Numerous objectors to plans to tinker with Kyrgyzstan’s constitution have found themselves reportedly object of criminal investigations in a worrying sign the country may be slipping back to old authoritarian ways.
President Almazbek Atambayev’s office on November 14 released details of his meeting with Abdil Segizbayev, head of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB), whose anticorruption department is increasingly said to serve as a stick with which to beat government critics.
At the meeting, Segizbayev is said to have informed Atambayev of materials supposedly provided to the government by the authorities of Belize, in central America, linking unnamed politicians to offshore companies purportedly set up to help benefit the hated son of deposed president Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
The online statement did not identify the suspected figures, but it does mischievously leave their names clearly visible on documents shown in accompanying illustrative photos. They include former Justice Minister Almanbet Shykmamatov, former general prosecutor Aida Salyanova and leading politician Omurbek Tekebayev — all three members of the now-opposition Ata-Meken party.
Ata-Meken quit the ruling coalition last month in protest at the proposed constitutional reforms, which are designed to bolster the authority of the executive branch and reduce that of parliament and the judiciary.
Pro-government Kyrgyz language media were quick to twist the knife with stories painting the trio in a negative light. Tekebayev told Reuters news agency that the investigation centering on an apparent attempt to sell off shares in the politically troubled telecoms business Megacom in 2012 is “a primitive provocation.” Shykmamatov has spent the last two days rubbishing the allegations on Facebook.
Other members of parliament that have spoken out against the changes are under investigation for unrelated offenses.
Kanat Isayev, who headed the coalition Kyrgyzstan party widely thought to shadow Atambayev’s own Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan was reported as fighting graft charges November 9.
That anti-corruption investigation reportedly centers on Isayev’s time as mayor of the provincial city of Tokmok during the reign of Bakiyev, who fled the country following the violent 2010 revolution that propelled Atambayev to power. Reminders of any kind of association with Bakiyev still retains formidable toxic potential.
What may have done for Isayev are his evolving views on the constitutional fix, which is to be put to a national referendum in December. Having missed out on a position as parliamentary speaker earlier this year — he was reportedly also keen on becoming prime minister — Isayev has since given up his position as leader of the Kyrgyzstan party, which otherwise remains strongly supportive of the changes to the constitution.
Yet another deputy, Kanybek Imanaliyev, who is also an Ata-Meken party member, was summoned to the GKNB in late October for questioning in connection with the privatization of a building used by a state newspaper some 15 years ago.
Although there are few innocents in Kyrgyzstan’s corrupt political world, the backdated nature of all three cases betrays their likely politicized nature.
What is less immediately discernible is why Atambayev and his allies are prepared to go to such lengths to discredit all sources of opposition to the proposed constitutional fix. And what exactly they expect to gain from a ‘yes’ vote, given that Atambayev is constitutionally barred from running in next year's presidential election.