Kyrgyzstan's two most influential political leaders Kurmanbek Bakiyev and Felix Kulov -- have temporarily resigned their governmental posts in an attempt to allay concerns about the fairness of the upcoming special presidential election. Bakiyev and Kulov have also urged government members to refrain from using "administrative resources" to promote a particular presidential candidate.
Bakiyev, who remains Kyrgyzstan's provisional president, is widely considered the favorite to win the July 10 special election. Under a political deal, Kulov is slated to serve as prime minister in Bakiyev's administration. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. On June 20, Bakiyev temporarily stepped down from his post as acting prime minister "until the close of the voting on election day." Kulov, who currently serves as deputy prime minister, also temporarily stepped down. At a June 20 news conference, Kulov indicated that the short-term resignations were intended to promote fairness and unity. Citing legislation on conflict of interest that bars candidates from holding a governmental post, Kulov said that he and Bakiyev took joint action "to make our goals clear to the people and to demonstrate solidarity" between northern and southern interests.
Kyrgyzstan has proven highly fractious since the March 24 revolution, with North-South differences proving a major source of tension. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The provisional government has also encountered fierce criticism over its personnel policy. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. As underscored by the June 17 disturbance in Bishkek -- in which riot police thwarted an attempt by supporters of Urmat Baryktabasov, a disqualified presidential candidate, to storm the executive office building Kyrgyztan's political process is becoming increasingly volatile.
Bakiyev's and Kulov's action hopes to halt, and even reverse the negative political trend. And they made clear that they expect others in government to refrain from meddling in the electoral process. An appeal issued by the duo called on all members of executive branch, including regional governors, to confine their work during the pre-election period to "official duties, and not the conduct of agitation or organizational work on behalf of a particular candidate," the official Kabar news agency reported.
Though the temporary resignations may send a positive signal on Bakiyev's desire to promote a clean election, some experts continue to voice concerns about the government's use of "administrative resources." Such concerns center on state-controlled mass media, which retains the ability to sway public opinion.
Immediately following the March 24 revolution, Kyrgyzstan's interim authorities pledged to lift state control over mass media outlets. Bakiyev repeated such a pledge during late May meetings with OSCE officials in Vienna. In practice, however, the provisional government has been slow to act, critics say.
A series of round-table discussions have been taking place under the auspices of the Kyrgyz parliament to discuss possible legislative changes to the country's media structure. Most of the legislative attention is focused on the state television channel, according to the official Kabar news agency. Representatives of the international NGO Internews are taking part in the effort to draft new legislation governing state television's future operations. It could possibly take months, though, before the proposed changes are ready for parliamentary consideration.
Adakhan Madumarov, an acting deputy prime-minister, told OSCE representatives in Bishkek on June 13 that provisional authorities want to turn state television into a public entity whose operations are governed by board of directors, comprising officials and representatives of the general population. Critics of the plan contend that the creation of such a board would not necessarily prevent governmental interference in the content and editorial policy of state TV broadcasts.
In early May, the state television employees issued a statement in which they complained about coming under pressure from the interim government. At the same time, state TV executives are said to be resisting moves to restructure the channel, and wean it from public funds.
At present, Kyrgyzstan finds itself without a vocal opposition press. The state retains considerable influence over broadcast media. Meanwhile, many newspapers that, prior to the revolution, sided with the then-opposition such as Moya Stolitsa Novosti and Respublika now are generally supportive of the provisional government, which is comprised of the erstwhile political opponents of former president Askar Akayev. Meanwhile, those publications that were formerly controlled by Akayev, such as Vecherny Bishkek and Slovo Kyrgyzstana, have transferred their allegiance to the country's new rulers.
The provisional government's ability to shape media coverage during the campaign is greater than that ever enjoyed by Akayev, argued one veteran journalist, Yrysbek Omurzakov, editor of the weekly Tribuna. "Most media outlets are paying much of their attention to one politician only - Kurmanbek Bakiyev," Omurzakov said. Tribuna is one of a handful of newspapers that remains critical of the provisional government. Supporters of the provisional government say Tribuna's criticisms are generally politically motivated, as the publication is closely associated with a political rival of Bakiyev.
Some media observers worry that some existing media freedoms could be curtailed if Bakiyev wins the special presidential election, as expected. In particular, an Uzbek-language television station in southern Kyrgyzstan, where a sizeable ethnic Uzbek minority resides, has expressed concern about its future ability to operate in its current capacity. "It looks like Kyrgyzstan does not need TV stations that have Uzbek-language programming," the station said in a written statement. The statement was issued in reaction to comments made by Madumarov, who at a late May media forum expressed concern about the growing influence of Uzbek-language media outlets in southern Kyrgyzstan.
Human rights activists have also expressed concern that the provisional government may be quietly trying to control what has developed into a politically sensitive story the fate of hundreds of Uzbek refugees who fled to Kyrgyzstan following the May 13 tragedy in Andijan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Abdumalik Sharipov, a Jalal-Abad-based rights activist, told the Media Monitoring Service based in Bishkek that the Kyrgyz authorities were refusing to give some journalists access to the Uzbek refugees without providing an adequate reason.
Alisher Khamidov Alisher Khamidov is a PhD Candidate at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of Johns Hopkins University in Washington D.C.