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Kyrgyz President Aims To Build Ruling Party

President Kurmanbek Bakiev speaks at the founding of his political party (AFP) October 17, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev on October 15 announced the creation of a new political party -- the Best Path Popular Party (Ak Jol Eldik Partiyasi).

Announcing the party's establishment, Bakiev said it will be a party "of the people [and] for the people." "We are not a party of power. We are not a party of bosses. We are the party of working people. We are the party of people of action," Bakiev said.

President Bakiev vowed in September that he would help form a new political party. But he also said that he wanted the new party to win a majority of seats in parliament -- something that has not happened since Kyrgyzstan gained independence in 1991.

"You know, we have many various parties, more than 100, but what kind of parties are these?" Bakiev asked. "Among them there are few that are willing to assume responsibility for the affairs of the country. In the best cases, they simply criticize the authorities for their mistakes. But who will, who should, take care of affairs? Which political forces [or] political parties have done real work, have made progress toward those goals that stand before the country? Up until today, there haven't been any."

Before the next parliamentary vote takes place, though, Kyrgyzstan is expected to approve a new constitution in a national referendum on October 21. The many changes include an increase in the number of seats in parliament and a new party-list system that will strengthen the role of political parties. Compliance with the new constitution will require new parliamentary elections that could come within two months of the referendum -- as soon as December.

On October 16, a day after Bakiev was elected party chairman, he suspended his activities as leader of the Best Path Popular Party, saying that as president he could not participate in party politics. But his goal remains seeing the party dominate parliament.

The Best Path Popular Party became the 102nd registered political party or movement in Kyrgyzstan. About half of those groups are no longer active, and many of the remaining parties and movements have just a handful of members. Few can claim more than 10,000 members in a country of more than 5 million.

A Ruling Party?

If the Best Path Popular Party achieves an outright majority in parliament, it would be a first. But that might not be cause for celebration.

Kyrgyzstan's Central Asian neighbors all have ruling parties. Through more than 16 years of independence, it is Kyrgyzstan that has been widely viewed as the most democratic in the region -- as well as the country that most respects human rights and basic freedoms.

In Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbaev's Nur-Otan party claimed every seat in the lower house of parliament in elections this year.

In Tajikistan, the People's Democratic Party of President Emomali Rahmon controls more than 90 percent of the seats in parliament.

Turkmenistan has a single registered political party, the Democratic Party, which is headed by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

In Uzbekistan, there are effectively five ruling parties -- the People's Democratic Party, the Fidokorlar (Self-Sacrificers) Party, the Adolat Social Democratic Party, the Liberal-Democratic Party, and the Milli Tiklanish (National Renaissance) party -- all of which steadfastly support President Islam Karimov.

If the new Kyrgyz party wins a majority in parliament, many will question whether the country is better off with what could be a rubberstamp parliament that would legitimize any decision by Bakiev.

That is especially relevant since Kyrgyz voters are being asked to approve a new constitution that alters the balance of power among branches of government. Referendums in the 1990s and in 2003 consolidated power into the hands of the presidency. Now, with the legislative branch set to receive a greater voice in the affairs of government, parliament could be packed with members of the party that the president created.

Negotiations Begin

Kyrgyzstan's opposition is aware of that possibility, and some groups are already working to join forces ahead of the elections to compete against the Best Path Popular Party.

But among the propresidential parties, some members are ready to join Bakiev's new group, as Akmatbek Keldibekov, a lawmaker from the pro-presidential Atazhurt (Fatherland), told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

"The negotiations and consultations are going on. Now, because the president has established a party, I suppose, we, the four or five lawmakers from the Atazhurt party who have supported the president's policies, will join the Best Path Popular Party and we will continue to support presidential policy," Keldibekov said.

But there are also signs that some of the more established parties will work hard to maintain their hard-won identities -- and instead see the elections as a chance to consolidate their own positions.

Edil Baisalov, executive secretary of Prime Minister Almaz Atambaev's Social Democratic Party, told RFE/RL that his party would not join with any other bloc, and would even avoid any association with certain politicians.

"We, the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, are ready for elections even now. There are people whom we would like to invite into the party. However, we will not merge with those parties that consist of formerly corrupt people or currently corrupt people, pro-governmental people, [or] those who would use state power to pursue their personal interests," Baisalov said.

Some of the newer, personality-driven parties might resist the temptation to merge as well -- like that of former Prime Minister Feliks Kulov. Kulov's Ar-Namys (Dignity) party has vowed not to merge with any other groups, and also invited new members to join with them, including members of existing political organizations.

(RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service director, Tynchtykbek Tchoroev, contributed to this report.)

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