Kyrgyzstan’s bickering parliamentary coalition collapsed August 22 after months of corruption allegations against Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov.
Babanov had managed to hold off a vote of no confidence in his government since he took office after Almazbek Atambayev was elected to the presidency last December. Babanov backed Atambayev in the election. In recent weeks, many believed the premier would last at least until September because Bishkek is quiet in August, when parliament is on summer recess.
But, on Wednesday, the Ata-Meken and Ar-Namys parties dodged any need for a quorum by simply withdrawing from the four-party coalition, leaving Babanov’s Respublika and Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party without a majority. Atambayev must now choose a party, which will have 15 days to attempt to form a new coalition.
The latest trouble began last week when Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebayev accused Babanov (an ostensible ally, since both were in the ruling coalition) of accepting a racehorse from a Turkish businessman in a quid pro quo for a Pentagon contract at the unpopular American air base outside of Bishkek. Babanov denied the charge.
Babanov and his cabinet will remain in caretaker positions until the new government is formed. Many assume Atambayev will tap his Social Democratic Party to try to form a new coalition. Ata-Meken and Ar-Namys are obvious candidates for partnership. Babanov and his Respublika may be sidelined for a time as tainted.
Ata-Jurt, the fifth and only “southern” party in parliament (and the only party that sat in opposition to the now-dead coalition) makes an improbable ally. Party leader Kamchybek Tashiev is infamous for solving problems with his fists, and for slandering other deputies. Tashiev was also one of Atambayev’s main rivals for the presidency last fall.
But in Kyrgyzstan, political expediency knows almost no bounds. None of the five parties in parliament have a clearly defined platform, save a few populist generalities with varying degrees of nationalism. Inviting an Ata-Jurt partnership could co-opt some of the most unruly voices in the legislature. Moreover, making Tashiev the head of negotiations for a new governing coalition, some have suggested, could be a calculated way to set him up for failure.
If the first party fails to form a new coalition, the president can choose a second party to try. If that too falls, any party can make an attempt. Failing this, the president must call for new elections, which would happen in early 2013.
Some in Bishkek believe that early elections, currently scheduled for 2015, are ultimately inevitable. As each of the five parties holds only 15-23 percent of seats in the Jogorku Kenesh, none can accomplish anything without the votes of at least two others. And, each of the party leaderships seems to believe his position could be strengthened in the ensuing zero-sum game.
That might not be all bad news for impoverished Kyrgyzstan, where parliament is often accused of accomplishing little. Elections can be economic stimulus in the country’s far-flung, forgotten regions, diverting funds to campaign activities, legitimate and otherwise, that might in normal times disappear offshore.