Take Two: Kyrgyzstan Finally Has New Government
Three of Kyrgyzstan’s quarreling parties have finally succeeded – after two months and one failed attempt – to form a government. The partnership may seem an unlikely one, but it unifies the country’s fractious north and south and all hopes are on this group to shepherd the country safely into a new year without political instability and violence. Parliament convened on December 17 to approve the coalition proposed by Respublika leader Omurbek Babanov. Provisional President Roza Otunbayeva chose Babanov to lead the process on December 4, after the first attempt by her Social Democratic Party’s (SDPK) Almazbek Atambayev, fell through.This coalition looks much like the first, botched one, with a stark exception. In place of the pro-Otunbayeva Ata-Meken party, it includes the nationalist Ata-Jurt party, whose Akmatbek Keldibekov** will take the speaker position; Atambayev has assumed the premiership. Together with Respublika, the coalition holds 77 of the legislature’s 120 seats, a comfortable majority. Ata-Jurt and SDPK sit at opposite ends of the political spectrum. SDPK helped lead the protests earlier this year that brought an end to the reign of Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The nationalist Ata-Jurt party is stacked with former Bakiyev supporters. Yet though the parties appear at odds, this grouping might be best for representing the country’s diverse electorate: Ata-Jurt won the most votes in the October 10 election thanks to its strong support in the south, Bakiyev’s stronghold. SDPK did well in the north. The new pro-business Respublika’s following was relatively split between the two regions. Though he was in charge of forming the new ruling coalition, Babanov got the position of first deputy prime minister, leading many to speculate that the young businessman wishes to concentrate on his vast private interests. Moreover, the premiership is likely to be punishing as Kyrgyzstan faces another winter of shortages. Already teachers throughout the country are striking over low wages and protestors in Naryn rallied recently to seek lower energy tariffs, in demonstrations eerily reminiscent of the first stages of unrest that unseated Bakiyev last April. To top it off, security officials appear to be engaging in a bitter behind-the-scenes battle for influence, threatening the country with renewed violence.Under Bakiyev, both PM Atambayev and his first deputy Babanov held the same positions they now have. Speaker Keldibekov is a former Bakiyev-era tax boss. In his acceptance speech, Atambayev attempted to stem rumors that the new government would evict the Americans from their base at the Manas airport outside of Bishkek, promising the facility would remain in Kyrgyzstan. At least one foreign newspaper speculated that any ruling coalition including Ata-Jurt would seek to close the base. That seems unlikely given Kyrgyzstan’s vast budget deficit and ties between ruling politicians and companies providing fuel to American warplanes.The coalition leaves two formidable dons of Kyrgyz politics in the opposition: Moscow darling and former Prime Minister Felix Kulov of Ar-Namys and Ata-Meken’s Omurbek Tekebayev, a former speaker, who is reviled by Moscow. Tekebayev’s candidacy for the speaker position came undone on December 2 when, during that first round of coalition talks, he failed to get enough votes.Tekebayev is down, but Babanov couldn’t resist one last kick. In a sign the acrimony in Kyrgyz politics continues to simmer just below the surface, Babanov told journalists on December 16 that he had asked Tekebayev to join his ruling coalition, but that the Ata-Meken chief still insisted on holding the speaker position. **Correction: An earlier version of this post mistakenly reported that Bakiyev’s former chief of staff, Myktybek Abdyldayev of Ata-Jurt, is the new parliamentary speaker.