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Kyrgyzstan: Provisional Government Has Difficulty Staying on United Message

As it tries to project its authority across fractious Kyrgyzstan, the provisional government in Bishkek is having difficulty presenting a united front.

After moving fast initially to dissolve the Constitutional Court and disband parliament, the interim government's actions now appear "uncoordinated," said Ajdar Kurtov of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS) in Moscow.

"The only thing that unites them so far is dislike of Bakiyev and his regime," he said, referring to provisional leaders. Bakiyev left Kyrgyzstan for neighboring Kazakhstan on April 15, just over a week after his administration collapsed amid political violence in Bishkek. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

The handling of Bakiyev's fate is representative of the evident disarray within the provisional government. Coming from a variety of competing political parties, the new leaders offered differing visions of what they wanted to do with the disgraced president. As a result, in the days leading up to Bakiyev's departure from the country, various top provisional officials made a bevy of conflicting and contradictory statements.

"The interim government ... is not holding talks with the bloody dictator. We do not need anything from him," the chief of staff for the provisional government, Edil Baisalov, told Interfax on April 13. The same day, acting security chief Azimbek Beknazarov told the 24.kg news agency that the provisional government had revoked Bakiyev's presidential immunity.

But the following day, April 14, the acting head of government, Roza Otunbayeva, said she would negotiate with Bakiyev.

And on April 15, Bakiyev moved between the southern cities of Jalal-Abad and Osh freely, after which Baisalov said the interim government was powerless to arrest the ousted leader. Contradicting both Beknazarov and Otunbayeva, he told Interfax that Bakiyev "has immunity and freedom of movement around the country. ... We are not conducting direct negotiations and we do not plan to conduct them."

Of course, just hours after Baisalov's comments, Bakiyev was on his way to Kazakhstan.

The handling of the Bakiyev end-game naturally raises questions about whether the provisional government's various members are trying to act as a team, or whether they are more like individual agents in an ad-hoc confederacy of politicians.

Provisional leaders "need to gather and identify their priorities," said Emir Kulov, chair of the International and Comparative Politics Department at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek.

The various personalities in the new leadership "are all definitely different. And the main differences are [in] their foreign policy orientations. Some of them are oriented towards the West and some are pro-Russia," Kulov added. "I don't think any of the big powers are supporting the interim government at the moment. Russia and the United States are now in a waiting position."

As with the Bakiyev issue, the provisional government's foreign policy dealings so far have seemed disorganized. The lack of coordination raises questions about whether statements and actions of provisional leaders are being made with an eye toward the upcoming elections. The new leadership has vowed to hold new elections within six months.

When the acting deputy chairman for economic affairs, Almazbek Atambayev, returned from Moscow on April 12, he suggested to journalists in Bishkek that he had obtained a substantial grant from the Kremlin. In comments carried by AKIpress, he said; "Russia allocated a grant worth $150 million to us in peaceful times [in 2009]. I explained to our Russian colleagues that it was an extreme situation and that the sum of a [new] grant must be greater." [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

The next day, April 13, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said the Kremlin's paramount leader had not met with Atambayev, and, therefore, it was premature to talk about specific Russian cash handouts.

On April 14, the news agency 24.kg, citing Russian news sources, reported that Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin was preparing an emergency $50-million aid package, reportedly consisting of a $20 million grant and a $30 million soft loan. Putin has suggested that additional assistance could be forthcoming.

Kurtov of the RISS suggested that Atambayev mislead reporters because he was trying to strengthen his own political position within the new hierarchy. "His current position of deputy chair of the interim government is not endless. When he has time, he will have to gather and earn political capital and credit," Kurtov told EurasiaNet.org.

The current jockeying for position could easily develop into a full-blown power struggle, some observers say. "All of the [opposition] people who escaped the country will be coming back, people wanting to be in the place of Otunbayeva and so on," explained Kurtov. He added that foreign policy, namely Bishkek's relations with Russia and the United States, is the most likely area to produce a spark that ignites open conflict among provisional leaders.

The provisional leaders themselves may be aware of this, and for this reason they may have opted not to do anything about Kyrgyzstan's security arrangements with both Russia and the United States until a new government is elected. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

To keep Kyrgyzstan's chances for a break with its authoritarian past as high as possible, civil society activists are pressuring the provisional government to better coordinate its positions.

"[Azimbek] Beknazarov says one thing, [Omurbek] Tekebayev says another," complained Tolekan Ismailova, head of the human rights organization Citizens Against Corruption, referring to the acting head of security and the point-man for constitutional reform. Public safety must be a top priority, she said.

In the South of the country, "criminal groups are just walking around freely. ... It is not safe for people in the evenings. The interim government must pay attention because that is the most important and urgent thing today," Ismailova said. "But, they [provisional leaders] can't solve it, due to the interim government's lack of legitimacy. It is hard to identify now to what extent their power is legitimate."

Perhaps the issue that is discrediting the provisional government the most in the eyes of the people is personnel policy. "We see in the South that in the morning there is one governor; in the afternoon there is another one," she added. "It is a mess."

In addition to improved synchronization, the provisional government should bring some new faces into positions of authority, many observers are saying. "I feel something has not changed because the same characters are in power," said a Kyrgyz journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We need absolutely new leaders."

The recycling of leaders is "a problem; we journalists must fight it," the journalist added.

David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia news editor.

Kyrgyzstan: Provisional Government Has Difficulty Staying on United Message

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