A former mayor of Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city faces criminal charges connected to his time in office, local media are reporting.
The state prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for Melisbek Myrzakmatov on abuse of office charges November 28. With less than a year before elections to the Kyrgyz legislature next fall, some will see the charges as politically motivated. Myrzakmatov, who has pledged to run for parliament, is believed to be abroad, although exactly where is the subject of speculation.
Myrzakmatov shot to infamy in June 2010 as Osh’s mayor during ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks that left hundreds dead. Described by the International Crisis Group as a “cruel and unyielding young nationalist,” Myrzakmatov, who remains very popular with many ethnic Kyrgyz in the country’s south, did little to prevent the violence; some believe he had a role in instigating it.
Myrzakmatov held his position for almost five years, from January 2009, before the violent change of government in Bishkek, to December 2013. For much of that time, Osh resembled a recalcitrant fiefdom, only nominally subordinate to authorities in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek.
Kyrgyz investigators now accuse him of causing losses to the state of almost $500,000 during the tendering process for the construction of a bridge in Osh, one of many public works projects Myrzakmatov initiated as he sought to boost his political capital there. Unsurprisingly, given their preponderance in Kyrgyzstan, it was a Chinese company that was awarded the tender. The criminal investigation into the bridge began in August before Myrzakmatov was formally accused last week. The bridge itself has never been finished, although Myrzakmatov’s less popular successor, Aitmamat Kadyrbaev, has pledged to complete the job and name it in honor of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Myrzakmatov’s time as mayor effectively came to an end when then Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiev forced him to step down in December 2013, ahead of a crucial council vote to determine the city’s next mayor. In the event, some of the councilors from Myrzakmatov’s own ruling party, Uluttar Birimdigi, failed to support his candidacy—evidence, said some, of a plot hatched in Bishkek.
Still, Myrzakmatov is not short of friends in southern Kyrgyzstan and despite an autocratic and unaccountable management style, he is generally hailed for achieving more for his city than legislators in the far-away capital. That Uluttar Birimdigi formed an alliance with another southern political faction, Onuguu, last year in preparation for a joint parliamentary campaign likely worried many figures in and around the central government.
President Almazbek Atambayev and his ruling Social Democratic Party (SDPK) have already witnessed the formation of a potentially powerful, unforeseen alliance between northern oligarch Omurbek Babanov and Kamchybek Tashiev, another nationalist popular in the south. Other coalitions are being hastily drawn up as deal-making season begins.