This week’s breakup of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition has turned Georgia’s political scene into a Star Wars bar, with a slew of political forces of every description set to compete in the parliamentary election this fall.
It’s been a surprise that this unlikely alliance of ideologically strange bedfellows made it this far. Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili’s successful plan to build an opposition army to bring down ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s team in 2012 united groups and individuals with wildly incongruous philosophies and IQs. Western integration activists joined hands with Russia-nostalgic traditionalists, liberal erudites like philologist Levan Berdzenishvili sat next to actor Soso Jachvliani, who can’t tell the difference between a development bank's acronym and a Russian vulgarity for sex.
Occasional public bickering, grumblings over distribution of executive government seats and a persistent failure to speak in one voice on national issues long betrayed deep-seeded divisions in this coalition.
The Free Democrats were the first to split away in 2014 after Ivanishvili felt he could not keep in line their ambitious leader, ex-Defense Minister Irakli Alasania. Now, the biggest news is the Republican Party, pro-Western moderates, announcing on March 31 that it will run in the fall election independently from the Georgian Dream coalition.
Uzbekistan has made another advance in the country’s slow march toward a nominally stronger parliament with the creation of a body to monitor prosecutors.
The Senate, the upper house of parliament, voted during a two-day plenary session that wrapped up on April 1 to approve formation of an oversight commission comprising 15 senators drawn from all the regions.
The creation of the commission is in line with 2014 amendments to the constitution that ostensibly bolster the legislature’s status in its relations with the government and executive bodies.
Other than the General Prosecutor’s Office, other institutions that must now report before parliament include the the Prime Minister’s office, the central bank and the national auditing chamber.
President Islam Karimov spoke about the need for tightening prosecutorial oversight during a December 4 speech to mark to Constitution Day. On that occasion, Karimov also spoke about the need to adopt a law creating the framework for parliamentary inquiries. That legislation was accordingly adopted on March 31.
Explaining the urgency for the bill, Karimov cited the flood of complaints coming in from Uzbekistan’s population.
“Over nine months in 2015, 426 citizen complaints were made about employees in the General Prosecutor’s office. As a result of these complaints, 45 employees faced disciplinary measures, 22 were dismissed from their position, while 33 were dismissed from the prosecutor’s office altogether,” Karimov said.
Even though parliament may gain in stature on paper, the distinction remains a formality since the legislature’s democratic credentials are weak.
Kazakhstan’s high-profile world champion boxer, Gennady Golovkin, has been made an ambassador for Astana’s EXPO-2017 in a move to improve the image of the graft-plagued project.
Golovkin, boxing’s undisputed middleweight champion, was anointed as an official ambassador for the international exhibition, which will be held in Astana in 2017, by President Nursultan Nazarbayev during his visit to Washington on March 31.
Golovkin, known as GGG and rated one of the world’s best pound-for-pound boxers, is one of Kazakhstan’s best-known sports exports. He was on the party list for the ruling Nur Otan party in March’s election along with many other celebrities, but did not make the final cutinto parliament. His presence will boost the global image of EXPO-2017, which has been rocked by a huge corruption scandal.
A high-profile trial began in Astana on March 18 with Talgat Yermegiyayev, former chairman of the Astana EXPO-2017 company organizing the exhibition, accused along with 22 others of stealing in excess of 10 billion tenge (US$29 million at the current exchange rates) from the construction funds.
EXPO-2017 has also been landed with budget cuts — with Kazakhstan in the throes of economic crisis, some one-tenth of the originally expected total expenditure of $3 billion has been shaved off the budget.
In August, a new team headed by former Almaty Mayor Akhmetzhan Yesimov was parachuted in to knock the project back into shape. But his leadership has come in for criticism from insiders linked to the project.
Two political activists in Kazakhstan learnt to their cost this year that posts on Facebook can spell trouble. And they aren’t the only ones.
News website Pavlodar-Online reported on March 30 that the former head of a chemicals plant is suing a local journalist, Alexander Baranov, for 10 million tenge ($29,000) in libel damages for posts made on the social media platform.
Yerlan Kusanov, the ex-director of Pavlodar-based Neftehim Ltd, said in his complaint that Baranov used his Facebook page to alleged that the executive had left his job following an accident at his company. According to Kusanov’s retelling of the post, Baranov claimed three laborers were killed and that another two received serious burns while working at Neftehim. Baranov is also accused by Kusanov of implying the chemicals company was involved in illegal activity.
Kusanov says he is now unable to find work because of the damage to his reputation caused by Baranov’s posts.
In an initial court hearing, Baranov’s lawyer moved to have screen grabs of the offending posts dismissed as evidence, arguing that there were discrepancies between those and the original version.
Another court hearing is scheduled for April.
Kazakhstan has drawn criticism in the past for what media rights advocates have described as the excessively punitive libel damages sometimes leveled at journalists.
Proponents of stiff libel damages argue, however, that the legislation is intended to protect individuals from potentially harmful defamatory material. It is widely believed that some journalists in Kazakhstan accept illicit payments for writing what amount to hit-jobs against business rivals.
Azerbaijan was welcomed at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC on March 30 as an international energy security and counterterrorism asset, while the country’s repressive ways gained only a faint mention.
US Secretary of State John Kerry thanked Aliyev for making it to the March 31-April 1 summit and praised Azerbaijan’s role in helping Europe meet its energy needs. “Azerbaijan is located in a complex region right now and I think President Aliyev has been very studious and thoughtful about how to respond to some of those needs, particularly with his leadership on the Southern Gas Corridor,” Kerry said.
In his public remarks, Kerry skipped the controversial matter of Azerbaijan’s political prisoners. Only a post-meeting press release took note of Azerbaijan’s “recent positive steps” and urged “further progress” on the human-rights front.
Russia’s migration authorities have announced plans to organize patrols of busy transportation nodes in Moscow as part of a campaign to clamp down on unregistered foreign residents.
In Kyrgyzstan, meanwhile, authorities are pushing ahead with efforts to get as many people off Russia’s migration blacklist to ensure as many migrant laborers as possible can leave the country in search of much-needed earnings.
The Federal Migration Service in Russia said in a statement on March 31 that their inspectors will be parked near metro stations in cars equipped with complete databases of foreigners with proper permits.
“It will be possible to use them to run complete checks of foreign citizens on the FMS database, including to establish whether they are in Russia legally. The cars will also be equipped with scanners for fingerprint registration,” the statement said.
Authorities are casting the initiative as one intended to enlighten foreign residents, particularly migrant laborers, about residency rules.
“During the checks, foreign citizens will be able to speak directly to representatives of the migration service, ask them questions and receive first-hand information about things like registration of work permits at migration centers in Moscow and Moscow region,” the FMS statement said.
Whether this is likely to put an end to the regular sight of Moscow police targeting unregistered (and registered) migrant laborers for bribes remains to be seen.
Russia’s economic decline is concentrating thoughts on the need to address the issue of illegal migration, which creates much ill-will among the most deprived sections of the population.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been courting European Union officials in Brussels in the hope of bolstering Kazakhstan’s trade and economic ties with Europe as way of mitigating the funk back home.
In a conveniently timed development, Nazarbayev also talked human rights in Europe just as two activists jailed in Kazakhstan earlier this year were allowed to walk free by a court in Almaty. Many observers interpreted their release under suspended sentences on March 30 as being designed to send a positive message to Brussels.
Meeting Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, and Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, Nazarbayev stressed the importance to Kazakhstan of the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU, which was signed in 2014 and will take full effect in May following ratification by Kazakhstan’s Senate earlier this month. (The agreement is one notch below the Association Agreement signed between the EU and hopeful candidates such as Ukraine and Georgia.)
Astana is counting on the deal to boost trade with and investment from the European Union, its largest overall trading partner. Wooing investors has become a major priority for Kazakhstan as it battles its worst economic crisis in years — brought on largely as a result of low oil prices — and it is seeking to lure them with a package of investment perks and visa-free travel.
Tajikistan’s top prosecutor decided this week to flesh out the official explanation for where the country’s volunteers to militant groups in Middle Eastern war zones are coming from.
As General Prosecutor Yusuf Rahmon explained in an interview to state-owned newspaper Jumuhuriat, some 85 percent of the fighters are former migrant laborers.
Rahmon presented a few anecdotal cases as evidence for his assertion. One story involved a group of Tajik citizens, who the prosecutor named as Abdurasul Ahmadov, A. Sattarov, an imam at a mosque in the northern Sughd region, and D. Tohirov. All of them are said to have come under the sway of an alleged Islamic State group member in Moscow in May.
The prosecutor said the suspected recruiter, who he identified as Ilyos Malaboyev, was not intent on enlisting people to fight in Syria, but rather to join up with other alleged IS militants already inside Tajikistan.
“They returned to the motherland, and at the Abuzari Ghifori mosque in the Jabbar Rasulov district (in Sughd), they tried to lure their countrymen into IS. They were detained and a criminal case has now been initiated against them,” Rahmon said.
As in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, the government of Tajikistan says it is undertaking strenuous outreach initiatives to discourage young people from being led astray. Rahmon is particularly concerned about Salafist movements.
Believers in Salafism do not acknowledge the legitimacy of other forms of Islamic worship, including Shi'ism and Sufism. The current first appeared in Tajikistan in the early 2000s, having been brought back to the country by Tajiks that had taken refuge in Pakistan during the civil war.
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.
A security crisis in Central Asia has yet again raised questions about the efficacy of Russia's post-Soviet security bloc, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, to maintain peace in the region.
The dispute between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan over an undelimited part of their border was resolved over the weekend without any shots being fired, as both sides pulled back the armored vehicles and troops they had deployed.
But before that happened, Kyrgyzstan called a special session of the CSTO's permanent council in Moscow. (Kyrgyzstan is a member of the organization, while Uzbekistan is not, having dropped out in 2012.) But the response from Moscow was mild: the organization's deputy secretary general was dispatched to Bishkek to monitor the situation.
The CSTO's (and by extension Russia's) relative passivity once again gave ammunition to the critics who say that the organization is focused on phantom threats (like spillover of radical Islam from Afghanistan) or Russia's geopolitical posturing, rather than the real security threats its member states face.
"As tension grows on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border, it must be stated that the CSTO is again remaining indifferent to the security problems of its member states," wrote Belarusian analyst Sergey Ostryna. Ostryna noted that while border problems in Central Asia continue to fester, the CSTO has done nothing to address them.