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Kyrgyzstan: Resignation Triggers Political Showdown

Omurbek Tekebaev, speaker of the Kyrgyz parliament (file photo) (RFE/RL) The bad blood between President Kurmanbek Bakiev and parliament speaker Omurbek Tekebaev came to a head on 7 February when the legislator called the president a "dog" and suggested he end his life rather violently. In the storm that followed, Tekebaev stated that he "wouldn't apologize for the truth" and tendered his resignation. But parliament must accept his decision for it to be official, and there are indications that the body may instead support his criticisms of Bakiev.

PRAGUE, 15 February 2006 (RFE/RL) – The political battle between the Kyrgyz government and lawmakers appears to be heading for a showdown following the resignation of the speaker of parliament, Omurbek Tekebaev.

Tekebaev's resignation, tendered on 13 February, must be accepted by parliament -- and it may back him in this clash with President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

Tekebaev took the long-simmering battle with the presidency to boiling point on 7 February, when he called Bakiev a "dog" and suggested that he should "hang himself from the first tree."

"This is just a childhood disease of the [post-revolutionary] Kyrgyz authorities."

That immediately led to calls for his resignation, calls that Tekebaev seemingly heeded three days later, appearing before parliament on 10 February to ask for lawmakers to accept his resignation.

Only 20 of the 75 members of the Jogorku Kenesh, Kyrgyzstan's parliament, voted to put the issue on the agenda, a decision that some saw as a victory for Tekebaev.

However, Tekebaev pressed the issue on 13 February, by publishing a letter of resignation. The Jogorku Kenesh then agreed to put his offer to the vote on 20 February.

Tekebaev said both President Bakiev and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov had made clear to him on 10 February that they felt he should leave his post.

In his letter, Tekebaev struck an apologetic note, calling his comments "inappropriate." But he was also highly critical of the government, saying that "almost everyone" agrees with his criticisms of the current administration.

Tekebaev also noted that previous attempts to remove him from his post had been voted down in parliament, suggesting that he sees the vote not as a mere formality but as a test of strength.

A similar point is made by the deputy speaker of parliament, Bolat Sherniyazov. "If [Tekebaev] says 'I will not go,' it would be difficult to remove him, that should be said plainly," Sherniyazov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

Crisis, What Crisis?

Tekebaev and Bakiev have long been at political loggerheads. The tensions were on clear display on 3 February when, in a rare appearance before parliament, the Kyrgyz president accused parliament of obstructing his reform efforts and of corruption.

It was those accusations that appear to have prompted Tekebaev's outburst.

Who is or is not to blame for Kyrgyzstan's troubled reforms was a theme picked up by Tekebaev's two deputies, Sherniyazov and Erkin Alymbekov, who both resigned in apparent solidarity with the leader of parliament.

"If Tekebaev and parliament are creating obstacles to reforms in Kyrgyzstan, if parliament is creating obstacles to economic development, and if parliament is causing a confrontation among the people, then it is not just Tekebaev who should resign," Sherniyazov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz service.

In his election campaign, Bakiev promised election reform (RFE/RL)

Tekebaev's central criticism of Bakiev has been over constitutional reform. Tekebaev argues that Kyrgyzstan needs a rebalancing of power in favor of parliament. Bakiev, who promised constitutional reform in his presidential campaign in mid-2005, initially dithered but then said that a national referendum on a new constitution would be held this year.

The political background of this apparent clash of personalities has prompted commentators to say that Kyrgyzstan is now in the throes of a political crisis. Such ideas have been reinforced by the country's prosecutor-general, who said on 10 February that "insurmountable" differences between parliament and the government gave the president grounds to dissolve parliament.

Prime Minister Kulov has downplayed the issue. "There is no political crisis," he told journalists on 14 January, dismissing talk of "a crisis in the executive branch, in the legislative branch" as merely "fashionable."

Kulov also denied that he pressured Tekebaev into resigning.

Aftershocks Of The Revolution?

The affair is the latest in a series of convulsions in Kyrgyzstan. Recent weeks have seen the dismissals or resignations of a number of senior figures in law-enforcement agencies and in the defense ministry.

Political analyst Karybek Baybosunov sees these changes, including the Tekebaev affair, as aftershocks of the revolution that last March ousted Kyrgyzstan's long-time president, Askar Akaev.

"I do not regard the current political events as a political crisis," he said. "This is just a childhood disease of the [post-revolutionary] Kyrgyz authorities. The nerves shown by Omurbek Tekebaev and some elements of the criticism of Kurmanbek Bakiev are just a feature of the psychological situation in this transition period."

Tekebaev could be the next to suffer from the aftershock.

It may, though, be too early to reach such a conclusion. Bakiev has many reasons to feel uncertain of the outcome. Tekebaev has long been one of the most powerful figures on the Kyrgyz political scene. He has led a number of opposition parties, ran for the presidency in 1995, and commands considerable respect and support within parliament. The vote on 20 February is no foregone conclusion.

(Tynchtykbek Tchoroev, Shailoobek Duisheev, and Aidanbek Tashkenbaev of the Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report)

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