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.
With the resignation of Parliamentary Speaker Akmatbek Keldibekov on December 12, Kyrgyzstan has entered another potentially confrontational phase in its post-revolutionary political development.
The apparent driving of Keldibekov, the country’s highest-ranking southern politician, into opposition highlights the rapid consolidation of power under new President Almazbek Atambayev, and the marginalization of southern populists who had been considered essential to maintaining the fragile post-revolutionary peace.
After winning over 60 percent of the vote in an election that observers considered mostly free and fair, Atambayev entered office on December 1 with a solid executive mandate. He moved quickly to install his team in office.
Within a week Atambayev named as head of the National State Security Committee (the successor to the KGB) Shamil Atakhanov, a longtime ally with relatively little security background. With loyalist Zarylbek Rysaliev already heading the Interior Ministry, the new president now commands the “power structures” in a way that his predecessor Roza Otunbayeva never did.
Meanwhile, in parliament, Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party (SDPK) withdrew from the ruling coalition the day after his inauguration to form a new coalition more beneficial to the party.
When Speaker Keldibekov from the nationalist Ata-Jurt party refused to step down, opposition party Ata-Meken, clearly acting with SDPK approval, launched an all-out assault on the speaker, centering on sensational allegations that he dined with a known drug trafficker on New Year’s Day 2011.
President Almazbek Atambayev formally called on his Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) to form a new parliamentary coalition on December 8. But the process has already taken a nasty turn.
Parliament is locked in examination of an alleged New Year’s meeting between Speaker Akmatbek Keldibekov and Kamchy Kolbayev, a notorious underworld boss allegedly involved in trafficking Afghan heroin.
Keldibekov and Kolbayev, the story goes, wined and dined at the elite Kapriz ski-lodge hotel near Karakol on New Year’s Day 2011. The Ministry of Interior, led by Atambayev loyalist Zarylbek Rysaliev, has confirmed the meeting, but the National Security Service, GKNB (the head of which Atambayev only replaced this week), has not.
The original charges were leveled against Keldibekov, who is a member of the largest party in parliament, Ata-Jurt, by opposition party Ata-Meken last week. As is common in Kyrgyzstan, Keldibekov’s offended supporters responded by staging protests and blocking roads in his home district of Alai, in the south. Parliament has proceeded unfazed: A specially formed parliamentary commission is now researching the accusations, and a vote of no confidence is scheduled for December 12.
The mudslinging against the favorite in Kyrgyzstan’s upcoming presidential elections on October 30, Almazbek Atambayev, shows little sign of abating.
Kyrgyz-language newspaper Uchur reheated allegations on October 13 that Atambayev is profiting from the illegal drug trade, but not without adding some piquant and typically (for Kyrgyz-language newspapers) outrageous and unsourced allegations.
According to the Uchur report, the Russia media has turned on Atambayev and exposed his alleged involvement in the drug trade. It is not clear to which Russian publications Uchur is referring and there is little evidence of any truth in their claim. So far, it seems the slurs have only gained traction on a handful on dubious local news websites and Internet forums. (In fact, on October 10 Atambayev was received in Moscow by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, which looks suspiciously like an endorsement.)
The campaign appears to be the brainchild of a group that calls itself the Association of Free Bloggers and Journalists of Kyrgyzstan, which no prominent blogger in the country has confessed to ever having heard of. The only figure identified as having any association with the group is one Bakit Djailibaev, who spends most of his time on Facebook taunting actual bloggers and posting links in favor of rival presidential candidate Tursunbai Bakir uulu, a conservative from the Ar-Namys party.
For lack of reliable polling data in Kyrgyzstan, you have to take a hint from Woodward and Bernstein's Deep Throat and "follow the money."
The presidential election race is being hyped as the first vote in Central Asia in which the result is not known from the outset. But going by the size of the various campaign war chests, Almazbek Atambayev, who temporarily stepped aside as prime minister last month, looks set for an easy ride into office on voting day, October 30.
According to information released on October 11 by the Central Election Commission, Atambayev still has one-third of the 33 million Kyrgyz som ($730,000) he started out with. That easily outstrips second best-funded presidential candidate and avowed nationalist Adakhan Madumarov, who has already spent almost all of his 19.6 million som ($430,000).
Kamchybek Tashiev, co-leader of the fiercely nationalist Ata-Jurt party, has long been considered a worthy contender, but he will have to do it on charm alone if the state of his financing is anything to go by. He too has almost already completely burnt through the 9 million som ($200,000) he had to spend.
Indeed, Tashiev has actually been outspent by disgruntled former general prosecutor and deputy security services chief Kubatbek Baibolov, who had a kitty worth 10.3 million som ($230,000) at his disposal. Baibolov's wife is a well-known figure in her own right and one of the richest people in the country, so perhaps no prizes for guessing where that cash came from.