Kyrgyzstan’s new lawmakers, representing five political parties, took their oaths of office on November 10. The much-anticipated opening legislative session in Bishkek increased the pressure on squabbling political leaders to cobble together a coalition government.
At the opening session, provisional President Roza Otunbayeva implored assembled deputies “to be above political intrigues and ambitions” and called on them to nominate a prime minister and cabinet by November 27.
Given the results in October’s election, in which four of the five parties in parliament gained roughly an equal share of the vote, a coalition government is inevitable. At least three parties need to join forces to form a parliamentary majority. Politicians and experts see coalition negotiations as revolving around two distinct poles: one in which the Respublika and the Social Democratic Party (SDPK) form the core; the other with Ata-Jurt and Ar-Namys being the main components. Complicating the situation, neither currently has sufficient clout to form a stable government. An additional complication is that neither force seems eager to join with the fifth party in parliament, the Ata-Meken Party, whose leader is reviled by Moscow.
The outcome of the coalition maneuvering could likely have profound repercussions for Kyrgyzstan’s political experiment in a parliamentary democratic system. Insiders say one significant difference between possible coalition partners is that Ata-Jurt and Ar-Namys have both expressed support for watering down the powers of the new parliament and resurrecting a strong presidency. Alternately, Ata-Meken and SDPK would both like to give the experiment with parliamentary democracy a chance.
From an ideological standpoint, Omurbek Tekebayev’s Ata-Meken is more likely to sign up with the Respublika-SDPK coalition. He and the SDPK leadership are natural allies, having worked together in the interim government that took control after Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in April street riots. This threesome would take 67 of the legislature’s 120 seats.
But many say Tekebayev – who is deeply distrusted in Moscow and described disparagingly as “pro-Western” – is too much of a liability for either coalition since good relations with Russia are vital to Kyrgyzstan’s economic health. Tekebayev, author of the new constitution approved in June, has been described as a tragic political figure: He has kept a low profile since the October 10 elections, when, after the Russian media attacked him during the campaign, his party – a frontrunner in the polls – barely squeaked into parliament.
“It is clear Tekebayev will have trouble working with Russia. Here [in Kyrgyzstan] that matters,” a source close to the party said on condition of anonymity. “Russia has levers to improve life in Kyrgyzstan, or put us in a very difficult position.”
On November 4, announcing that his party would form a coalition with Respublika, SDPK leader Almazbek Atambayev lashed out at Tekebayev for thwarting a coalition. "Ata-Meken is stalling. This is not because our party [SDPK] is pro-Russian, but because the political organization led by Omurbek Tekebayev allegedly gravitates more towards the West," Atambayev said in comments carried by the 24.kg news agency.
Ata-Jurt, the party that attracted the most votes, is generally seen as a party packed with loyalists of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, whose administration collapsed in April. It is unlikely to form an alliance with either “pro-government party,” Ata-Meken or SDPK. That has left Ar-Namys as Ata-Jurt’s natural ally during the coalition formation process.
A source close to the leadership of Ata-Jurt told EurasiaNet.org that the party will definitely join Ar-Namys and said both Ata-Meken and Respublika had spurned his party’s offers, despite Russian pressure for an Ata-Jurt/Ar-Namys/Respublika bloc. Leaders of all three traveled to Moscow together on the same flight days after the vote, prompting widespread speculation the Kremlin had blessed the coalition.
“Respublika had its own ambitions plans. Despite large compromises from our side, Respublika didn’t agree to join us. And not only were Ata-Jurt and Ar-Namys interested in this [coalition], but also our neighbors like Russia,” the Ata-Jurt source said, calling Respublika’s Omurbek Babanov “too ambitious.”
Speculating on the composition of a future coalition is still perilous, Turat Akimov, editor of Dengi i Vlast (Money and Power) told EurasiaNet.org . Even after a month of negotiations, outcomes “can change any minute and we might have an absolutely different picture tomorrow morning.”
Indeed, in a sign of how raw emotions still are, a small group of protesters attempted to storm parliament as the deputies convened. They briefly blocked a central Bishkek thoroughfare. Members of the recently created Homeland’s Martyrs – relatives of those who died during Bakiyev’s bloody ouster – say they want the election results cancelled and perceived Bakiyev loyalists punished.
“We’re very hurt. Is this really what our children died for? Bakiyev’s allies are sitting in parliament. We aren’t going to accept this. We’ll go all the way,” AKIpress quoted a mother of one of those killed on April 7 as saying.
Though the movement is small, it is one of several that has observers fearing that the use of violence is still seen in some circles in Kyrgyzstan as a legitimate tool for achieving political aims. If so, even if Kyrgyzstan’s politicians prove capable of putting together a governing coalition, stability could again be upended by popular discontent.
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.