Two weeks after he took the oath of office, President Almazbek Atambayev’s party has formed a new parliamentary coalition, casting a bloc of lawmakers perceived as representing Kyrgyzstan’s south into the opposition.
Atambayev’s Social Democrats (SDPK) united with parties Respublika, Ata-Meken, and Ar-Namys on December 16. The group has suggested SDPK’s Asylbek Zheenbekov as speaker and Omurbek Babanov of Respublika as prime minister. The latter will surely be controversial, as Babanov – who was first deputy prime minister when Atambayev was premier – figures prominently in widespread rumors of high-level corruption.
In the new coalition, SDPK has attempted to address the fractiousness that undermined its previous coalition with Ata-Jurt and Respublika by insisting on a formal agreement that forbids members of the coalition who hold official posts from criticizing its policies.
The agreement also specifies that the speaker of the parliament will be subject to re-vote each year, a measure that a number of deputies have argued is intended to weaken the post and diminish parliament’s independence from the executive – a capstone achievement of the 2010 constitution.
While the coalition – which includes 92 of 120 deputies – may bring some stability to an often-fractious parliament, it threatens to highlight Kyrgyzstan’s salient regional divide.
Ata-Jurt, the party in parliament perceived as representing ethnic Kyrgyz from the south of the country, moves from heading the previous coalition into opposition. Following the ouster of southern President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in 2010, many loyalists took refuge in Ata-Jurt. After the June 2010 ethnic violence in the south, Ata-Jurt relied on surging Kyrgyz nationalism to attack the interim government headed by northerners like Atambayev and then-President Roza Otunbayeva.
Ata-Jurt’s leaders have made clear that theirs will not be a loyal opposition committed to constructive engagement. Already they are claiming the government is illegitimate. Ata-Jurt leader Kamchybek Tashiev called the new coalition a “usurpation of power” and promised to expose high-level corruption and punish government members he claims are responsible for the June 2010 violence, which remains the most explosive issue in the country.
For his part, ex-Speaker Akmatbek Keldibekov has warned that Atambayev’s consolidation of power reminds him of presidents Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev, both of whose regimes ended in violent revolts (Keldibekov headed Bakiyev’s tax service).
Ata-Jurt will have a hard time generating resistance through legal means. The party’s power was diminished when seven of its 28 deputies signed an agreement to “cooperate” with the ruling coalition, something Keldibekov and Tashiev -- who openly disdain each other – already have a hard time doing within their own party.
More likely, the party’s leaders will each rely on their cadres of personal supporters. Keldibekov’s southern backers have flexed their muscles lately over his forced resignation from the speaker’s chair, and Tashiev – a boxer with deep ties to sporting clubs in the south – can always muster a crowd.
With the New Year’s holiday approaching, temperatures dropping, and seasonal power outages already frequent, the fight will likely be put on hold. Come the traditional protest season of spring, though, the southerners may well decide to challenge Atambayev’s new government in the streets.