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Kyrgyzstan: 'For Fair Elections' -- Is A New Political Force Emerging?

A new political group -- Union for Honest Elections -- has established itself in Kyrgyzstan. Among its leaders is Misir Ashirkulov, an old friend of the Kyrgyz president and until this week the country's Security Council secretary. Ashirkulov has joined forces with an alliance of some of the most vocal opposition groups in the country.

Prague, 26 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- There is a new and unlikely political alliance in Kyrgyzstan.

A group calling itself Union for Honest Elections is vowing to monitor next year's presidential and parliamentary elections. Several of the figures who helped establish this new union are well-known opposition leaders.

But the surprise is the inclusion of Misir Ashirkulov, who was, until this week, the secretary of Kyrgyzstan's Security Council. Ashirkulov is known to be an old friend of Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and has long served in Kyrgyzstan's security bodies.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Ashirkulov says he wants the Union for Honest Elections to act as a "bridge.”

"I think that the new movement will become a true bridge between the opposition and the authorities. And I am now ready to serve as this bridge between the authorities and the vocal opposition," Ashirkulov said.

Parliamentarian Akbokan Tashtanbekov is one of those who is suspicious of Ashirkulov's sudden move. Tashtanbekov believes Ashirkulov's motives may be more personal than professional and, in the end, may also serve the interests of President Akaev.

"Who knows? This is possibly the latest sly move. Tomorrow, maybe Ashirkulov will become the heir to Akaev. No one could dispute such a proposition, Maybe the president had special reasons for dismissing Ashirkulov, so that it would give him this opportunity. And then, Ashirkulov would become president," Tashtanbekov said.

Ashirkulov was dismissed as Security Council secretary on 24 May. Officials offered no explanation, but the reasons seemed clear enough. Ashirkulov had chosen to ally himself with some of the best-known opposition figures in the country. Ashirkulov told RFE/RL that he had expected such a decision and only joined the new union after long and serious consideration.

One of Ashirkulov's fellow leaders in this new union is Omurbek Tekebayev, who was chairman of the first registered Kyrgyz opposition party -- Erkin Kyrgyzstan -- which dates back to the last days of the Soviet Union. Since 1994, Tekebayev has been the chairman of the Ata-Meken Socialist Party, which joined forces with another opposition party -- Ar-Namys -- during the last elections in 2000.

Ar-Namys is also represented in the new union. The signature of deputy party leader Emil Aliyev appears on the union's program, released on 21 May.

Melis Eshimkanov is also in the new union. Eshimkanov is a People's Party leader and has been the owner of various opposition newspapers over the years.

The leader of the Social Democrat Party, Almaz Atambaev, is another member, as is former Finance Minister Marat Sultanov and Adakhan Madumarov, an opposition lawmaker and strong critic of Akaev.

Madumarov sees nothing unusual in Ashirkulov's decision to join the Union for Honest Elections and says the former Security Council secretary did not seem too worried about being dismissed from his government position.

"The main reason for dismissing Misir Ashirkulov from his job was that the head of the government did not like his move to the new union. Misir Ashirkulov has no regrets about it. On the contrary, he says he made the decision himself and there is no turning back. It seems to me they gave him a choice -- either remain secretary of the Security Council or go to the union [For Fair Elections]. He made the best choice -- to stay with the union," Madumarov said.
"I think that the new movement will become a true bridge between the opposition and the authorities."

The chairman of the parliamentary committee on criminal, procedural, and administrative legislation, Kubatbek Baibolov, seems less convinced and says Ashirkulov's unsatisfactory performance as Security Council chief may have led to his dismissal.

"In the first place, we should ask the question -- what has the Security Council done and what decisions has it taken? In the past, there were many important events. What part did the Security Council play in these events? And today, there are still important events. What is the Security Council's part in these events? If we pose such questions, then [we see] there were deficiencies. Therefore, I believe, his dismissal was simply connected to his activities," Baibolov said.

Ashirkulov's past would seem to make him an inappropriate candidate for the opposition. Ar-Namys leader Feliks Kulov sits in jail after being convicted of abuse of power, charges that first surfaced when Ashirkulov was head of the State Security Committee, the heir to the KGB. The Aksy tragedy of 2002, when police opened fire on demonstrators, killing five, occurred while Ashirkulov was Security Council secretary. Ashirkulov openly condemned the event just a few months ago and suddenly demanded that local officials responsible be punished.

However, Ashirkulov was also seriously wounded in an assassination attempt in September 2002 and spent weeks recovering from his injuries. It was nearly one year before the Interior Ministry apprehended suspects in the case.

Parliamentarian Akylbek Japarov says it may have been Ashirkulov's dissatisfaction with the investigation into the attempt on his life that sparked his decision to join forces with the opposition.

"In my opinion, Ashirkulov left his work because the investigation into the assassination attempt against him was not finished, and also because he was not satisfied with the work of law enforcement agencies lately. Maybe he was not satisfied with the course of reform in the law enforcement agencies," Japarov said.

The Union for Honest Elections has publicly stated that its purpose is to monitor elections and ensure their fairness. But it seems unlikely that a union comprised of such well-known political figures would content itself with this simple cause. This powerful concentration of leading opposition figures, with the addition of one of the country's leading spy masters, could become the basis for a new political bloc in time for parliamentary elections next February.

These leaders also represent the interests of both the northern and southern parts of Kyrgyzstan, an important factor in presidential elections scheduled for October 2005. President Akaev has stated he will step down then, paving the way for Central Asia's first transition of power via popular vote.

But presidential elections may also prove the undoing of the union, as most of the leaders who signed the union's program have either run for the presidency in the past or have made clear that is their intention in 2005.

(Amirbek Usmonov of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)