Kyrgyzstan has lost another prime minister — its 27th since independence.
Temir Sariyev, who spent less than a year in office, resigned on April 11 following a public and unsightly spat involving allegations of corruption.
Sariyev’s downfall was precipitated by his battle with Transportation Minister Argynbek Malabayev over a tender to build a strategic 104-kilometer road worth $100 million that was won by a Chinese company. The road would link the towns of Balykchy and Korumdu in the tourism magnet of Issyk-Kul region.
The scandal, which saw Malabayev accuse Sariyev of looking to profit from the deal and Sariyev attempt to engineer Malabayev’s dismissal, had Kyrgyzstan written all over it.
Chinese companies are responsible for building the vast majority of Kyrgyzstan’s road infrastructure and frequently face accusations of enabling government corruption.
Malabayev claimed Sariyev had a personal interest in Long Hai’s victory and blamed his own deputy, Ulan Uyezbayev, for helping to push the deal through behind his back. (Malabayev has said he was on a business trip outside the country when the results of the tender were announced).
In support of his claims, Malabayev said that the manager of Long Hai’s Kyrgyzstan office is a member of Ak-Shumkar party, which was founded and led by Sariev.
A parliamentary committee looking into the tender recommended parliament consider booting out Sariyev, who decided instead to fall on his sword.
That committee was led by Kanat Isayev, head of the ruling coalition’s Kyrgyzstan party, who like Sariyev, is a businessman first and a politician second.
Isayev is also occasionally mentioned as a future prime minister, throwing into doubt the objectivity of his commission’s work.
Sariyev said he could not have possibly interfered in the tender but welcomed an "objective investigation" into the activities of his assistants, one of whom was implicated by the commission.
Sariyev was combative in defeat.
“I resign from the post of prime minister, but for the sake of my good name I am ready to fight till the end”, he said at a government meeting.
Malabayev, whose testimony the parliamentary commission's work has been based on, said he could not have been involved in the tendering process as he was in Kazakhstan at the time.
President Almazbek Atambayev on April refused Sariyev’s application to dismiss Malabayev, citing the need for more information, but has since suggested parliament allow the prime minister greater powers to dismiss ministers without presidential approval.
That move is in keeping with what critics say is single-term Atambayev’s tactic of allowing prime ministers to tie themselves up in knots while appearing to be supportive.
For the next prime minister that takes up office to be in situ ahead of presidential election campaigns beginning in late 2017, he or she would have to outlast the comparatively long-serving Jantoro Satybaldiyev, who clocked up 18 months in as premier from September 5, 2012 to March 25, 2013.
While such a feat could potentially give the person in question a strong shot at the presidency, it would not change the fact that whoever leads the country’s cabinet, the Chinese will still be building the roads.