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Political Discontent Simmers in the Ferghana Valley

Political discontent is brewing throughout the Kyrgyz, Tajik and Uzbek portions of the Ferghana Valley, as regional elites in all three states are unhappy with the behavior of central officials.

Discontent is perhaps most acute in Southern Kyrgyzstan. Members of the region's political elite are publicly complaining that the long-running political confrontation in Bishkek, pitting President Kurmanbek Bakiyev against members of the Kyrgyz parliament, is threatening stability in the regions. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]

In comments published in early February by the 24.kg news agency, Jantoro Satybaldiev, the Osh region's popular governor, stated that "central authorities have lost touch with the problems of the provinces." Incessant political maneuvering in Bishkek is starting to have serious economic consequences for southern Kyrgyzstan, Satybaldiev added. He cited the delay in the approval of a 2007 state budget, saying such inaction had deprived funds for social services, and thus had fueled popular anger. "The parliament is too politicized – it assumes many responsibilities that do not belong to it," said Satybaldiev, who also serves as the special presidential representative for the region.

Satybaldiev called on the central government to grant regional authorities an expanded economic decision-making role. However, the Bakiyev administration appears unlikely to heed the request. Officials in Bishkek are concerned that such action could possibly promote the fragmentation of the country. They also are concerned that the president's opponents in parliament might try to establish control over regional political machines, and use them to launch a fresh political assault on the executive branch. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The president's position is somewhat awkward given that he himself is a southerner, and his rise to the presidency was seen by many residents in the region as a long-overdue corrective to the economic and political imbalances between the northern and southern sections of the country.

Rather than addressing local grievances, authorities in Bishkek would rather discipline regional governors, some political analysts believe. On February 5, a group of protesters in Osh demanded Satybaldiev's resignation, accusing him of collaboration with Kyrgyzstan's disgraced former president, Askar Akayev. They also claimed that the Osh governor was "betraying the ideals" of Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution of 2005. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Observers suggest that members of presidential administration may have played a role in organizing the protest.

In Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the source of local dissatisfaction is linked to a more common source – the heavy-handed behavior of central officials.

Following his reelection in late 2006, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov carried out a far-reaching government reshuffle that included the removal of Kasim Kasymov as governor of the Sughd Region, which encompasses the Tajik portion of the Ferghana Valley. Local observers say the aim of the reshuffle was to strengthen Rakhmonov's influence over the region's political apparatus.

Tajik political analyst Daler Gufronov, writing for the Asia Inform news agency, characterized Kasymov's ouster as "thunder on a clear day." According to a report distributed by the Regnum news agency, Rakhmonov offered the prime minister's portfolio to Kasymov, who "for unknown reasons" turned the offer down. The rebuff reportedly angered Rakhmonov, and the ousted governor ended up with only a minor post within the ruling People's Democratic Party.

Having been in charge of Sughd Province for seven years, Kasymov had forged powerful patronage networks. Thus, only weeks after Kasymov's departure from power, Rakhmonov began a wide-ranging "cadre rotation" in municipal executive bodies throughout the region.

In the Uzbek part of the valley, long-standing resentment toward the center continues to grow. Human rights organizations documented that discontent with the central government's economic policies was a major factor in stoking the Andijan events of 2005. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Tashkent has done little to address those complaints since then. Instead, President Islam Karimov's administration appears preoccupied with maintaining tight political control over the region, a desire underscored by the political purges carried out in 2006 in both Andijan and Ferghana provinces. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

An entrepreneur who spoke to EurasiaNet on condition of anonymity complained that the purges have stoked corruption and exacerbated local economic difficulties. Prior to the political changes, local entrepreneurs were already buckling under what some described as a confiscatory tax policies. Starting in early 2006, Uzbek authorities imposed a monthly fee that is not connected to sales revenue, requiring all entrepreneurs to pay the state the equivalent of 7.5 minimum monthly wages, or roughly $85. For the average small businessman, who generates about $200 per month in income, the tax rate comes out to over 40 percent, and serves as a disincentive to stay in business. Concurrently with imposition of the flat tax, the government expanded efforts to collect excise taxes on some imported goods. The heightened collection effort has hit Ferghana Valley residents especially hard, given that many local entrepreneurs rely on cross-border trade.

Inter-state issues are also playing a role in the Ferghana Valley's rising discontent. In September 2006, for example, Karimov and Bakiyev signed an agreement easing visa requirements for Kyrgyz and Uzbek citizens. However, almost six months after the signing of the agreement, authorities have not fully implemented the visa-free travel regime. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

Alisher Khamidov is a PhD Candidate at School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of Johns Hopkins University in Washington D.C..

Political Discontent Simmers in the Ferghana Valley

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