The takedown of a once-powerful politician in Kyrgyzstan who served as mayor of Osh when that city was devastated by a wave of deadly ethnic clashes in 2010 appears to have been completed.
News website 24.kg reported that Osh city court on July 22 sentenced Melis Myrzakmatov, who is evading capture in an overseas location, to seven years in jail for abuse of office.
The case revolves around alleged financial misdemeanors involved in the construction of an elevated bridge in Osh. Prosecutors have said no cost estimates exercise were performed before tenders were issued and that the entire affair has already cost the state more than $450,000. (Myrzakmatov’s successor, Aitmamat Kadyrbaev, has pledged to complete the job and name it in honor of Russian President Vladimir Putin.)
Myrzakmatov’s current whereabouts are not known with certainty, although newspaper Vecherny Bishkek in December cited a source among the ex-mayor’s associates as saying he had taken refuge in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
Given his once untouchable status, Myrzakmatov’s downfall has been observed with some incredulity by long-term watchers of the region. He distinguished himself during the 2010 unrest for his markedly nationalistic tone, which earned him the contempt of his city’s ethnic Uzbek community and admiration from sections of the Kyrgyz population. Some believe he had a role in instigating the violence that scarred the city.
Attempts by the government to remove Myrzakmatov from power were met with open contempt. He was finally unseated in December 2013, however.
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.
Nationalists are renewing efforts in Kyrgyzstan to secure vague legislation to require non-profit organizations that receive money from abroad to register as foreign agents.
MP Tursunbai Bakir uulu, one of the new bill’s sponsors, told EurasiaNet.org on June 17 that he hopes parliament will consider the measure before it adjourns for its summer recess at the end of June. “NGOs need to be more transparent,” Bakir uulu said. “Society needs to know how the money sent from abroad is spent.”
Bakir uulu’s initiative marks the second attempt to pass “foreign agents” legislation targetting organizations that engage in "political activities." The first attempt stalled in parliament.
On June 16, a small protest occurred in the capital Bishkek, expressing support for the “foreign agents” bill. Jenishbek Moldokmatov, a leader of the Kalys nationalist group and one of the protests organizers, called it “just the beginning” of a campaign to place restrictions on foreign-funded NGOs. Kalys has gathered 5,000 petition signatures in favor of the “foreign agents” bill, Moldokmatov said.
Moldokmatov also organized an anti-gay protest in February outside the US Embassy in Bishkek, during which the protesters burned a portrait of local blogger Ilya Lukash, who was vilified as a “gay activist.”
In a June 17 interview with EurasiaNet.org, Lukash said he felt compelled to flee Kyrgyzstan because he “was not feeling safe and was getting constant threats via phone calls and text messages.” Lukash went on to assail Kalys and Moldokmatov for trying to stigmatize political opponents by labeling them “homosexuals” or “foreign agents.”
The ruling coalition in Kyrgyzstan’s five-party parliament that collapsed on March 18 has reunited, comprising the same three parties.
“Unity Before Happiness,” as the last coalition was known, fell apart when Ata-Meken party leader Omurbek Tekebayev led his party out of the alliance after fighting for months with Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiyev over the fate of a Canadian-owned gold mine. Satybaldiyev spent much of his time in office battling accusations of corruption. But such recriminations are so frequently leveled within Kyrgyzstan’s parliament that its members are widely seen as more concerned with personal enrichment than tackling Kyrgyzstan’s urgent economic problems. (A poll of 1,500 Kyrgyz conducted in February found 75 percent believed parliament was either “very corrupt” or “somewhat corrupt.”)
Nevertheless, on March 31 the Social Democrats, members of Ata-Meken and Ar-Namys came together to form the lofty-sounding “For Strengthening Statehood” coalition.
Last week, Inside the Cocoon wrote about an Atlantic Council-sponsored conference on Kyrgyzstan and the potential for a conflict of interest. So now that the conference is over, were those concerns borne out? The answer depends on who you talk to.
The controversy centered on Latvian financier Valeri Belokon, who provided funds to help make the conference, titled Kyrgyzstan since 2010: Progress, Problems and Opportunities, possible. Belokon is under investigation in Kyrgyzstan for money-laundering, thus his sponsorship was seen by some participants as potentially compromising the event’s underlying purpose of nudging Bishkek in a westward direction.
The chief organizer, Ambassador Ross Wilson of the Atlantic Council, called the meeting a success, describing the full day of discussions on May 15 as “honest and straight-forward.”
“The presence of Belokon did not in any way influence the conversation,” Wilson stated. His portrayal of the discussions was generally echoed by other participants at the event.
Even so, the conference may end up aggravating already contentious relations between Kyrgyzstan and Latvia. A Kyrgyz participant at the conference, Baktybek Abdirisaev, offered scathing criticism of Belokon and Latvia in a letter sent to Ambassador Wilson and other event attendees, and made available to EurasiaNet.org.
Abdrisaev called the conference “counterproductive” and assailed Belokon as “the banker who empowered [Kyrgyzstan’s] former dictator Kurmanbek Bakiyev and who helped Bakiyev and his henchmen move hundreds of millions of dollars in assets out of our country as the regime collapsed in April 2010.” Belokon vehemently denies any wrongdoing.
Kamchybek Tashiev has come a long way in the past year.
Last October, he was a prominent contender for Kyrgyzstan’s presidency. This October, he’s in a KGB holding cell, charged with trying to overthrow the government.
On Saturday, Tashiev abandoned his nod to non-violent protest, ending a three-day-old hunger strike, 24.kg reports. He had been hospitalized for what his supporters describe as a sharp deterioration in his health on Friday night; his lawyer said he lost 12 kilograms and called for Tashiev to be moved to house arrest. Some MPs urged him to preserve his strength for the legal battle ahead.
The argumentative nationalist leader of the Ata-Jurt party has been jailed since an October 3 rally, when he led a group of young men over the fence surrounding parliament. The initial jail term is to last two months while the case is investigated. Prosecutors say Tashiev’s actions, including calls for the crowd to seize power, were unconstitutional. Tashiev, a trained boxer, says he was demanding the nationalization of the country’s largest goldmine and was just trying to get to work.
Kyrgyzstan’s parliament overwhelmingly approved a new prime minister on September 5, and with him a new government.
The new ruling coalition looks much like the old one. Save for the Respublika Party of ex-Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov, whose government collapsed last month, three of the four parties that made up the last coalition will stay: the Social Democrats, Ata-Meken and Ar-Namys. Also, few ministers will change, for now.
Those who have said President Almazbek Atambayev was looking for a servile prime minister to replace the independent-minded Babanov will not be surprised to hear it is Atambayev’s own chief of staff who has slid into the position, after a relatively calm coalition-forming process.
Zhantoro Satybaldiyev is also a member of Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party.
A former minister of transport and communications, 56-year-old Satybaldiyev has previously served as Osh city mayor and Osh Province governor. Before Atambayev became president last year, international donors knew Satybaldiyev as the head of the state agency in charge of reconstructing Osh and Jalal-Abad following the ethnic violence in 2010.
Significantly, he’s a southerner, which could help calm tensions between the north (overwhelmingly represented in the post-Bakiyev government) and the south.
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.
Parked outside Kyrgyzstan’s parliament, the fleet of Lexus SUVs is an impressive sight for such a poor country.
Now, a new online number-crunching project has estimated that each of these luxury cars driven by MPs would cost its owner six to seven years’ pay, barring any other living expenses, like food, rent or utilities. For an average Bishkek resident living under the same ascetic conditions, one of the higher-end models, sold locally for as much as $87,000, would cost 33 years’ earnings. Other makes of car in the lot would require an average Bishkekchanin to work between 12 and 20 years, depending on the model’s year and accessories.
Many Kyrgyzstanis have theories about why their lawmakers are so much wealthier than the rest of their countrymen—and it’s no wonder, considering the country was ranked 164 out of 183 in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index. But the local news organization behind the project, Kloop.kg, has set aside the “whys” and “hows” and is simply compiling some numbers, pairing publicly available information about parliament deputies’ state-issued license plates with estimates of their cars’ cost on the local market. The website is crowdsourcing photos of the deputies’ cars, identified by their special plates; as of January 24, its list had grown to 21 deputies (of a total 120).
Kloop’s calculations could have been more stringent—for example, identical models sometimes differ significantly in cost estimates -- but they give observers of politics in Kyrgyzstan some numbers to play with. Keep in mind, lawmakers reportedly have a state salary of about $1000 per month -- well above the national average.
Two weeks after he took the oath of office, President Almazbek Atambayev’s party has formed a new parliamentary coalition, casting a bloc of lawmakers perceived as representing Kyrgyzstan’s south into the opposition.
Atambayev’s Social Democrats (SDPK) united with parties Respublika, Ata-Meken, and Ar-Namys on December 16. The group has suggested SDPK’s Asylbek Zheenbekov as speaker and Omurbek Babanov of Respublika as prime minister. The latter will surely be controversial, as Babanov – who was first deputy prime minister when Atambayev was premier – figures prominently in widespread rumors of high-level corruption.
In the new coalition, SDPK has attempted to address the fractiousness that undermined its previous coalition with Ata-Jurt and Respublika by insisting on a formal agreement that forbids members of the coalition who hold official posts from criticizing its policies.
The agreement also specifies that the speaker of the parliament will be subject to re-vote each year, a measure that a number of deputies have argued is intended to weaken the post and diminish parliament’s independence from the executive – a capstone achievement of the 2010 constitution.
While the coalition – which includes 92 of 120 deputies – may bring some stability to an often-fractious parliament, it threatens to highlight Kyrgyzstan’s salient regional divide.