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Kyrgyzstan: President Under Pressure To Bring Change

President Bakiev (right, with Prime Minister Kulov) is under increasing opposition pressure (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, May 17, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Opposition demands for speedy reforms and fighting corruption within Kyrgyz political institutions are but two of the challenges Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev is facing.

Some analysts argue that President Bakiev has benefited from the May 10 killing of alleged criminal kingpin Rysbek Akmatbaev and that he is now in a stronger political position.

Akmatbaev, a well-known person in Kyrgyzstan with alleged ties to the criminal underworld, entered politics after his brother, parliamentary deputy Tynychbek Akmatbaev, was killed during a prison riot in October.

Rysbek Akmatbaev won the most votes in a by-election last month to replace his brother. But he wasn't allowed to assume the parliament seat pending a criminal investigation of him.

If he had been allowed to enter parliament, Akmatbaev would have gone from alleged criminal kingpin to parliamentarian. Akmatbaev thus posed a serious risk to the current status quo that exists between the political and criminal worlds -- which many believe are often intertwined. Some suggested that if he wasn't allowed to assume the parliament seat, Akmatbaev threatened that he would disclose some government officials' links to organized crime.

Sergei Mikheyev, deputy head of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, tells RFE/RL that Bakiev emerged stronger after Rysbek Akmatbaev's death.

"Criminal elements played a big role during the rule of [President Askar] Akaev and they were a driving force in the [March 2005] colored revolution [in Kyrgyzstan]," Mikheyev says. "Revolutionary leaders got significant assistance from the criminal world in Bishkek and other regions of the country. This is true. In exchange, criminals demanded political clout. They openly expressed their intention to enter politics, legalize [their activities], and acquire a significant portion of the national economy. Of course, it was clear Bakiev would not accept that."

Mikheyev says criminal groups remain influential and powerful in Kyrgyzstan. But Akmatbaev and another notorious figure, Bayaman Erkinbaev -- who was killed in September -- were the two alleged criminal bosses with the most publicity. According to Mikheyev, it may be some time before another alleged criminal kingpin declares his political ambitions.

Eliminating Rivals For Power

Another event that made an impact on Bakiev's political weight was the May 10 cabinet reshuffle. Several high-ranking officials resigned and others were dismissed following a large protest in Bishkek by the opposition on April 29.

Analysts say that by reshuffling the cabinet, Bakiev got rid of some potential rivals. Figures like former National Security Minister Tashtemir Aitbaev and former State Secretary Dastan Sarygulov have gotten a lot of publicity and were known to wield great influence.
"The main demand is to conduct reforms: reforms that shape a system that
leads to government officials [being held accountable]. A system of
power [within the government] needs to be established. But replacing
one person with another doesn't solve any problems." -- opposition deputy

"Bakiev's position undoubtedly improved after he got rid of some influential public figures who might claim power in the future," Mikheyev notes. "In general -- as in any other postrevolutionary country -- allies soon became foes [in Kyrgyzstan]. It has happened after every revolution: people who gained power together become rivals fighting for power and influence the next day."

Soon after Bakiev was elected president in July, acting Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva and acting Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov, who had been named to their posts by Bakiev a few months earlier, failed to gain parliamentary approval.

Many suggested that Bakiev had a hand in their failure to be approved because he wanted to rid himself of two potential rivals: Otunbaeva and Beknazarov had been leaders of the March 2005 revolution.

Former government officials are very likely to challenge Bakiev -- like former parliament speaker Omurbek Tekebaev. Tekebaev resigned in February after weeks of bickering with Bakiev that reached its climax when Tekebaev insulted the president by calling him a "dog."

He is now one of the leaders of the For Reforms opposition group that is planning to organize another large demonstration on May 27. Tekebaev told journalists in Bishkek on May 16 that up to 50,000 people are expected to gather on Bishkek's central square.

Alliance Of Necessity

Meanwhile, one of the most influential Kyrgyz politicians, Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, remains a part of Bakiev's "tandem." Ever since the two men formed an alliance following Kulov's declaration not to run for president, rumors have persisted that the two do not get along.

However, on the occasions when protesters have demanded Kulov's resignation, Bakiev has defended his prime minister -- most recently this week amid allegations that Kulov was behind Rysbek Akmatbaev's killing.

Matthias Schmidt of the Freie Universitaet Berlin tells RFE/RL that Bakiev is bound to Kulov for the time being. "I think it's very important now for political stability that Bakiev protects Kulov, otherwise this would be the end of the coalition," he says. "As everybody knows, Kulov is very popular, especially in northern Kyrgyzstan. So, if he resigns, I think many people [would] also demand that Bakiev resign. I think, [with] Bakiev alone without Kulov [the government]...wouldn't be as strong. When Bakiev successfully protects Kulov, he gains from the situation."

Meanwhile, Bakiev faces other problems like poverty and unemployment as well as corruption and nepotism since taking over from Akaev. The opposition remains dissatisfied with the government's record and continues to demanding an acceleration of reforms.

"Issues like [government officials] resigning have never been a priority, in my opinion," opposition deputy Kubatbek Bailbolov says. "The main demand is to conduct reforms: reforms that shape a system that leads to government officials [being held accountable]. A system of power [within the government] needs to be established. But replacing one person with another doesn't solve any problems."

Bakiev's new government will remain under considerable pressure to institute these reforms and bring real change to the country.

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

The Tulip Revolution

The Tulip Revolution

ONE YEAR AGO: Click on the image to view RFE/RL's archive of coverage of Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution from the beginning, including biographical sketches of the key players and photo galleries of the demonstrations.

See RFE/RL's special review of the March 2005 Kyrgyz events:

Questions Remain About March 24 'Revolution' (Part I)

Did Revolution Sow The Seeds Of Democracy? (Part II)

Was 'Revolution' A Worthy Successor To Rose And Orange? (Part III)

See also:

Reporter's Notebook -- Witness To The Uprising

THE COMPLETE KYRGYZSTAN: To view an archive of all of RFE/RL's coverage of Kyrgyzstan, click here.