Kyrgyzstan once again witnessed protests and political confrontation between the groups supporting and opposing the central government in Bishkek, but this time, the presidential palace also hosted one of the most serious external elements affecting the domestic processes, i.e., the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. This coincidence brings this thought to the mind that this crisis, heightened by the arrest of Tekebayev, is a self-made and managed measure aiming at various goals. The government’s show of power in the repression and control of the opposition leaders, the fact that current government authorities are playing the victim in the face of the opposition, measuring the response of the opposition leaders’ supporters, and measuring the sensitivity of geopolitical partners of Kyrgyzstan, especially Russia, are among the main reasons while analyzing the events of the past few days.
Background of Developments
The situation Kyrgyzstan faces today is the result of last year’s victory of the ruling party, “Social Democratic”, in Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary elections. The elections in which the maximum seats in parliament were won by supporters of the government, and the opposition could not enter into the parliament. Of course, nearly four months ago the Social Democratic Party left the ruling coalition, and the majority coalition government could not be maintained, but this major initiative considered as establishing the Russian-oriented approach in the foreign policy of Kyrgyzstan is still being clearly strengthened by Almazbek Atambayev. A process in which the gradual reduction in the level of relations with trans-regional states (mainly the West) and more closeness to Russia are mainly considered. In this situation, the power will remain for a long time at the disposal of the ruling party, and this will normally provoke the reaction of the opposition.
On first reactions to the strategy of Atambayev and his team, political parties of “Bouton Kyrgyzstan”, “Ata-Jurt”, “Resistance Movement”, “Movement of Kyrgyzstan” and representatives of the Bishkek Forum created an opposition movement in alliance with each other. But what made the opposition sensitive, more than anything, to Atambayev’s measures is the proposal to amend the constitution with the support of the majority of members of Parliament. According to the opposition, the ultimate outcome of these changes is to stabilize the position of the current ruling party in power, and increase the powers of the Prime Minister.
One of the most important provisions of the amendment, finally approved in a referendum to change the constitution, was that the Prime Minister can call for a vote of confidence to the government in Parliament without limitation (followed by consequences in case of vote of no-confidence). Naturally, to avoid the possibility of its dissolution, the Parliament will be cooperating more with the government. Based on the proposed article (87), the Prime Minister can act independently to remove a member of the government or the whole Cabinet. However, it can be said that the issue of a vote of confidence to the government will somehow play a significant role in determining the goodwill of the members of the Parliament to the Prime Minister, and in this context, it is clear that if a political group dominates the Parliament, the Legislature will be easily manipulated.
Meanwhile, opponents of this plan believe that due to the lack of a proper culture of power transfer in Central Asian countries, the plan to hold a referendum to change the constitution of this country was only planned with the aim of strengthening the government positions. They also say Atambayev, at the early days of being elected as the President, criticized the manner of former Presidents, and called them “political dragons”, but as the presidential elections is approaching, Atambayev is following what former Presidents had done. This fact once again confirms the lack of a culture of peaceful transfer of power in Central Asian countries, and that Atambayev claiming to change the constitution to strengthen the role of Prime Minister, intends to obtain this post after his term in office as the President is finished. Looking at the recent political processes in Kyrgyzstan, it becomes clear that the President had a decisive role in each of them, while he is not allowed to do so, for example, no parliamentary coalition is so far formed without the presence of the President. All this means that the deterrence and the balance of power in Kyrgyzstan which is already faced with numerous problems, will be practically lost with the approval of the draft amendment of the constitution, and the real power will be in the hands of the coalition of the President and the Prime Minister.
The role of the public will be also faded. Today, people in the Kyrgyz society are heavily involved in economic problems, and the recession in the country gets worse every day to the amount that government debt has reached $ 4 billion, and the head of the IMF also warned the Kyrgyz government on the society’s vulnerability.
In these circumstances, the only source of income for Kyrgyzstan is to extract gold from the Kumtor rich gold mine - suspended due to disputes with the Canadian company. The issue of membership in the Eurasian project has so far faced many problems due to the lack of understanding of agricultural capacities in Kyrgyzstan.
Therefore, in present circumstances, Atambayev considers this is an appropriate space to play the role of the savior who gets rid of the current problems for people. This is also why he has planned to amend the constitution, and softly remove opponents not to be able to have access to power. This may work in the short term, but given the specific conditions of the Kyrgyz society, removing opponents, and moving toward authoritarianism will be faced with a widespread instability in the long term. Actions that normally will have some supporters, but will also create the political rally more visible than the past.
Given the conditions of expressing opinions and organizing protest and support gatherings in Kyrgyzstan, political confrontation between opponents and proponents is somewhat predictable, but that this confrontation was designed and implemented just a day before Putin’s visit to Kyrgyzstan will raise questions such as why the government in Bishkek attempted to arrest Tekebayev, one of the powerful critics of the government and of the amendment of the constitution, in spite of knowing the opposition positions just when the Russian President was to visit this country. In this regard, four hypotheses can be discussed:
First, Atambayev had intended to show his control over the political and security environment of the country by arresting his most important opponent on the eve of Putin’s visit to Kyrgyzstan, and convince Putin more than ever that the Kremlin should support the preferred candidate of Atambayev more publicly. (Atambayev has officially declared that he will not be a candidate for the coming presidential elections held in seven months, but given the changes made to the constitution and the increased powers of the Prime Minister, it is not unlikely if he supports a particular candidate, and assumes the post of the Prime Minister himself).
Second, Atambayev intentionally took this action on the eve of Putin’s visit to this country to make the Russian President realize the seriousness of the pro-Western groups’ movement in Kyrgyzstan - this is an important issue due to the coming presidential elections held in seven months. Designing this scenario, the President of Kyrgyzstan has tried to play the victim against the unifying power of the opposition which made the government not be able to maintain the majority government four months ago, and to attract the favorable attention of Moscow more. In the meantime, the continued presence and activities of Kyrgyzstan in the Eurasian Union is considered the main point that will be guaranteed for the Kremlin if Atambayev and his team still continue to work. On the other hand, Tekebayev is one of the most important pro-Western players of Kyrgyzstan who can strengthen the coalition between the pro-Western organizations and individuals of Kyrgyzstan, and attract the attention of the Western sources.
Third, measuring the level of the Kremlin’s sensitivity to movements of the opposition to the current government of Kyrgyzstan is considered as another hypothesis. With regard to developments in recent months, and that it is likely that political crises are again resumed until November this year, and even planning to hold early elections, Bishkek tried to measure the level of the Moscow authorities’ response and sensitivity and behavior with its action. The possible reactions to this event can also largely make the Russian political weight at present time in Central Asia, especially in Kyrgyzstan, clear.
Finally, analyzing the opposition measures for a preventive action in the future, measuring the capacity of the presidential team to manage the crisis, analyzing the reaction of third states, diplomatic representations and non-governmental organizations (especially that these organizations are more active in southern Kyrgyzstan where Tekebayev also has many supporters) can be among the reasons to analyze the government’s action to arrest this well-known opponent.
Before his arrest, Tekebayev, as one of the authors of the constitution of Kyrgyzstan after the revolution of 2010, had threatened several times that he would soon release the information on accounts abroad of the President’s entourage. In recent months, he had frequently visited foreign states for making financial activities of the President and his colleagues transparent, and in this respect, his arrest and embezzlement charges against him, according to most experts inside and outside the country, are largely political. So, his arrest will have security-political consequences as well, and it is likely that this event strengthens and gathers the Atambayev’s opposing groups (asking to set Tekebayev free) before the presidential elections, and in these conditions, the struggle for power between the elite of Kyrgyzstan and the opposition within the framework of presidential elections will be the core of the political processes in the coming months in Kyrgyzstan.
Meanwhile, incidents of violence in recent days showed that political struggles focused on the presidential elections can lead to potential conflict between political elites so much so that even the use of force and violence is possible in the conflicts, because past experience shows that the Kyrgyz politicians are not able to compromise between themselves, and on the contrary, they can make radical groups, communicating with some foreign centers, and nearly uncontrolled by the government, also enter into the scene of struggle.
At the same time, the current political contradictions between the government and the opposition group may once again lead to the resignation of the government, the dissolution of parliament and early presidential elections in the short term, and this will once again result in a widespread instability, and will attract the attention of radical extremist groups, and get them involved in the Kyrgyz politics.
Mohammad Alavizadeh, an analyst of Central Asia Affairs, is the fellow at Research Institute of Eastern Iran.
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