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Kyrgyzstan: Parliament's New Speaker Offers Gentler Tone Than Predecessor

Kyrgyz parliament speaker Marat Sultanov on 2 March (RFE/RL) The Kyrgyz parliament elected Murat Sultanov to be its new speaker today. The selection ends the scandal that surrounded the previous speaker, Omurbek Tekebaev, who made inflammatory statements about President Kurmanbek Bakiev in a televised interview in late January. Sultanov's statements after his election to head the legislature suggest he is less likely to employ the confrontational language of his predecessor.

PRAGUE, March 2, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Deputies voted 45 to 14 to elect Murat Sultanov as the country's new "toraga," or speaker, of parliament. He needed 38 votes to gain election.

Many in Kyrgyzstan -- particularly in the government -- hope that this ends the controversy that followed the man Sultanov replaces: the outspoken Omurbek Tekebaev, whose comments about President Bakiev on television scandalized the country. The scandal surrounding Tekebaev has prevented parliament from addressing other, arguably more serious, matters.

"Today, we have only two people qualified to be president -- Kurmanbek Salievich [Bakiev] and Feliks Sharsenbaevich [Kulov], and for that reason we should not ruin this tandem but rather support [the Bakiev-Kulov team]."

Uniter, Not A Divider?

Sultanov said he had no intention of provoking conflicts with the executive branch of power in the country. He added, "this doesn't mean that we won't oppose anything. [Opposition] is a normal occurrence; the people elected us, and we must continue to observe the law." Sultanov said there were two camps in parliament and the feuding between them must stop.

"First, we need to find consensus in parliament," he said. "We are divided and we must work together to find consensus and move forward."

Kyrgyzstan is due to hold a referendum on constitutional amendments at the end of this year. Sultanov said he favored a parliamentary-presidential system of government and that, in any case, changes to the constitution should not be implemented before 2007.

The 45-year-old former National Bank chief is seen as a reformer and his knowledge of economics and finance is exactly what Kyrgyzstan needs. The country remains poor, lacking the hydrocarbon resources that many of its neighbors possess. President Bakiev has already named alleviating poverty in the country as his priority issue, especially since the low standard of living played a large role in drawing protesters into the streets last year to oust President Askar Akaev from office.

Tekebaev's resignation was accepted by parliament earlier this week; the third time the body had considered it. Tekebaev was increasingly at odds with Bakiev and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov. Tekebaev's comments on television about Bakiev simply emphasized weeks of conflict between the two men and their ever-diverging views on issues, particularly about how much the constitution should be changed and when those changes should be implemented. Tekebaev admitted on several occasions he had reminded Bakiev and Kulov "in rude form" about their campaign promises to the public last year.

Support For The President

Sultanov said Bakiev and Kulov were the most qualified politicians in Kyrgyzstan and that supporting the "tandem" they formed prior to last year's presidential elections should be one of parliament's goals.

"Today, we have only two people qualified to be president -- Kurmanbek Salievich [Bakiev] and Feliks Sharsenbaevich [Kulov], and for that reason we should not ruin this tandem but rather support [the Bakiev-Kulov team]," he said.

But the new speaker nonetheless offered words of praise to his predecessor.

"I want to express my recognition of the work of Omurbek Chirkesovich [Tekebaev] because he had great authority in parliament and because he was in charge during the most difficult times for us," he said.

Sultanov inherits not only a divided parliament but a plethora of difficulties the parliament needs to address quickly. Since last March's revolution the already poor economy has remained stagnant, murders of officials -- which last year included three members of parliament -- are increasing, and popular discontent is growing.

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

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