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Kyrgyzstan: 'New' Leadership Drawn From Old Guard

Roza Otunbaeva says a presidential poll will be held in June with fresh parliamentary elections after that. (file photo) Kyrgyzstan's opposition is busy forming a new government. The top names include some former close allies of ousted President Askar Akaev. They also include some former rivals who may have a difficult time working together. RFE/RL takes a closer look at whether the new leaders can gain the citizens' trust and put past differences behind them.

Prague, 25 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The new Kyrgyz interim prime minister and acting president is Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a former prime minister who once worked under Askar Akaev.

Bakiev appealed for trust while addressing parliament today.

"Now, if you trust me, and as far as I understand you do, give me the opportunity to form an executive body [government] urgently. It will not stay in power forever, it won't stay for several years -- it will only stay until the next elections, only for about three months."

Bakiev's nominations for key interim ministers include Roza Otunbaeva, a former foreign minister, and Ishengul Boljurova, a former education minister.
"I think they all will have popular trust for a certain period. They have power. They initiated the revolution. They forced the old regime to go away. Therefore, they have a certain trust from the people. But how long will this trust last?" -- Murad Esenov, "Central Asia and the Caucasus"

Otunbaeva told CNN today that a presidential poll will be held in June, with fresh parliamentary elections after that.

Jailed opposition leader Felix Kulov -- a former vice president and interior minister -- was not included in the initial cabinet list, but is expected to play a strong role. He was released from prison yesterday during the uprising. Parliament created a special position for him as the interim head of national security. He is also seen as a possible candidate for president.

Murad Esenov, the editor in chief of the Sweden-based "Central Asia and the Caucasus" journal, tells RFE/RL that he expects Kulov and Bakiev, in particular, to clash over power soon.

"We know that Felix Kulov, well known and an old opponent of President Akaev, was released yesterday. He enjoys great support, particularly in the country's north," Esenov says. "I think he will want to have a post [in the new government], and I assume there will be difficulties between him and Bakiyev, too. As we know, Kulov represents the country's north, while Bakiyev is a representative of the south. Interregional differences in Kyrgyzstan are [important]."

Esenov says that just because people like Kulov and Bakiev are in opposition does not necessarily mean they will be different from Akaev once they are in power. He says they fell out with Akaev for personal -- not ideological -- reasons.

"I believe they turned against Akaev [despite their desire to remain in office]," Esenov says. "It was Akayev who asked them to resign. If they continued to have authority, they would have still been in power. I don't think they were forced to resign because they were proponents of democracy [unlike Akaev]. After they were moved away from power, they started to fight for it. I don't believe there were ideological disagreements between Bakiev and Akaev, or Kulov and Akaev."

Bakiev may have a hard time gaining popular support for other reasons.

Some in Kyrgyzstan still hold Bakiev responsible for the bloody events in the southern Aksy district in 2002 while he was prime minister. The troubles began with demonstrations in support of a popular politician, Azimbek Beknazarov, who was jailed for what were seen as politically motivated charges. The demonstrators clashed with police, who fired on the crowd, killing six people.

Bakiev was among those who initially defended police actions. He resigned after an investigation showed the police were at fault.

Esenov says he thinks that, despite the problems, Bakiev and other opposition leaders will enjoy popular support -- at least for a time.

"I think they all will have popular trust for a certain period," he says. "They have power. They initiated the revolution. They forced the old regime to go away. Therefore, they have a certain trust from the people. But how long will this trust last? It depends on their further political activity."

Esenov says the fact that many current opposition leaders are former high-ranking officials is a sign of the absence of real political pluralism and democracy.

"The emergence of new politicians requires a continuous political process, including regular elections, continuous legal fighting [between parties] in parliament," Esenov says. "These conditions do not exist in Central Asia. Therefore, [the opposition] is made of those people who once were in power."

Plans for the new government are likely to change ahead of expected elections for both parliament and the presidency later this year.

Muratbek Imanaliev, a former foreign minister who has not yet been named to a post in the new cabinet, says he expects to see some new names in the coming months.

"I am sure that well-known and experienced politicians are in the new government," he says. "But, on the other hand, I think it is not the last government. [Other governments with other names] will be formed in the next few months."

Esenov says even if the opposition succeeds in gaining the trust of the citizens and healing differences among themselves, it's not clear they will succeed. He says Kyrgyzstan is a poor country and will likely remain so.

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