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Kyrgyzstan: New President Consolidates Power Vertical

With the resignation of Parliamentary Speaker Akmatbek Keldibekov on December 12, Kyrgyzstan has entered another potentially confrontational phase in its post-revolutionary political development. 

The apparent driving of Keldibekov, the country’s highest-ranking southern politician, into opposition highlights the rapid consolidation of power under new President Almazbek Atambayev, and the marginalization of southern populists who had been considered essential to maintaining the fragile post-revolutionary peace.

After winning over 60 percent of the vote in an election that observers considered mostly free and fair, Atambayev entered office on December 1 with a solid executive mandate. He moved quickly to install his team in office.

Within a week Atambayev named as head of the National State Security Committee (the successor to the KGB) Shamil Atakhanov, a longtime ally with relatively little security background. With loyalist Zarylbek Rysaliev already heading the Interior Ministry, the new president now commands the “power structures” in a way that his predecessor Roza Otunbayeva never did.

Meanwhile, in parliament, Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party (SDPK) withdrew from the ruling coalition the day after his inauguration to form a new coalition more beneficial to the party.

When Speaker Keldibekov from the nationalist Ata-Jurt party refused to step down, opposition party Ata-Meken, clearly acting with SDPK approval, launched an all-out assault on the speaker, centering on sensational allegations that he dined with a known drug trafficker on New Year’s Day 2011.

On December 12, after nearly a week of withering attack covered heavily by local media, Keldibekov agreed to step down “voluntarily,” averting a potentially devastating full-chamber vote of no confidence.

Keldibekov, a former State Tax Service chief whose year as speaker was plagued by scandal, is unlikely to go away quietly, however. Speaking after his resignation, he reminded his audience of the consolidation of power under ousted presidents Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev. 

“If these tendencies continue, no one can guarantee that the events that occurred in Kyrgyzstan last year will not be repeated,” he said, referring to the bloody anti-Bakiyev uprising, in what could serve as both analysis and threat. 

Reports on December 13 indicated Keldibekov had flown south to join his supporters, who gathered in Osh to demand parliament be disbanded. By late afternoon the protestors had dispersed, but not before scuffling with representatives of the provincial governor. Meanwhile in Keldibekov’s home region of Alai, protestors blocked roads for the third day in support of their patron.

The addition of Keldibekov to the list of sidelined southerners like Kamchybek Tashiev -- who called foul after placing third in the October election -- each with his own substantial base of patronage and support, may presage another period of challenges to Kyrgyzstan’s domestic stability.

Kyrgyzstan: New President Consolidates Power Vertical

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