was seen as an ethnically inclusive party led by the sophisticated businessman Babanov.

Tashiev, a boxer who served in the Soviet military and later turned to politics, became one of the leaders of the Ata-Jurt party (not to be confused with the Ata-Jurt movement of the mid-2000s), in 2006. Tashiev has been accused of being a nationalist and a supporter of Bakiev, under whom he served as emergency-situations minister from 2007 to 2009, though he denies his party excludes other ethnic groups or that he favored Bakiev's return to power. Tashiev was excluded from the Respublika-Ata-Jurt party list in the 2015 elections after he was accused of assaulting a member of the Onuguu-Progress party.

Altynai Omurbekova of the Respublika party, also deputy speaker of parliament, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service she was aware of the split. "As far as I know, Kamchybek Tashiev met with Omurbek Toktogulovich [Babanov] and said that from now on he [Tashiev] intends to continue in a new tandem with [Adakhan] Madumarov and [Akhmatbek] Keldibekov."

Omurbekova added, however, that "the Respublika-Ata-Jurt faction [in parliament] will work until the end of the convocation." That would mean that despite the split in the party, the two parties would act as one party in parliament until 2020 when the next parliamentary elections are scheduled.

This will present a challenge to voters on December 11 when elections to local councils are held. Knowing the two parties are about to act independently, even as they work as one for the time being in parliament, what does casting a ballot for Respublika-Ata-Jurt mean?

Respublika-Ata-Jurt has not been part of the ruling coalition in parliament since the 2010 elections.* Despite pledges of unity in parliament until 2020, there is the possibility the two parties might pursue their own, different agendas in parliament, a possibility made all the more likely considering presidential elections are set for late 2017 and Babanov, and possibly Tashiev or another member of Ata-Jurt, could be candidates.

*This article has been corrected to show that Respublika-Ata-Jurt was not in the coalition that collapsed in October.

Based on material from RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service
Nazir Habibov was arrested in August on charges of possession and sale of narcotics.

One of Turkmenistan’s most famous singers, Nazir Habibov, is on his way to prison. In fact, he is probably already there.

Habibov was arrested in August on charges of possession and sale of narcotics, but that might not be the reason he ran into trouble with the law.

Habibov has a public reputation as a drug user. But that has never damaged his popularity and, according to relatives, Habibov was booked to perform at various functions, usually private functions of Turkmenistan’s elite, up to six months in advance.

But Habibov's popularity may have come at a price.

It is no secret all around Central Asia that if you are a popular singer you will receive invitations from powerful people to perform at their parties. Such invitations are, in reality, a sort of summons. Performers are paid, but there is not much opportunity to refuse these requests.

Habibov’s troubles seem to have begun after he accepted one such invitation -- and later received another invitation to perform on the same day.

Habibov honored the deal he made with the first customer.

That may have been a big mistake.

In the murky political and social world of Turkmenistan, it is difficult to identify who many of the elite are and even more difficult to say just how far their influence extends.

Apparently, even performers such as Habibov cannot always divine who stands higher in the hierarchy.

The invitation that Habibov spurned seems to have come from someone close to one of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s sisters. (He has five.) Habibov’s legal problems started not long after he failed to appear at the event organized by customer No. 2.

RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, contacted Habibov's wife, Rita, through her Instagram account. She said that her husband did not sell narcotics and canceled her account after leaving further questions unanswered.

A source familiar with the case says members of Habibov's family said they had been warned not to speak to anyone about Habibov's case. The same source and others contacted by Azatlyk said a chain of clothing stores Habibov's wife owned has been seized by the authorities.

Accounts vary as to Habibov's sentence. Some people say he received 15 years in prison; others say 12.

Habibov has been vilified on state television, which aired a program on his arrest, featuring what it claimed was his "confession," on October 4. State media have also shown images of a bag containing a large amount of an unidentified dirty white substance that allegedly belonged to Habibov.

Berdymukhammedov indicated in a November 2 speech to Turkmenistan’s State Security Council that clemency was not likely for Habibov and others convicted on narcotics charges.

Berdymukhammedov spoke of "selfish businessmen" who engage in illegally selling cigarettes and who "abused and distributed drugs." The president said such people deserve only "contempt," and he urged security services to strengthen efforts to eliminate "smoking and drug abuse."

Whether or not Habibov has used drugs, the circumstances of his arrest and sentencing seem more likely to be rooted in his failure to appease an influential figure with connections in the Turkmen government.

Had Habibov performed for this second client, would he still be free, despite the drug allegations? Was his real offense his refusal to heed the wishes of someone with power?

Turkmenistan’s appalling rights record over the last 25 years makes those questions difficult to answer.

Based on reporting by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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