Kyrgyzstan: Bakiyev's Reform Push Strives to Contain Corruption in Bishkek

Kyrgyzstan's cabinet resigned on October 20 as President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced a broad plan to restructure the government. Political experts in Bishkek offered guarded praise for Bakiyev's reform scheme, with some suggesting that it represented perhaps the last, best hope for his administration to contain corruption in the Central Asian state.

Paving the way for Bakiyev's reform package, Prime Minister Igor Chudinov submitted his resignation immediately after the president unveiled his reform intentions during a televised address. By law, Chudinov's move triggered the resignation of the entire cabinet. Bakiyev quickly accepted the resignations, but asked ministers to stay on as an acting government until his ruling Ak Jol Party selects a new premier, who will then form a new cabinet. A nominee for prime minister will likely be announced within days.

Among the major changes envisaged by Bakiyev, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Committee for National Security -- known by its Russian acronym, SNB -- would come under the president's direct control. Other offices within the executive branch would be reorganized, while approximately 40 percent of central government employees would be laid off. Bakiyev said his reform agenda seeks to curb corruption, streamline government bureaucracy and make the process of selecting top officials more transparent and competitive.

"The presidential administration is being abolished. A presidential institution is being set up in its place. It will be a system of inter-cooperating bodies with clearly divided powers designed to efficiently exercise the president's powers and to bring about its functioning as a single center for making decisions," Bakiyev said, in comments carried on state television.

"The experience of post-Soviet countries shows that personnel changes, without a [corresponding] change in the system of administration, [produces] nothing more than pseudo-reform. This does not lead, and will not lead to any results," the president continued. Given that the pro-presidential political forces enjoy a dominating majority in parliament, Bakiyev's reform program is expected to win fast legislative approval.

Kyrgyzstan is home to both American and Russian military bases. But Bishkek political observers downplayed the significance of foreign-policy factors in Bakiyev's reform plan. Domestic considerations provided the motivation for the attempted overhaul of the bureaucracy, many believe.

The government changes did not catch observers by surprise. "This was a logical step in light of fundamental changes announced by the president [in September]. It is an expected move," Osh-based political analyst Muhamadjan Urunbayev told EurasiaNet.

Bishkek-based political analyst Mars Sariev characterized Bakiyev's reform package as a make-or-break move for his personal political future. "This is an issue of survival for Bakiyev," Sariev said. "I think the old way of dealing with people in the system, where corruption, [the improper use of] contacts and bribing were taking place, will change. Bakiyev has no other way. If he doesn't change [the system], social tension will keep growing."

The government changes did not catch observers by surprise. "This was a logical step in light of fundamental changes announced by the president [in September]. It is an expected move." Osh-based political analyst Muhamadjan Urunbayev told EurasiaNet.

Largely agreeing with Sariev, Dinara Oshurakhunova, head of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, suggested that Bakiyev had no choice but to take urgent action to streamline the government. "This reform is necessary, we need it. Otherwise, it is impossible to live in this corruption and crisis of governing," Oshurakhunova said. Her main worry is that Kyrgyzstan's financial capabilities might not be sufficient to match Bakiyev's reform vision. "I am concerned about the time and resources that will be spent for the implementation of the reforms," she said.

Bakiyev critics are assailing the reform plan as insufficient and ill-conceived. One of the president's most prominent political opponents described the reforms as a disguised power grab. "Kurmanbek Bakiyev simply deprived the government of some authority and assigned it to himself," said Azimbek Beknazarov of the Unified Opposition Movement, a loose alliance of several opposition parties, in comments carried on October 20 by the 24.kg news agency.

Tolekan Ismailova, the head of the non-governmental organization Citizens Against Corruption, gave the plan a slim chance of success, mainly because it was developed behind closed doors, and lacked input from a broad spectrum of governmental agencies and civic organizations. "Nobody has heard and seen how and what will change. A small circle of people has decided that this will be a better way," Ismailova told journalists on October 20.

While legislative approval is not expected to be a problem, analysts say that the reforms could well bog down due to likely resistance from within the state's bureaucratic machinery. In addition, the reforms could produce some unforeseen side-effects caused by expected infighting among political factions within Bakiyev's administration.

Alisher Khamidov is a freelance journalist based in South Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan: Bakiyev's Reform Push Strives to Contain Corruption in Bishkek

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