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Kyrgyzstan: For President, Parliamentary Elections A Family Affair

Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev (file photo) For Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and other top officials, February's parliamentary elections will be a family affair. The president's daughter, son, and two sisters-in-law are all registered as candidates. Other candidates include the son of the prime minister and the son and son-in-law of a top presidential aide. The abundance of governmental offspring on the 27 February ticket appears to be an attempt to strengthen the current regime. Similar tactics have been seen in other post-Soviet countries.

Prague, 20 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Thirty-two-year-old parliamentary candidate Bermet Akaeva was nominated recently by students from Kyrgyz National University and other residents of Bishkek's university electoral district Number 1.

"Dear friends, thank you very much. It's a great honor, a great sign of trust for me," Akaeva said.

Critics say Bermet's victory is assured, particularly thanks to a decision by authorities to rescind the registration of another candidate, Roza Otunbaeva.

Otunbaeva is one of the leaders of the Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) opposition movement and a well-known politician who served as foreign minister as well as ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom. Early in January, her candidacy was registered for only a few hours before being removed without explanation. The Kyrgyz opposition charged that the case was politically motivated.

On 18 January, the Kyrgyz Supreme Court upheld a district-court ruling barring Otunbaeva's participation in the election -- eliminating the likely winner and effectively clearing the way for presidential daughter Akaeva.
President Akaev's 28-year-old son, Aydar, is also running unchallenged in the Kemin district, the birthplace of his father. The current Kemin deputy is the president's brother, Asankul Akaev.

Electoral officials also refused to register another candidate from the same district -- Bolotbek Maripov, a well-known journalist.

Inna Kim, the head of the district electoral commission, said Maripov was ineligible because he lived without a valid residence registration for more than half of 2003.

Maripov's supporters countered that the Electoral Code bans would-be candidates who have not lived in the country for five years prior to running for office -- but says nothing about residence registration.

They also provided the electoral commission with documents proving Maripov's unregistered period did not take place abroad, but in Bishkek as a correspondent for the "Obshestvennyi rating" and "Analitika" newspapers.

Akaev's 28-year-old son, Aydar, is also running unchallenged in the Kemin district, the birthplace of his father. The current Kemin deputy is the president's brother, Asankul Akaev.

Akaev's 28-year-old son Aydar is also running -- as yet unchallenged -- in the Kemin district, the birthplace of his father. The current Kemin deputy is the president's brother, Asankul Akaev.

The Kyrgyz first lady, Mayram Akaeva, has two sisters -- Oken and Ayazgul -- who are running for parliament as well.

Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev's son is also running for election, as are the son and son-in-law of Toychubek Kasymov, head of the presidential administration.

The Kyrgyz president has repeatedly said he will step down from office when his term ends in October. Arkadii Dubnov, a correspondent with Russia's "Vremya novostei" daily, told RFE/RL that Akaev is looking to keep power within the family even if he is no longer president.

"By nominating, permitting to be nominated, or by not prohibiting his children, the first lady's sisters or the children of the head of his administration and a prime minister to run for parliament, Akaev is doing his best to hold onto his own power and the power of his clan, which controls almost all of the major sectors of the economy," Dubnov said. "It doesn't matter whether it is Akaev himself or the 'Kyrgyz family' who will control the power."

But the political strategy could backfire. Zamira Sydykova, an editor with the Kyrgyz opposition daily "Res Publika," told RFE/RL the family election blitz is having a negative impact on the president's image.

"Akaev's decision to nominate his children to the parliament worsened his position," Sydykova said. "The people didn't mind him staying in power until his presidential term ends. But his attempt to transfer power to his children had a very strong negative reaction in the society."

Until last December, Kemin district candidate Aydar Akaev was an adviser to the Kyrgyz finance minister. He was then assigned to head the Kyrgyz National Olympic Committee.

Observers draw parallels between Aydar and Ilham Aliyev, the son of the late Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev. The younger Aliyev headed the Azerbaijani olympic committee before being elected to succeed his father in 2003. Observers say the National Olympic Committee post is a natural stepping-stone for budding politicians, because of the international exposure it delivers.

Aydar Akaev is better known than his sister Bermet, who worked with the United Nations in Geneva before returning to Bishkek in 1999.

Bermet is best known for her husband, Adil Toygonbaev. Media reports describe the presidential son-in-law as an "oligarch" who holds a Kazakh passport and controls major sectors of the Kyrgyz economy.

Some observers are puzzled by President Akaev's decision to unleash so many family members on the February parliamentary elections, particularly when it meant risking a blow to his own popularity. Zamira Sydykova said it was a choice based on desperation.

"There are two reasons behind the attempt to get his children and relatives elected to parliament," Sydykova said. "The first is that, in Akaev's circle, there are few people he can trust, so he has to get his relatives' assistance. The second reason is fear. Akaev is afraid of being overthrown before his term [ends] and being punished for his conduct during his presidency."

Will President Akaev attempt to anoint one of his children as his presidential heir? Arkadii Dubnov said the remaining nine months before the October presidential election is not enough time for Akaev to mold either Bermet or Aydar into a powerful and skillful politician capable of winning election and holding onto power afterward.

Two of Askar Akaev's four children are sons. If Akaev adopts a longer-term strategy for choosing an heir, it will likely go to one of them.

By contrast, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov have only daughters to serve as their political successors.

Nazarbaev's elder daughter Darigha is actively involved in politics and ran for parliament as a leader of the Asar (Altogether) party in September. She is also known in Russia, having performed in the Bolshoi Theater as a singer.

On 18 January in Moscow, President Nazarbaev introduced Darigha to President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking Russian officials during an official visit.

Listed among the Kazakh officials as simply the "Kazakh president's daughter," Darigha's presence might have been meant to gain Kremlin support for any future father-to-daughter political succession.

Karimov's daughter, Gulnara Karimova, has no official experience in the Uzbek government. She has, however, had a chance to explore politics while serving as a diplomat with the Uzbek Embassy in Moscow.

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