A court decision reinstating a reputed organized crime kingpin as a parliamentary candidate in Kyrgyzstan is prompting widespread concern about the Central Asian nation's stability.
On April 3, the Supreme Court overturned a Central Election Commission (CEC) decision, enabling controversial entrepreneur Ryspek Akmatbayev to run in a parliamentary by-election. The CEC had earlier disqualified Akmatbayev, saying he did not meet a residency requirement. Akmatbayev is now widely viewed as the favorite to win the April 9 vote to fill the vacant parliamentary seat once held by his brother, Tynychbek, who was murdered during a prison riot in 2005. [For background see the Eurasia insight archive].
According to civil society activists, the court decision concerning Akmatbayev's candidacy was heavily influenced by politics, and has damaged President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's image. Many observers believe that Bakiyev engineered Akmatbayev's reinstatement to further the president's own political ends. In helping to disperse a Bishkek protest of Akmatbayev supporters on March 31, Bakiyev urged the candidate to file an appeal. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Edil Baisalov, the leader of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, a local non-governmental organization, assailed the president for what he characterized as a move toward "the legitimization of gangsterism." He said that civil society advocates were striving to organize a popular demonstration on April 8 in an attempt to exert pressure on the government to implement a stabilization program. The country has been plagued by crime and corruption since the 2005 Tulip revolution. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Akmatbayev's candidacy also appears to have unnerved Russia, which has been competing with the United States for influence in Kyrgyzstan. Commenting on Akmatbayev's parliamentary ambitions, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said that Moscow was "closely watching the situation in Kyrgyzstan, but by no means will interfere in the internal affairs of this country."
"We are interested in seeing [Kyrgyzstan] developing progressively," the Itar-Tass news agency quoted Kamynin as saying April 4. "We [Russian officials] believe that the leadership and public and political forces of the [Kyrgyz] republic, supported by effective legislation, will be able to neutralize any attempts by local criminals to break through into government bodies."
Akmatbayev, who was acquitted of murder charges in January, denies any links to organized crime. The CEC has said it will appeal the Kyrgyz court ruling, but political analysts generally believe that the decision will stand, given the existing domestic political circumstances.
Political analyst Nur Omarov is among those analysts who believe Akmatbayev's candidacy is beneficial for Bakiyev, who has been engaged in power struggles against both the Kyrgyz parliament and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov. The sudden reversal on Akmatbayev's candidacy is fueling the perception among the population that the presidential administration has entered into a tactical alliance with leaders of the country's underworld. "Unfortunately, the incoherent steps on the part of authorities has led people to assume that the country's leadership has become dependent on criminals," Omarov said.
While Bakiyev stands to gain if Akmatbayev wins as expected the country could end up being a big loser. Political analyst Syrgak Abdyldayev said several international organizations would consider downgrading its activities in Kyrgyzstan if Akmatbayev gained a parliamentary seat. "The legitimization of Akmatbayev would play a negative role in politics," Abdyldayev said.
An Akmatbayev victory would discredit the parliament in the eyes of many Kyrgyz and could serve as the catalyst for a movement to dissolve the legislature and call new elections a development that would appear to be to the president's liking.
Omarov agreed that the court ruling has the potential to touch off a chain of events that culminates in the parliament's dissolution. At the same time, it could merely raise the stakes in the confrontation between the executive and legislative branches. Omarov suggested that anti-Bakiyev MPs could take steps to counter the president, possibly finding a pretext to prevent Akmatbayev from taking his seat in the event that he wins the parliamentary race. "It all depends on the parliament's action," Omarov said.