Kyrgyzstan has a new prime minister, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, an arch-loyalist of President Almazbek Atambayev and a significant power-broker in the south.
His ascendancy to the premiership, which was confirmed by parliament on April 13, was far from expected, including by 57-year old Jeenbekov, who has said this week he had “never even dreamed of getting the job.”
Out of the 115 deputies present, all voted for Jeenbekov to get the nod.
If the surname Jeenbekov sounds familiar, it might be because the new prime minister’s younger brother Asylbek Jeenbekov has acted as the speaker of parliament since 2011. Asylbek belongs to Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party.
The Jeenbekov crew are southerners from the Osh region.
A crowd appointed Sooronbai Jeenbekov people’s governor of Osh in the stormy days that succeeded the April 7, 2010 revolution. A little over a month later, however, another crowd of about 1,500 people stormed the regional administration headquarters and kicked Jeenbekov out of the building. He was quickly reinstalled once order was restored.
The halo of political influence extends further in the family. Another Jeenbekov brother who goes by a different surname, Zhusupbek Sharipov, was Jalal-Abad governor before the 2005 revolution.
The new prime minister is a certain bet for Atambayev and has long served the president with loyalty even when the times were hard.
Jeenbekov, who qualified as a zoo technician at the Skryabin Kyrgyz Agriculture Institute in 1983, will give up his current job as first deputy head of the presidential apparatus to take up the reins as prime minister.
If anybody thinks that Atambayev could be priming Jeenbekov to replace him as president though, there are some aspects of his ability to perform on the international stage to consider. Zanoza.kg noted sniffily in a profile that Jeenbekov is a “clumsy and not very good speaker of Russian.”
“What is more he speaks with a decidedly pronounced southern accent,” the website observed.
Political analyst Mars Sariyev suggested to Zanoza.kg that Jeenbekov’s authority in the south may have been a decisive factor given the continuing unease over the border incident with Uzbekistan. Particular irritation has been provoked by the apparent agreement by the Kyrgyz government to grant Uzbekistan control over a mountain overlooking a disputed section of the border.
“We all understand that the scandal with Ungar-Too will not remain without consequences, and we have to presume that there is need for a man who is able to maintain control in the southern region,” Sariyev said.
The downfall of Jeenbekov’s predecessor, Temir Sariyev, was precipitated by an unsightly squabble 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 is to link the towns of Balykchy and Korumdu in the tourism magnet of Issyk-Kul region.
Malabayev accused Sariyev of looking to profit from the deal. A parliamentary committee looking into the tender recommended parliament consider booting out Sariyev, who decided instead to fall on his sword on April 11.
As it happens, the Jeenbekov Cabinet is identical to the previous one with the exception of the prime minister and the transportation minister, now that Malabayev has also been shown the door.