Kyrgyzstan’s Political Weapons: Criminal Charges vs. Scary Crowds
Wherever Kamchybek Tashiev goes, mischief seems to follow. The prominent deputy from the nationalist Ata-Jurt party is widely considered a contender in presidential elections this fall. Now, a criminal suit that he calls politically motivated may test Tashiev’s presidential mettle. Will his crowds of supporters be deterred? Or does their loyalty have little to do with his public image?Tashiev is charged with "premeditated infliction of significant damage to a person's health,” after allegedly beating up a deputy from his own party. Bakhadyr Suleimanov says he spent several days in a Bishkek hospital with a concussion after Tashiev attacked him late on March 31. The head of Kyrgyzstan’s boxing federation, Tashiev denies he ever laid a finger on his party-mate. He also insists the charges, including hooliganism, are part of a government conspiracy "to prevent my participation in the presidential elections" scheduled for the fall, he told RFE/RL. Even so, Tashiev has gallantly waived his parliamentary immunity so the investigation can proceed. Such is the rough and tumble of Kyrgyz politics. But will the investigation go forward? That question is especially pertinent considering subsequent events in Tashiev’s corner: A series of protests across southern Kyrgyzstan demanding “Hands off Tashiev.” Who could be organizing such demonstrations? This blog has in the past suspected Tashiev of busing in supporters when the going got rough. Indeed, the practice seems widespread in Kyrgyzstan, where patronage networks play a central role in political life and the term ‘rent-a-crowd’ is common. Tashiev certainly has the capacity to inspire: At one of the protests, demonstrators turned on local journalists filming the event, beating two so badly they needed medical treatment. The journalists claim they were filming organizers paying participants; Osh police say, in turn, that the journalists were beaten for their lack of professionalism.The threat of mass demonstrations in Osh – epicenter of last year’s ethnic violence – is probably enough to make Bishkek reconsider the charges leveled against Tashiev. But what kind of message would that send every other political entrepreneur facing legal troubles? In Kyrgyzstan, mobs come cheap.