By Arslan Sabyrbekov (05/13/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On May 5, Kyrgyzstan marked the 22nd anniversary of its constitution. In a relatively short period, the country’s basic law went through numerous changes, with the state remaining inefficient. The changes primarily aimed to centralize and strengthen the vertical of power of the first two ousted Presidents. Kyrgyzstan’s current constitution, adopted via a nationwide referendum in the aftermath of the April 2010, has been an exception. Ye the country’s prominent political circles recently suggested holding another referendum in the fall, together with the parliamentary elections.

Kyrgyzstan’s first constitution as an independent state was adopted in 1993 after two years of heated debates in the country’s “legendary Parliament,” as it was termed at the time. Already in 1994 the constitution faced new amendments, under the slogan of creating two chambers of the Parliament, but in reality massively increasing the power of the country’s first President Askar Akaev. A series of amendments were again introduced in 1996, 1998 and 2007 under the reign of the country’s second President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who just like his predecessor, was keen to manipulate the basic law to increase the authority of his own regime.

In 2010, Kyrgyzstan did what then seemed to be unthinkable in Central Asia by adopting a constitution that limited the power of the head of state, in a region where personalization of power is the rule. Moreover, with the objective of preventing further manipulation and ensuring a form of stability to the new system, a Constitutional council comprised of 75 members decided to introduce a special clause, banning any changes to the basic law until 2020. After less than five years, the country’s power holders are again eager to change it.

The talks on amending the 2010 constitution were activated a year ago, with some politicians advocating it from time to time. During a meeting of the country’s Council on Judicial Reform last October, President Atambayev also supported the idea of changing certain articles in the constitution, as he put it, “if they are necessary to carry out full-fledged reform of the judicial sector.” Without much subsequent public deliberation ever since, the initiators have presented a new set of amendments on April 28, stirring heated discussion and opposition from expert and civil society circles.

According to local political experts, the initiatives severely weaken the independence of parliamentarians. Under the proposed amendment, parliamentary factions can vote for early termination of the duties of individual MPs, if so proposed by the governing body of their respective political party. The initiators of the change justify this amendment, arguing that voters vote for a party rather than individual candidates. Yet according to political analyst Tamerlan Ibraimov, “in the Kyrgyz political context, voters first look at the individuals who are in the party list and then decide which party to vote for. The amendment is simply an effort to establish a system of party dictatorship and will not increase the efficiency of the legislature whatsoever, as claimed by its initiators.”

Moreover, the proposed changes strengthen the role of the Prime Minister. He will be in a position to dismiss members of the government and directly appoint and dismiss heads of regional administrations, therefore clearly weakening the role and independence of local self-governments. This initiative has already led to speculations that it serves the interests of the current President, who could after his term in office become the country’s next Prime Minister with extensive powers and no term limits, in close resemblance of the Kremlin scenario. Under the country’s current constitution, the president serves one six-year term with no possibility for reelection. President Atambayev’s term in office expires already in 2017.

Whatever the real motives are, a new amendment to the constitution will hardly improve pluralism in Kyrgyzstan’s political life. Instead, it will strengthen the “vertical of power” and will gradually diminish the room for political competition, along with general legal culture. In more than two decades of independence, the country’s political elite has become accustomed to blaming the constitution for their own lack of capacity to launch public reforms. Therefore, the real problem lies not with the constitution, but with the unwillingness of the power holders to abide by it and their constant efforts to redraw it for their own benefit. 

Published in Field Reports
Wednesday, 29 April 2015 00:00

Kyrgyzstan’s Prime Minister Resigns

By Arslan Sabyrbekov (04/29/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On April 23, Kyrgyzstan’s Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev has announced his decision to step down, even though the country’s lawmakers have rated his government’s performance for the year 2014 as satisfactory. He is the fourth Prime Minister to resign in the last five years and the 26th since the country’s independence.

When announcing his resignation, the now interim Prime Minister thanked the majority coalition for recognizing his work as satisfactory. He refrained from giving any motive for his decision, simply stating that “No monopoly of power can exist in a democratic country. Therefore, the branch of government should be shaken again. I pursued the goal of the country’s development and advancement and hope that with this decision, the majority coalition can choose a more decisive head of the executive and that this will become a normal practice in the political culture of the country, when high officials leave their posts voluntarily.” Otorbaev also stated that his resignation will not affect the country’s path towards assuming full membership in the Eurasian Economic Union this May.

Immediately after Otorbaev’s decision, Kyrgyz political and expert circles put forward various reasons for his resignation. According to Asylbek Djeenbekov, the Speaker of Parliament, Otorbaev’s decision comes amid a renewed controversy over the operations of the Kumtor Gold Company, which remains one of the biggest unresolved issues for the country. Indeed, much of Otorbaev’s time in office was marked by difficult negotiations with Toronto-based Centerra Gold over the future of the Kumtor Gold Company, which according to various estimates accounts for 12 percent of the country’s GDP and nearly half of its industrial output.

Currently, the Kyrgyz government controls around one-third of the Company, with Canada’s Centerra Gold controlling the rest of the shares. In recent years, the country’s opposition and public have made numerous demands to nationalize the mine or to create a new joint venture with a 50-50 split in ownership, an initiative hampered several times by international tribunals. The Prime Minister opposed this idea as well, stating last month that the launch of a joint venture is no longer in the country’s national interest due to Centerra’s new, lower estimate of the gold reserves. Instead, Otorbaev expressed his intention to increase the government’s representation on Centerra’s board of directors, coming under massive attack from a number of parliamentarians.

However, a number of political experts believe that Otorbaev’s resignation has nothing to do with the fate of the Gold Company. Former MP Alisher Mamasaliev sees pure political motives behind the unexpected move. In his words, “the ruling political leadership cannot afford to have a government in place, which is very much unpopular in the eyes of the electorate, especially shortly before the parliamentary elections, and is striving to appoint a loyal head of the executive.” Others are already speculating who will become the 27th prime minister, mentioning the current Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Economy, both fitting the criteria that the Kyrgyz White House is currently looking for.

Otorbaev’s resignation has also prompted local political analysts to speak of the overall crisis in the country’s management system. Since last September, 10 out of 15 Ministers announced their decision to resign, with some elaborating on the matter and others giving no comments. This speaks in favor of the argument that in times of socio-economic instability in the country, with crucial issues unresolved, no one is willing to take responsibility. On April 24, President Almazbek Atambayev accepted the Prime Minister’s resignation, which according to the country’s constitution means the resignation of the entire government. The current three-party majority coalition has 15 days to nominate a new head of the executive to the legislature.

Local media are also speculating over Otorbaev’s future. Some claim that the urbane, Western-oriented, English-speaking politician, who previously worked for Philips Company and taught physics in the Netherlands for several years, might assume a senior position in one of the international financial institutions. Others argue that he will be competing for a parliamentary seat in the upcoming elections.

Published in Field Reports

By Arslan Sabyrbekov (04/15/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On April 7, Kyrgyzstan commemorated the fifth anniversary of its popular revolution that put an end to the highly corrupt, criminalized and authoritarian regime of the ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiev. Alongside a number of high-ranking state officials, President Almazbek Atambayev took part in a solemn ceremony in Bishkek’s Central Square Ala-Too, at the site where nearly 100 demonstrators were shot dead by snipers on April 7, 2010.

In his emotional speech to the participants of the ceremony, President Atambayev stated once again that his predecessor established a highly corrupt regime, which robbed the whole country and described the system of the day as “monstrous,” referring to a number of killings of politicians, journalists and businessmen during Bakiev’s reign. The president went on to state that unlike a number of Arab countries and most recently Ukraine, which have all toppled similar regimes, Kyrgyzstan has in a short time managed to recover and is “currently on the right track of enhancing its democratic institutions, establishing justice and fighting corruption.”

Despite Atambayev’s positive remarks, the ideals of the April 2010 Revolution are very far from being met. Even after the president’s speech, dozens of participants of the ceremony demonstrated in front of the White House accusing the regime of failing to bring the perpetrators of bloodshed to justice, to systematically tackle corruption and bring back the assets stolen from the country. Indeed, none of the high-ranking officials of the Bakiev regime accused of direct involvement in the killings during the revolution are serving prison sentences. All are sentenced in absentia, including the former President himself, who is now residing in Belarus and leading a comfortable life. His son Maxim Bakiev, who has embezzled millions of state funds, now resides in London. According to a recent journalistic investigation by Global Witness, the son of the ousted President has purchased a house worth 3.5 million GBP. Kyrgyzstan’s continuous demand for their extradition has not been successful.

The revolution’s anniversary was also met with other critical comments from political and expert circles. In the words of Edil Baysalov, former Minister for Social Development and an active participant of the April 2010 events, “after 5 years, the country’s ruling political elite have failed to keep their promises; the country still suffers from widespread corruption, socio-economic challenges are growing, commitments to establish parliamentary democracy with a multiparty system have all been discredited.” Recent developments in the country tend to speak in favor of these remarks. None of the political parties, as driving forces behind a parliamentarian form of government, have managed to evolve as formal institutions and continue to represent informal unions of individuals guided by personal interests.

Furthermore, the commitment to address widespread corruption in the aftermath of the April 2010 events features a selective rather than a systematic approach. Despite the arrest of a number of high-ranking officials, corruption remains present at all levels and the latest Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International clearly demonstrates this fact.

Commenting on the anniversary of the April Revolution, the leader of the United Opposition Movement and MP Ravshan Jeenbekov noted that instead of carrying out democratic reforms, the country has on the contrary taken a big step back by adopting two controversial laws; one banning “gay propaganda;” another labelling foreign funded organizations as “foreign agents.” Both initiatives severely limit civil liberties and put the further development of civil society into great jeopardy. According to local civil society activists, this process of increasing authoritarianism is likely to flourish after Kyrgyzstan becomes a full-fledged member of the Moscow-led Eurasian integration project.

Indeed, each anniversary of the April 2010 events generates public debate on whether the country has reached its ideals and where it is moving further. So far, one can name the downfall of family rule, prevention of a large-scale ethnic conflict and the overall socio-political stability as major achievements of the past 5 years and the upcoming parliamentary elections in the autumn will be a key test for the country’s further stability.

The author writes in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not represent the views of the organization for which he works.

Published in Field Reports

By Arslan Sabyrbekov (04/01/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)

The unofficial visit to Moldova’s capital Chisinau of Kyrgyzstan’s President, on the private jet of one of the country’s influential oligarchs, has spawned different opinions among the Kyrgyz public. The country’s leading opposition forces have sharply criticized the visit and demanded immediate clarification from the president.

On March 15, President Atambayev’s press service released official information on his upcoming visit to Saint Petersburg to hold bilateral talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Later, a number of media sources reported that before heading to Russia, Atambayev also visited Chisinau for several hours to speak with the local oligarch and deputy head of Moldova’s Democratic Party, Vlad Plahotniuc, who even provided his private jet to the Kyrgyz President.

During his short stay in Chisinau, Atambayev did not meet Moldova’s President Nicolae Timofti or any other high-ranking state officials, a gesture described by many experts to be highly undiplomatic. In explanation, Timofti’s press secretary told local media that Kyrgyzstan’s President was short on time to organize a meeting of two heads of states and confirmed that he instead met “someone” in Chisinau. That “someone’s” reputation in Moldova has raised further widespread criticism of the Kyrgyz President. According to Chisinau-based political analyst Igor Bocan, Atambayev’s interlocutor is considered Moldova’s richest man and one of the most influential figures in the country, controlling a number of economic spheres including the banking sector. Plahotniuc has earlier been involved in legal scandals related to his business activities in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, noted Bocan.

The unannounced or rather secretive visit to Chisinau immediately activated the Kyrgyz opposition. During a session of the Kyrgyz Parliament, opposition MP and leader of the United Opposition Movement Ravshan Jeenbekov criticized the President for using someone’s private jet and demanded an explanation of the visit’s purpose. In his words, “as head of an independent state, the president has no right to use someone’s private jet and the Kyrgyz public has the full right to know where the Kyrgyz president was, which meetings he held and what subjects were discussed.” Jeenbekov has further suggested creating a special commission to investigate the matter and draw concrete conclusions. Following a number of similar critical remarks, the head of the Presidential Administration’s foreign relations department Sapar Isakov released a statement noting, “it is not yet time to comment Almazbek Atambayev’s unofficial meeting in Chisinau, but I could clearly state that this visit, just like all other activities of the president, was dictated by the national interests of the Kyrgyz Republic.” Isakov refrained from giving any further comments.

Kyrgyz and Moldovan news media are prodding the real purpose of the Kyrgyz president’s brief meeting with Moldova’s controversial oligarch and politician. A number of experts claim that the two might have discussed Moldova’s perspective of joining the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union, with the Kyrgyz president being the Kremlin’s messenger. Others argue that the meeting exclusively focused on business related issues. Nevertheless, this is not the first time that Kyrgyzstan’s highest state official held secret talks with foreign oligarchs. During the tenure of the ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiev, media reported on his secret meeting with Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who was then wanted by Russian prosecutors for a number of criminal charges, ranging from financial fraud to engineering a putsch.

After his controversial visit to Chisinau, Kyrgyzstan’s president flew on the same jet to Saint Petersburg to meet his Russian counterpart. This was Putin’s first public appearance in more than a week, leading to various rumors of his whereabouts. Atambayev said, “They are not very correct.” He added that “The Russian President not just goes out for strolls, but takes the seat at the wheel to take his guests for a fast ride.”

Currently, Kyrgyzstan’s president is paying official visits to a number of European countries and has met with the Austrian, Swiss and French presidents. The Kyrgyz delegation is expected to hold talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck in Berlin in the beginning of April.

The author writes in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not represent the views of the organization for which he works.

Published in Field Reports
Wednesday, 18 March 2015 12:18

Kyrgyz Crime Boss Murdered in Minsk

By Arslan Sabyrbekov (03/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On February 18, the body of well-known Kyrgyz crime boss Almanbet Anapiyaev was found in a car in Minsk, Belarus, where the country’s former ruling Bakiev clan fled after the 2010 uprising in Kyrgyzstan.

Anapiyaev showed up on Interpol’s wanted list as a leader of organized crime in 2011. The Kyrgyz Ministry of Interior has accused him of a number of crimes of varying severity, ranging from instigating ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan to killing the former head of the of the ousted president’s administration Medet Sadyrkulov. During former President Kurmanbek Bakiev’s reign, Anapiyaev even served as head of the country’s wrestling federation and supported the stability of the regime by criminal means. Until his murder in Minsk, Anapiyaev was supposedly residing in United Arab Emirates.

A few days after Anapiyaev’s murder, his associate and body guard Gulzhigit Abdulazizov arrived in Bishkek from Minsk and voluntarily surrendered to the authorities, saying that his life was in danger. He also claimed that he had witnessed the murder and remembered the killers. During the interrogation, Abdulazizov was given photos of his associate’s potential killers and recognized two men, the former president’s brother and head of the state bodyguard’s service Zhanyshbek Bakiev, and Aibek Abdrazakov, a former high official in the Kyrgyz Ministry of Interior. Kyrgyz investigators also included a picture of Kazakhstan’s Minister for Culture and Sport Arystanbek Mukhamediuly among the suspects, in the belief that the former resembles the former Kyrgyz president’s brother. Upon Kazakhstan’s demand for an explanation, the Kyrgyz Ministry of Interior recently sent an official excuse to Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Culture and Sport.

Following Anapiyaev’s murder in Minsk, Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev publicly criticized and accused Belarus of sheltering the Bakiev family. In his words, “the witness’ testimony leaves no doubt that the brother of the ousted president and his team killed Anapiyaev in a lively area of Minsk.” The Kyrgyz President’s speech was full of emotional language: “Who else do the Bakievs have to murder before Belarusian authorities will see the cannibalistic nature of the family? Those monsters will shed blood anywhere, where they are, including in Belarus, which gave them shelter.” The next day, Minsk issued an equally unfriendly statement noting that “these kinds of overheated emotional statements cannot come out of a civilized country’s leader, the constitution and laws in any modern country guarantee that nobody can be called guilty of any crime until his or her guilt is proven by a court’s verdict. However, taking into account a series of trials in absentia that were held in Kyrgyzstan, one can say that this country has its own specific approach to justice.” The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has also criticized Bishkek for being incapable of giving due protection to its own citizens.

For several years, Bishkek has repeatedly demanded from Minsk to extradite the Bakievs to Kyrgyzstan to face multiple criminal charges. The Kyrgyz courts have sentenced former president Bakiev and his brother in absentia to life imprisonment for killing protestors during the April 2010 events and for their involvement in organizing ethnic clashes in June 2010. In turn, Minsk prefers to ignore these demands and has already provided the ousted Kyrgyz president with Belarusian citizenship. After the Ukrainian Euromaidan in 2014, Belarusian President Lukashenko also expressed his readiness to provide shelter for the deposed President Yanukovych, but the former preferred to stay in Russia instead. On February 27, dozens of protestors rallied outside Belarus’s Embassy in Bishkek, demanding the extradition of the Bakiev brothers. The protestors were holding posters reading “The Bakievs are murderers” and “Belarus, Stop giving shelter to criminals.”

According to local experts, Anapiyaev may simply have been killed as a result of a conflict between various criminal groups striving to control drug traffic in the country. However, Kyrgyzstan’s leadership places all the blame on the Bakievs and seems satisfied with taking advantage of a remote public enemy in its domestic political machinations, making the episode timely especially in light of the upcoming parliamentary elections this autumn.

The author writes in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not represent the views of the organization for which he works

Published in Field Reports

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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