Kyrgyzstan: Alliance from Restive South Creates Headache for Bishkek
Two parties with their roots in Kyrgyzstan's troubled south have announced a political alliance that could create a headache for Bishkek as it struggles to stamp its authority over southern regions.The Unity of Peoples party led by Melis Myrzakmatov, the combative former mayor of Kyrgyzstan's second largest city, Osh, joined forces with the Progress party of Bakyt Torobayev, whose political stronghold is in the neighboring Jalal-Abad Region, on December 7, Kloop reported. This political marriage of convenience unites two bastions of regional opposition to the central government and to President Almazbek Atambayev. The central government fired Myrzakmatov as mayor of Osh December 5 amid maneuvering over forthcoming mayoral elections in which Bishkek hopes to stamp its authority over Osh by wresting control of it from Myrzakmatov, who has said he will stand for mayor again. Torobayev hails from Jalal-Abad, the heartland of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was violently overthrown in 2010 to the chagrin of his many supporters in Kyrgyzstan's south. Together the two leaders wield considerable power in their respective strongholds: Myrzakmatov's party controls the Osh city council; Torobayev's controls the Jalal-Abad city council. The political alliance has been set up “in connection with difficult political processes in the country,” Kloop quoted a press release as saying, to fight parliamentary elections in 2015.Yet the timing of the announcement, almost two years before the next parliamentary elections, is telling, coming as Myrzakmatov seeks to retain control over Osh in a standoff with Bishkek. Atambayev has until the end of the week to make a decision on a new law that would give Osh council deputies powers to nominate mayoral candidates (the power used to belong to the president alone). Should the president approve the law, Myrzakmatov's victory in the mayoral election is seen as a slam dunk. Should the president veto it, protests or even worse unrest seem likely. The new alliance also challenges the power of the Ata-Jurt party, whose political heartland is in the south but which won the most seats in the national 2010 parliamentary election (it has been forced into a minority coalition in parliament). “The unification of these two parties breaks the monopoly of Ata-Jurt as a center of opposition,” political analyst Mars Sariev commented to Kloop. Myrzakmatov recently appeared to reach out to Ata-Jurt – whose leader Kamchybek Tashiev earlier this year was found guilty of trying to overthrow the government – with a show of support for a member of his party, Akhmatbek Keldibekov, who was arrested on corruption charges in November. Many observers believe Myrzakmatov's remarks at a protest rally in Osh in support of Keldibekov sparked his dismissal as mayor.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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