Kyrgyzstan burst into a frenzy of celebrating on November 26 as news of the birth of the country’s 6 millionth citizen dominated the media.
The birth of Aylin, a baby girl, has been hailed by authorities as a sign of abiding optimism in Kyrgyzstan’s future. Others are more sanguine, however, and wonder whether money splashed out on marking the child’s arrival might not have been better spent elsewhere.
How the government decided Aylin fit the profile was far from arbitrary.
The Health Ministry announced that a group was specially tasked with monitoring information about all the babies born in the 12 hours following 6 p.m. on November 25. According to the group’s findings, 67 boys and 55 girls came into the world over that period.
A typically acerbic AKIpress editorial noted that careful consideration was given to the characteristics of the baby that would bestowed with the title of six millionth Kyrgyz citizen. After deciding on a gender and ethnicity, and place of birth and social status, the government picked Aylin, an ethnic Kyrgyz female born to a military family living in the southern city of Osh. The child is the family’s sixth.
President Almazbek Atambaev ordered that the family be rewarded with an apartment and a 1 million som (roughly $13,600) bank account. Parents of another 10 babies delivered around the same time will get 100,000 som apiece.
“The growth of the population is considered one of the main indicators of a peaceful life, people’s confidence in their future and aspirations toward welfare and prosperity,” said Atambaev.
A self-styled expert on religious matters in Kyrgyzstan with a penchant for talking up the threat of Islamic radicalism has been attacked by unknown assailants, local outlets have reported.
Kadyr Malikov, who advises government policymakers on all things Islam, was reportedly knifed in the 12th micro-district of the capital, Bishkek, on the evening of November 26.
According to Vesti.kg, citing confirmation from police sources, eyewitnesses saw Malikov running down the street, bloody-faced and screaming “ISIS wants to kill me” following a heated exchange with the driver of a BMW that was blocking his car.
Citing an interview with a doctor, Russian agency Sputnik reported Malikov was being operated on and had suffered deep knife wounds to his face and neck.
Malikov lives in confirmed fear of an attack from the Islamic State group.
The director of the Religion, Law and Politics analytical center, said in January that the Islamic State group was “ready to pour $70 million into Kyrgyzstan to destabilize the situation in the south.”
That figure, which Malikov never substantiated, was repeated this week by a former deputy head of the national security service at a roundtable titled "Extremism and Terrorism in Kyrgyzstan. Tablighi Jamaat: A Threat or Stability for the Future of the Country?"
After being stripped of their right to over a hundred costly new armchairs by an indignant public last month, Kyrgyzstan’s members of parliament have given up their government-issue cars in a shock display of selflessness.
In recent weeks parliamentarians have been outdoing each other in demonstrating willingness to dispense with the perks of the job. Those included a vehicle fueled at the the expense of the state with a personal driver, as well as a small staff of administrative assistants and political consultants. Housing is also provided for deputies without a resident in the capital, Bishkek.
But up until November 25, when a clear majority voted against keeping the parliamentary fleet, it was far from clear they were going to take the plunge.
After a November 24 meeting of a commission on cutting parliamentary expenditures, Altynai Omurbekova, of the opposition Respublika party vented, to Russia’s Sputnik news agency.
“It was decided that the MPs would not refuse [the services of] either their consultants, or their helpers. As previously they will have drivers and cars, while those [MPs] from outside the city will receive housing. In total, nothing was cut or optimized,” she said.
Omurbekova did prove correct about parliamentarians retaining their staff of five assistants per lawmaker, most of whom earn notably more than the parliamentary drivers now out of work, while housing is still there for deputies that need it.
A court in Kyrgyzstan has doubled the prison sentence handed down to a popular imam who was earlier this year found guilty of inciting religious hatred and distributing extremist material.
Rights advocacy group Bir Duino said Osh provincial court on November 24 increased Rashot Kamalov’s punishment to 10 years in a high-security facility. A local court in the southern town of Kara-Suu, where Kamalov served as imam of As-Sarakhsi mosque, passed a five-year sentence in October.
The harsher sentence appears to have been by motivated the Osh court’s decision to restore a charge of abuse of office dropped in earlier proceedings.
Lawyers for Kamalov have said they will pursue a further appeal in the Supreme Court.
The severity of the punishment is bound to fan discontent among Kamalov’s numerous supporters in Kara-Suu. The imam’s trial, which lawyers complained was marred by numerous irregularities, was loyally attended by Kamalov’s most devoted parishioners.
The imam was arrested on February 9 following a raid on his home by armed special operations forces. Police found a disk during their search that contained a video recording of a sermon delivered by Kamalov at the As-Sarakhsi Mosque during Friday prayers on July 4, 2014.
Prosecutors have argued that Kamalov’s references to the caliphate in his sermons constituted support for the activities of radical and violent Islamists in the Middle East.
An unknown number of people from Kyrgyzstan, including from Kara-Suu, are said to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the ranks of radical Islamist groups fighting there.
Despite an absence of transparent and convincing evidence that the Islamic State group is actively establishing a presence in Kyrgyzstan, authorities have been eager to claim that the terrorist organization has made inroads.
In a grisly epilogue to the major Kyrgyzstan prison break earlier this year, the former director of the jail was found hanged on November 20.
Imankul Teltayev’s body was discovered in the medical ward of the detention facility where he was awaiting trial for dereliction of duty, the prison service said in a statement.
According to the government account, on the night of October 11, nine inmates at the prison run by Teltayev overpowered guards and made their escape. Three guards were said to been killed during the breakout, and another to have died of his injuries some days later.
Five of the men were captured almost immediately and again incarcerated. Within ten days, three of them had died in strange circumstances. Of the four that got away, three were eventually tracked down and killed. Only one from that group remains alive.
Teltayev was taken into custody on November 11 as investigations proceeded into his role in the breakout.
The prison service said he complained of ill-health shortly thereafter.
“After arrival at the detention facility, he complained about the state of his health and he was placed in a medical ward. He was kept there alone,” the prison service said in its brief statement.
24.kg news website cited a prisons official as saying that they believed Teltayev had succumbed to a nervous breakdown and hanged himself with a sheet.
“There is information that he attempted suicide four years ago, when they fired him the first time,” the unnamed official told 24.kg.
Prime Minister Temir Sariyev met with the head of the prison service to discuss the alleged suicide and to demand a thorough and swift investigation.
Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev has said he believes the country should switch from its current mixed political system to a fully parliamentary one. The move would have clear benefits for his Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) as he prepares to leave office.
Atambayev made his remarks on November 6 during his first appearance at the new-look parliament, where SDPK are now the dominant partner in a four-party coalition government following the October 4 elections.
Proposals to amend the constitution during the last term of parliament were dashed, but Atambayev argues another attempt is in order.
“I agreed with [the idea] to introduce changes to the constitution. But I asked that the next parliament consider that question without hurrying,” he said. “Five years ago we chose a parliamentary form of government, but really we do not have this. We have one foot in parliamentary government, another in presidential. We should completely switch to a parliamentary system.”
Atambayev’s preference for a parliamentary system can be seen as a virtual confirmation that he wishes to step down in two years time and ensure the dominant position enjoyed by his party is not compromised by a new president eager to get their own way.
That much became evident as he openly mused on hypothetical discussions within the country’s business class should Kyrgyzstan once more become an investor’s nightmare under a president with unchecked powers.
With a few exceptions, the new Cabinet led by Kyrgyz Prime Minister Temir Sariyev is the same that hobbled over the line before the parliamentary elections.
Eleven of the 16 people proposed for positions in the Cabinet and confirmed by parliament November 5 have returned to their old offices.
Testifying to the death of multi-party government in the traditional sense, most of the ministers are technocrats brought in from the outside with few firm affiliations to the factions in the parliament.
Presenting his 11-point plan for government before parliament on November 4, Sariyev said he was “mobilizing an executive government” to ensure it worked as “a united team” — a declaration of intent to stem the political infighting that has hobbled earlier administrations.
That might be a good thing for Kyrgyzstan as it forges ahead in a difficult economic environment. The multiple Cabinets operating under the previous parliament — in particular the first two — were riven by internecine rivalries that often reflected the interests of the parties to which ministers belonged.
But the technocratic nature of the government means that the parliament has transferred much of its clout to an executive branch effectively controlled by President Almazbek Atambayev. That shift in emphasis carries risks for tensions further down the line as the 2017 presidential election approaches. Atambayev is constitutionally barred from running again and has made no indications he plans to flout that rule.
So it looks like the Zhogorku Kenesh is to get its new chairs after all.
AKIPress reported that newly appointed speaker Asylbek Jeenbekov lamented the woeful state of the legislature’s seating in remarks before deputies on November 4.
“The old chairs have remained in place, but in the summer we will change to a new system. We will buy simpler chairs, so that they are more durable, so deputies don’t spin and twirl on them, so they work,” Jeenbekov said in comments quoted by AKIPress. “But in any case, replacements are needed, you will be convinced of that yourselves soon. Some chairs have broken five or six times.”
One chair failed to withstand the exertions of Ziyadin Zhamaldinov, a deputy with the Onuguu-Progress party. Zhamaldinov has some extensive experience of parliamentary upholstery, having served in three successive convocations, and each time with a different party. From 2005 to 2010, he was a deputy with the then-ruling Ak Zhol party. In 2010, he won a seat with the southern-based Respublika party. He switched to Onuguu-Progress for his latest run at parliament.
Jeenbekov said the decision not to buy new chairs marked a defeat in what he described as an “information war” waged by the media.
Four out of the six parties elected to Kyrgyzstan’s 120-seat parliament in the October 4 vote have agreed to form a broad ruling coalition. The size of the majority is likely to be enough to avoid a repeat of the frequent coalition collapses that blighted the last parliament.
Formation of the coalition on October 29 was spearheaded by election winner Social Democratic Party (SPDK), which won 38 seats, in part because of the tacit support of its historic leader, President Almazbek Atambayev. SDPK fell far short of an outright majority, however, so it has had to join forces with the Kyrgyzstan party (18 seats), Onuguu-Progress (13) and Ata-Meken (11).
Barring major schism, that block of 80 deputies could provide a strong mandate to pass much-needed legislation.
Respublika-Ata Jurt, headed by a wealthy businessman and former prime minister, Omurbek Babanov, and Bir Bol, whose parliamentary faction will be led by southerner Altynbek Suleimanov, will sit in opposition.
Incumbent Prime Minister Temir Sariyev, who became the country’s fifth head of government in five years in late April and who is not affiliated to any of the parties in parliament, is to continue in his role.
The coalition is larger than any in the last term of parliament. No single party can collapse the government by unilaterally exiting the coalition, which was a regular threat last time round.
The most likely dissident party will be Ata-Meken. Atambayev in summer accused Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebayev of having “one foot in government, one in opposition” — a reference to the party’s recurrent criticism of a government of which it ostensibly formed a part.
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan may be close to striking a border delimitation deal that could mitigate the occasional flare-ups of unrest among communities in disputed areas.
Speaking on October 27, Kyrgyz deputy prime minister Abdyrahman Mamataliyev hailed the proposed land swap as a historic turning point, CA-News reported.
“This will be a mutually advantageous exchange — 12 hectares apiece. We will receive plots in the village of Kok-Tash, where a cemetery is located. They will get plots lower down from this village,” said Mamataliyev, whose ministerial brief includes border issues.
Negotiations on settling land disputes have long been hindered by each side’s insistence on sticking to delimitations dating back to the Soviet era, when the location of any particular border was of little real significance.
Tajikistan has suggested agreeing to a delimitation established in documents dating back to 1924-27, while Kyrgyzstan insists on a 1958 border. The latter arrangement was at the time approved by the Kyrgyz government, but not Tajikistan’s Supreme Soviet.
But Mamataliyev said the proposed solution has been hammered out without recourse to any historic maps.