Roza Otunbaeva, the acting president of Kyrgyzstan and chair of the interim government, was interviewed by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service in Bishkek on June 4. The interview was conducted by Burulkan Sarygulova, acting Bishkek bureau chief.
RFE/RL: Three weeks remain until the June 27 constitutional referendum in Kyrgyzstan. What is the interim government’s main focus during the run up to the vote?
Roza Otunbaeva: First we established a headquarters to help to the Central Election Commission here. The head of the headquarters, Omurbek Tekebaev [the leader of the Ata Meken Socialist Party and the deputy head of the interim government] gathered all the governors and we discussed...the organizational issues. A lot of preparatory work will be carried out. This includes putting banners and billboards about the referendum in cities, towns, villages [and] clarifying voter lists. We have about 3,155,000 voters according to the 2009 data. We need to check whether we have that amount of voters, or not. The migration process has been high in Kyrgyzstan. Besides that, some voters might have gone to rural areas for the summer, and some to resort places with their children.
Once this work is done, we will have objective conditions for a fair referendum. A lot of international observers are coming to Kyrgyzstan. The OSCE alone is sending about 300 observers. About six members of the Central Election Commission are coming with a UN mandate. It means there will be a lot of observers, a lot of different eyes watching us.
RFE/RL: Why did you give your consent to be president during the transition period without the right to challenge possible contenders in the presidential election? Why did you decide not to run for the presidency after the transition period? Some human rights activists have been critical of this move, and say your rights were abused.
Otunbaeva: Our society is in a very tough situation. We have witnessed a lot of very important events. We have a lot of differing ideas now. A lot of alternate opinions, a lot of political ambitions. We are living in a special climate. There had to be two elections: presidential and parliamentary. We had to hold a referendum as well. These are three important tests for our society.
We will hold the referendum on 27 June and with help of God, we will adopt our constitution. It would be a great step forward for us. Then a lot of political parties are preparing themselves for the general elections by holding their congresses, and organizing blocs, and signing agreements. It’s said we have about 100 political parties, and more are always emerging.
People were greatly concerned that the organization of the elections should be peaceful. They felt that first, the country should get a new constitution, then a new parliament, after that a new president. The situation has been tense nowadays. You see the recent events in the south. You heard about events in the north, including the town of Naryn. Given these events, the interim government decided to hold only parliamentary elections in the fall and postpone presidential elections for one or two years. After the referendum, the focus will turn to the general election. Most political leaders will be leading their parties in pre-election campaigns.
We made these decisions at the People's Congress on March 17. Someone has to stay in power to do the work that the congress gave us. That is why I am staying here, to reach our goals. That is why we postponed the presidential elections until we are past this dangerous time. People have supported the idea despite criticism by a few politicians.
RFE/RL: But do you think you have been stripped of your ability to be elected in future presidential elections?
Otunbaeva: I don’t think so, because the interests of our country and our nation are more important [than my own personal ambitions]. I would say of the opponents who are criticizing us from the sidelines -- saying that we are trying to develop new terms of power -- that they were serving [ousted former Presidents] Askar Akaev and Kurmanbek Bakiev.
We are trying to get our nation out of a severe crisis. If they are eager to win the presidency, there will be an opportunity in a year and a half. I’m not offering my candidacy for the presidential elections. I am just a part of the transition scheme to transfer society from the old 2007 constitution to the new 2010 constitution.
RFE/RL: How will you work with your opponents during the transition period?
Otunbaeva: We are working on that. Today, we are holding a consultative council under the interim government, which we also held two weeks ago. We invited representatives of political parties and nongovernmental organizations, several intellectuals and staff members of our official bodies. Among them are [former Prime Minister] Amangeldi Muraliev and [Communist Party leader] Iskhak Masaliev.
We are appealing to them by saying, ‘There are no losers or winners of the events that happened April 7. We have asked the nation for only six months to transition society from Bakiev’s epoch to a new one. We are all trying our best to do that, but we need your help and advice. Please, don’t just criticize us, and give us your help.’
All of us are citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic. That is why we established a Consultative Council. We need to integrate people and political groups and they need to negotiate with each other. We need a dialogue and talks to avoid tensions.
RFE/RL: There have been protest rallies in the Jalal-Abad region and a border incident in the Batken region. There were rallies in the town of Naryn recently. Do you think that there won’t be tensions during the referendum? What kinds of measures are being carried out by your government to keep the peace?
Otunbaeva: The ongoing rallies have showed that we have problems from years and years. They have their own history and reasons. For instance, the issue in the Batken region [border area] has been resolved. The problems related to the Sokh enclave of Uzbekistan, which accumulated over several years, have been resolved.
In Naryn, protesters were angry at officials left over from Akaev and Bakiev’s regimes and there were demands to dismiss all of them. We need a kind of a lustration process in Kyrgyzstan. The Baltic States had regulations that limited for 10 years the hiring of former [communist] officials. We don’t use such a tool because we are a very tiny society. We cannot afford to divide our society in such a way. There have been good professionals among the former officials. We cannot resolve all the issues in the way of the 1917 [Bolshevik Revolution].
RFE/RL: Are you losing the ideology battle with the public? Some observers say you might be.
Otunbaeva: Maybe. We have shortcomings in that respect. We need to work on that.
RFE/RL: How you should work on that?
Otunbaeva: We need to work with newspapers and TV media outlets. As a government … we have not had enough time to [get information out to people]. For instance, there was a scandal about the so-called "Telephone-gate." (A mobile phone conversation between members of the interim government was made public in which the secret use of money was discussed).
We, the members of the interim government, promised each other that we would be open and direct in resolving every issue. Yesterday, someone delivered me a copy of the independent newspaper, "Asman" [Sky] which contained an article. “This is about you, and [it alleges] that you bought a house in England,’ the person told me. I have a duty to respond to that. My daughter lives in London together with her husband and they have their house there. But the allegations that Roza Otunbaeva has a house in London are not true.
Radio Azattyk: What about international relations under the interim government? Will there be any big changes there?
Otunbaeva: I wouldn’t say that there are big changes. All the international organizations are closely working with us. Even though we are still regarded as illegitimate, the international financial institutions are promising to help us. The Islamic Bank yesterday offered about 1 million US to reconstruct the Naryn-Torugart highway (which leads to China). It is a good thing. On July 8, there will be a big donor’s conference. Regarding [help from] countries, Russia is helping us a lot. Recently, Russia gave us 20 thousand tons of fuel and thousand of [their] best [agricultural] seeds as a form of humanitarian aid. We are working closely with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. I think we have resolved the Sokh enclave issue, and this is a sign of good relations with Uzbekistan.
RFE/RL: After the general elections, there will presumably be a shift in power, to the parliament, which is in contrast to other post-Soviet countries in the region. What do you think we’ll see then in terms of Kyrgyzstan’s foreign policy?
Otunbaeva: The foreign policy would be defined by the government, not by the president. All the most important issues would be sent to the parliament. However, there won’t be big changes in Kyrgyzstan’s foreign relations. We have already established our core system of foreign relations. First, good relations with our neighbors. Next, relations with big strategic partner countries. Russia is also critically important for us among our neighbors. The other big countries are China, America, the West and all the European [Union] states.
At the same time, we have good relations with the Arabic countries in recent years. The Southeast Asia countries are also helping us a lot. I think we won’t drastically change our foreign policy.
RFE/RL: Do you have any update on what’s happening with the U.S. transit center at Manas?
Otunbaeva: We are resolving the issue related to the center. Our government, after deep consideration, has held several talks with the Americans on the firms which dealt with the fuel supply for the center. We are going to eliminate all the existing corruption scheme by nationalization of the Aalam Service company. There will be no way for mediating companies [to take advantage]. Our government can deal with the direct fuel supply. Now everything will be defined in forthcoming negotiations [with the U.S.]. We strongly believe that all the money that was previously sent to the family (of former president Kurmanbek Bakiev) will be added to our state budget.
RFE/RL: Does the U.S. correctly understand the issues and the action you’re taking?
Otunbaeva: Yes, they understand it in correct way. The U.S. Congress has held a wide debate on that. They are saying, "Why should we support such a corruption scheme?" and they are agreeing to find ways to...find corruption abuses. [Some] American scholars testified before members of Congress about how the process used to work, and asked why the United States was supporting such a corrupt system [at Manas]. Now, from both directions, we are on the same wavelength in terms of our desire to resolve the issue.
RFE/RL: There will be a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Tashkent on June 10-11. Will Kyrgyzstan be represented?
Otunbaeva: Yes. Our minister of foreign affairs will be attending the summit.
Translated from Kyrgyz into English by T. Tchoroev (Chorotegin). Edited by Heather Maher
Video (in Kyrgyz) available at: http://www.azattyk.org/video/8125.html