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Akayev Approaches December 9 Inauguration, Faces Daunting Socio-Economic Challenges

As President Askar Akayev prepares for his inauguration at a joint parliamentary session December 9, many in Kyrgyzstan are pessimistic about the government's capacity to address a variety of socio-economic issues, including worsening living conditions, corruption and the exodus of non-Kyrgyz citizens.

Akayev won reelection October 29, in a vote marred by fraud allegations [for background see Eurasia Insight archive]. He has indicated that he will focus his energy during the upcoming term on making economic and social improvements. He admitted in a November 14 address to parliament that "poverty in Kyrgyzstan became a national problem."
However, Kyrgyzstan's debt burden could hamper the government's ability to combat poverty. According to official statistics, Kyrgyzstan has received $1.5 billion dollars in different loans and credits since it gained independence in 1991. Finance Minister Sultan Mederov announced November 17 that Kyrgyzstan already has repaid $20 million USD of its external debt this year, and will be obliged to repay next year about $105 million in foreign debt. Financial analysts say 2003 could be the most difficult year for the government, because the bulk of repayments is due that year.

"Our economy is stagnating, and there seems to be no sign of recovery," said Kanykei Toktosunova, a finance specialist based in Osh. "I am very curious to know how Akayev's administration is going to repay all the loans and credits we received from 1991."

Government corruption could create an additional obstacle to economic revival efforts. Corruption allegations figured prominently in the November 15 resignation of First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Silaev. An ethnic Russian, Silaev announced that Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov had offered him a position in one of the Moscow prefectures. In an interview with Russian daily "Komsomolskaya Pravda," Silaev claimed he was leaving because he had become tired of intrigue and corruption in the government. "In Russia, my children and grandchildren have future ..." he said. However, a number of local observers allege Silaev chose to leave because of a reported connection to a corruption scandal involving a Turkish investment company.

Silaev's resignation also focused attention on an ongoing social problem – the departure of ethnic Russians. Many Russians have cited economic difficulties in their decision to leave. According to Vasily Ostapchuk of the Russian Embassy in Bishkek, thousands of ethnic Russians in Kyrgyzstan every month are applying to emigrate. In 1999, about 30,000 ethnic Russian submitted emigration applications, and 6,300 of them actually left. Most went to Russia. The peak of Russian emigration was 1993, when almost 90,000 emigrated.

The accumulation of economic and social discontent has the potential to create political turmoil. Presently, just over a month since the presidential elections, some political observers in Kyrgyzstan suggest that, as public dissatisfaction grows, Kyrgyzstan could follow a "Fujimori in Peru" scenario. However, Akayev appears to be aware of the dangers, and is taking steps to bolster his position.

Addressing parliament on 14 November, Akayev indicated that he would take steps to address OSCE concerns about the conduct of the presidential elections. Specifically, Akayev has asked the prosecutor general to investigate all election-related irregularities, and to report to him in two weeks. Akayev also said that he regards the adoption of Resolution 397 in the US House of representatives (which challenges the commitment of Central Asian governments to democratic freedom and raises questions as to their membership in OSCE) very seriously, and that he has already sent a letter inviting a US congressional assessment mission to Kyrgyzstan.

The government seems to be willing to reconcile with domestic opposition forces. Arslan Anarbaev, an administration official, told journalists in Bishkek on 24 November that a round table discussion between the government officials and opposition representatives was being planned for late December. According to Anarbaev, the format would be 21+21+21+21, comprising 21 representatives each from the government, opposition parties, media and non-governmental organizations. Representatives of the OSCE and the US National Democratic Institute for International Affairs would also be invited as observers.

In addition, officials are seeking to appease the opposition and international community with a commitment to streamline government. Deputy Finance Minister Kubat Kanimetov told a RFE/RL correspondent in Bishkek on November 24 that a special working group on cutting the number of officials in the executive branch has been formed. According to Kanimetov, the number of bureaucrats would be cut by 30 percent, and some governmental bodies and administrative districts would be merged.
Lastly, Akayev announced that the moratorium on the death penalty, which is due to expire in December, will be extended for another year, and that the position of ombudsman will soon be introduced. Such moves appear designed to gain the approval of international rights monitoring bodies.

Alisher Khamidov is the director of the Osh Media Resource Center in Osh, Kyrgyzstan.

Akayev Approaches December 9 Inauguration, Faces Daunting Socio-Economic Challenges

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