Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev has had two big wins to celebrate in recent times in a part of the country where his popularity is debatable.
Still, he has much to occupy his mind, as the increasing number of arrests of no-name, non-parliamentary opposition figures appears to indicate.
Last week brought good news for the government, dominated by Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), as a week-long border standoff with Uzbekistan came to a conclusion on March 26 with no shots fired.
The following day, SDPK edged out rival parties to claim most of the seats in the the council of the southern city of Osh, the most important of several municipal councils elected Sunday. The party can expect to form a majority with one or more parties.
Both victories should taste sweet. Regarding Uzbekistan, the executive can claim it turned a precarious situation into a diplomatic triumph without publicly losing face. Authorities have noted that the negotiations that led to the drawdown of forces reportedly came at Tashkent’s request and Uzbekistan pulled back its military first.
In the local politics of the country's second-largest city, which saw major ethnic conflict just six years ago, SDPK can be confident of calling the shots. It polled twice as much as any of the other parties, with 30 percent of the vote, while the stalking horse pro-government Kyrgyzstan Party finished second.
But beyond the formalities of border negotiations and local elections, the security services, which are directly controlled by the the president, have been inexplicably busy.
The State Committee for National Security (GKNB) is currently investigating four opposition politicians arrested over the past week on less-than-convincing charges of plotting a coup d’etat. The most recent figures to be arrested were former foreign minister Dastan Sarygulov and energy expert Ernest Karybekov.
Many have remarked that none of the quartet, which also comprises former Jalal-Abad regional governor Bektur Asanov and ex-lawmaker Kubanychbek Kadyrov, would have had even a remote chance of mounting a viable attempt to overthrow the government. Bigger fish are still at large, meanwhile.
On March 30, what remains of the anti-Atambayev crew plans to rally in Bishkek under the slogan “We won’t give Kyrgyz land to foreign countries!”
One of the main spurs for the rally are seemingly a pair of documents making their rounds on the Internet that the opposition says shows Prime Minister Temir Sariyev acknowledging the piece of land Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan were facing off over last week as belonging to Tashkent.
The government has called the documents a “provocation.”
The March 30 rally will take place in a downtown square in the capital after a municipal court ruled the opposition could not rally in front of the White House, the scene of two revolutions in the country’s turbulent history.
The rally, which has reportedly been organized by something called the Coordination Council of Patriotic Forces, will feature familiar faces such as nationalist rabble-rouser Kamchibek Tashiyev and Azimbek Beknazarov, a political veteran known as the “bulldozer” of the 2005 and 2010 revolutions for his skills in whipping up a crowd.
Disorganized and lacking meaningful political capital, this opposition is unlikely to bulldoze anything. But the government’s heavy-handed crackdown may hand them political capital they didn’t possess in the first place.