A broad-ranging government shake-up and the surprise murder of a reputed crime boss seen as symbolizing Kyrgyz criminal groups' quest for political clout appear to have changed the pace of politics within Kyrgyzstan. Opposition groups, which recently staged Bishkek's largest pro-reform demonstration since the 2005 Tulip Revolution, have welcomed the reshuffle of government posts and said that the changes indicate that President Kurmanbek Bakiyev is ready for dialogue.
On May 10, the president dismissed or accepted the resignations of several high-ranking officials who the opposition had targeted for removal, including Usen Sydykov, head of the presidential administration. The president accepted the resignation of State Secretary Dastan Sarygulov and National Security Service Director Tashtemir Aytbayev. Agricultural Minister Abdimalik Anarbayev was also dismissed from office, to be replaced by Azim Isabekov, first deputy head of the presidential administration.
Bakiyev also signed a decree, which authorizes the prime minister, with the president's approval, to appoint individuals to run state-run enterprises.
"Life does not stand still," AKI news agency reported Bakiyev as saying about the changes. A need for "new blood" prompted the resignations, the Kyrgyz leader said.
Other, more violent changes have also impacted Kyrgyzstan's domestic political scene. On May 10, alleged crime boss Ryspek Akmatbayev, who had been pushing for recognition of his April election to parliament, was shot dead by an unknown gunman while leaving a mosque in a village on the outskirts of Bishkek. Several hundred Akmatbayev supporters subsequently blocked the road leading from Bishkek to Balykchi, a key town in the Lake Issyk-Kul region where Akmatbayev had run for parliament. Protestors demanded a meeting with President Bakiyev and the resignation of Prime Minister Feliks Kulov and of Interior Minister Omurbek Suvanaliev whom they hold responsible for Akmatbayev's death.
Issyk-Kul Governor Esengul Omuraliyev told reporters that the blockade was lifted after an invitation to meet with Bakiyev was extended to demonstrators. A delegation made up of Akmatbayev's supporters and parents will meet with the president on May 16 in Bishkek to discuss their demands, local media have reported.
The group also plans to request that the government erect a statue to Akmatbayev's brother, Tynychbek, a parliamentarian who was killed last year, and that it provide financial support to the families of both brothers, Kabar news agency reported.
Meanwhile, the interior ministry has rejected claims that Akmatbayev's murder was politically motivated. "The investigation is currently working only on one scenario - a criminal showdown. We completely rule out the political scenario of Akmatbayev's murder," Colonel Bolot Abakirov, head of the ministry's criminal investigation department, told the news site 24.kg on May 11.
While little local commentary has surfaced about the long-term implications of Akmatbayev's death for Kyrgyzstan's domestic situation, the cabinet reshuffles that occurred the same day are largely seen as strengthening Bakiyev's political position. The opposition has had its demands largely met, local media argue, while the president has appointed junior allies to replace officials affected by the shake-up.
Bursurmankul Tabaldiyev, head of the presidential administration's defense and security department, will take over as head of the National Security Service. Deputy Prime Minister Adakhan Madumarov has been appointed as state secretary. First Deputy Prime Minister Medetkbek Kerimkulov has been appointed as the minister of industry, trade and tourism following the April resignation of longtime Bakiyev associate Almazbek Atambayev, now an outspoken critic of the pace of reform.
Bakiyev stated that new positions would be found for all of the officials affected by the changes, AKI news agency reported. As a presidential advisor, former presidential administration head Sydykov will reportedly handle ties between Bakiyev and the regions. Former State Secretary Dastan Sarygulov "wants to have a rest," according to the president, while "time will show in what capacity" to apply ex-National Security Service Director Tashtemir Aytbayev's "experience," he said.
Although parliament is supposed to approve presidential nominees within 14 days, Bakiyev has announced that the nominations will be officially presented to the legislature in September. The assembly has twice rejected two of the nominees, Daniyar Usenov and Ishengul Boldjurova, currently acting deputy prime ministers, for earlier government posts.
The opposition has welcomed Bakiyev's actions and described them as "possibly, the beginning of a dialogue . . . with the opposition", the 24.kg information agency reported parliamentarian Kabay Karabekov as saying.
The opposition, meanwhile, maintains that Bakiyev's cabinet changes will not affect their plans to hold a public meeting in Bishkek on May 27 to press for reforms. Nonetheless, the changes appear to have softened some activists' tone. Noted Ar-Namys party leader Emil Aliyev said to the online news site Analitik.kg, "the protest agenda could change to [one of] cooperation with the authorities."