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Kyrgyzstan’s Choice
Decision made by Eurasian Economic Community Prime-Ministers to approve Kyrgyzstan’s joining to Customs Union, undoubtedly, adds agitation to the intrigue of the upcoming, 30 October presidential election. However, things may be different and there is no intrigue behind the presidential election
Автор: Sultan Akimbekov
Локация: Almaty
Номер: №19 (56) 2011

One should not expect quiet and routine process atmosphere during presidential election.  And, obviously, should not fear any major convulsions. Kyrgyz politics have long been in the condition of political tension and said tension became customary and not implying threat of immediate political outburst.

Theoretically, the present election of the Kyrgyzstan President does not have same value, as in the past.  As to new Constitution, majority of President’s powers were distributed between the Parliament and the Government formed by the Parliament.  So, the President shall not possess same magnitude of power, as, for example, did Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev.  At the same time, the post of the President did not become something fully ceremonial and formal, like, for instance, in Germany. The President reserved the right to assign some of the key top ranking public officials, for example, Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense.

The point making present elections specifically intense and intriguing politically is the perspective to finalize the Kyrgyzstan Constitution reform performed soon after the April Revolution of last year.

In many instances, the election with the new Constitution is the final touch in the whole reformation process, the logical formalization of the system. Because, theoretically, a powerful President may reverse the situation to full and abolish the result of reformation process, likewise did in 2010 Ukraine President Victor Yanukovich. After victory in simultaneous  presidential and parliamentary election, together with the Party of Regions, he abolished earlier announced transition of the country to parliamentary and presidential Republic, as agreed in 2004, during the Orange Revolution. Now, Ukraine again is a presidential Republic.

Similar situation is possible in Kyrgyzstan, as well, for local tradition of easy amendment of Constitution. So, if some determined and popular politician took over presidency during a political chaos, a leader resting on society and local parliament, it would follow Mr. Yanukovich’ example. But Kyrgyzstan does not presently have a politician of the kind.

On one hand, the obvious prize-runner of present election, Premier Almaz Atambayev, was one of those, who actually performed the reforms. He is the only of all April Revolution leaders who remained in the ranks of influential and operating politicians. After Roza Otunbayeva resigns from the post of the Transition President, Omurbek Tekebayev will be the second most significant politician, after Mr. Atambayev.  That is why, the latter individual should be interested in the stability of the results of last reform. Besides, he is one of the few who managed to take the full advantage of those results and now are doing well under new political conditions.

On the other hand, such politician should seek support from significant part of local establishment that would, in its turn, believe that the particular individual corresponds to its interests and expectations, which belief is presently low probable. Kyrgyz elites split into several influence groups, which groups are in open, parliamentary, and concealed rivalry and such situation satisfies all elites.

The present political reality impels elites to seek compromise. Reality primarily bites Southerners and Northerners. Bakiyev’s presidency only demonstrated that political domination of just one group was the source of social tension. Please be reminded that in a certain period of Bakiyev’s presidency, the Kyrgyzstan Government was comprised of Southerners only.

After the parliamentary elections of the last year, all political parties, both Northern and Southern enter into coalitions, intrigue and none of them succeeded so far in becoming the sole winner.  Another factor is the excessively high quantity of subjects of the Kyrgyzstan political life, including very small local groups, which variety not only undermines the country administration, but also generates permanent chaos.

A good illustration of the chaos is an incident that took place in the Issyk-Kul Region, this past summer, when a group of locals almost lynched policemen and then openly confronted authorities.  The said illustration points at lack of central power, in the way customary to Asia. Best organized groups possess influence at local level, which situation indicates that big politics were dragged down to level of consolidated local communities/families and each power champion will have to seek their cooperation. Such pattern results in autonomy of various communities and families and each of said formations will struggle for their own interests. Smallest groups fight locally, whilst bigger associations fight for influence in the regions and then in the Parliament.

Power in the East must always be physically expression through public posts, for example those of School and Hospital Directors or Foresters, as well as social benefits presumed in those posts. That is why every party in Kyrgyzstan is a coalition of many local communities and families, which parties require certain preferences after election in exchange to their support of certain candidates. Under such condition, the banal electorate bribing is no longer effective, as it appear more important to seek support from local organized groups.

The above particularity makes Kyrgyzstan totally different from Ukraine during its existence in the form of a parliamentary Republic.  There are no local communities and families in Ukraine.  People vote on own ideological considerations.  Some of them vote for Russian language and union with Russia, others stand for Ukrainization and closer ties with West. In both cases ideology direct people’s choice.

Differently from parliamentary elections, ideology is the factor that directs the present presidential election in Kyrgyzstan.  But the solidarity of communities also is present, with the mainstream North-South conflict in the backgrounds. Theoretically, present model of a presidential and parliamentary Republic does offer space for establishment of compromise. President, for example, may represent North, whilst Premier may be from South or in opposite manner. But reality may lead to situation when one Northern and one Southern claimants will pass to the second rounds and the competition will transform into the struggle between the North and the South.

After the first Kyrgyz revolution of 2005, in order to prevent potential conflict between regions, Bakiyev from South and Felix Kulov from North, the individual at the peak of popularity, at the time of events, made a deal, by which deal Bakiyev became President and Kulov became Prime-Minister with special authorities.  The deal did not however stop Bakiyev from dismissing Kulov.

The paradox of Kyrgyzstan political situation is that local politicians must agree on who will be the President and the Premier, long prior to elections so to prevent the splitting of the Republic into two parts during the inevitable second round.

The present reality, of course, differs from Year 2005, and presidency acquired inferior significance, but the precedent made by Yanukovich does cause certain concern to Kyrgyz politicians.  Especially because in the past year, some of Kyrgyzstan political forces discussed benefits from abolishment of the results of reformation process and restoration of presidential autocracy.

Felix Kulov was the particular individual to discuss that issue.  Last year, he was not only one of Kyrgyzstan’s most active politicians, but also was considered to be Moscow’s protégé. It was his party Ar-Namys that dramatically advanced in its political position shortly prior to parliamentary election and that advance was based on support from Russia.

In regards to above, we may recollect the situation involving an influential Russian television channel, which channel released an obviously frantically made video of Mr Atameken Party Mr. Tekebayev’s generally neutral comment on relations with Russia.  But the channel reporters immediately added that during lobby discussions, Mr. Tekebayev severely criticized Russia. Following that all Russian channels used that video as the basis for criticism of Mr. Tekebayev for allegedly anti-Russian position. This year, Mr. Tekebayev again became a hero of a television piece showing an individual reminding himself in rather confusing situation.

In line with above activity, Russian Mass Media actively promoted Mr. Kulov.  Then, some suppositions were made Moscow would support the courageous general during upcoming presidential elections, as well.  Kulov, however, passed the peak of his public popularity by that time and was in poor compliance to new realities of the Kyrgyz politics. Even support from Moscow and national minorities failed to bring his party significant number of seats in the Parliament. Kulov will be remembered for announcement that should he become elected President, he would restore the presidential form of country administration.

In general, the idea of reformation abolishment was rather popular among some parts of the Kyrgyz society and international observers.  Nobody appreciated chaos, especially after the events in Osh, last year.  Moreover, many parties has serious concerns as to integrity of the country itself, because some Governors would refuse to report to center and the confrontation between North and South seemed irresolvable.

General chaos in Kyrgyzstan proceeds to exist, but apocalyptic scenarios remained theoretic.  Country faces complicated, not critical situation.  Various parties are at rather phlegmatic struggle for resources remaining outside control. Prime-Minister Atambayev is at his best, in present conditions. He appears moderately careful and willing to seek compromise.  He was the individual who replaced Kulov in the office of the Prime-Minister, after dismissal. Atambayev, individual able to secure own interests even under continuous pressure and criticism, entered into alliance with Vice-Premier Omurbek Babanov.  With their parties in backgrounds, both individuals enjoy the serious support in the Parliament and, it seems, they managed to establish their control over Bakiyev’s legacy.

Another important factor that makes Atambayev different from Tekebayev and President Otunbayeva, a member of Atambayev’s Social Democrats, is that his carefulness found manifestation in international affairs, as well. Atambayev positioned himself outside all references to pro-Russian or pro-Western position. That feature became a serious advantage in the situation impelling Kyrgyzstan to seek the balance of interests of all great countries interested in established of their own influences in Central Asia.

Exterior Appearance

The rivalry among great countries for Central Asia is a usual phenomenon. Everybody got used to it, by the situation in Kyrgyzstan is very different from all other countries of the region, because the Republic is the only Central Asian country where exterior players can operate in domestic political affairs.  Allegations of orientation of certain Kyrgyz politicians, as well as preferences assigned by external forces in regards to such politicians source from that peculiar feature of Kyrgyzstan’s present political pattern. Kyrgystan is a very important country for great nations, because there they can trial each other. USA deploy their air force base in Manas, Russia sets up a military station in Kent, 50 km from Manas.  Russia discusses plans to deploy one more station to the Kyrgyz sector of Ferghana Valley and Americans allow information leaks disclosing similar plans America has for region.  Moscow believes Akayev’s deposition in 2005 was a part of bigger Color Revolution plan for post-Soviet countries and against Russian interests. On the other side, some of concerned parties in the USA share opinion that Bakiyev’s deposition was caused by his obviously pro-American orientation.  Also, they say Tekebayev and Otunbayeva are pro-American and Kulov and Atambayev are more pro-Russian.

In general, situation is very complicated.  And a normal Kyrgyz politician must be multi-vectored, at least for survival. That is why, it is hard to expect now that Bishkek, under any political regime, will be able to close the base in Manas.  Likewise, any politician must limit the growth of anti-Russian positions in society, which processes take place in a rather liberal environment.  In this instance, it appears justified to make reference to criticism of Moscow’s position in regards to the Year 1916 Uprising and many other issues.

At the eve of upcoming presidential elections, Kyrgyzstan generally succeeded to settle the future president situation and foreign affairs.  The careful Premier Atambayev satisfies all concerned parties. His core advantage is ability to survive under conditions of unpredictable Kyrgyz politics and avoidance of fast/abrupt actions.

Besides, Mr. Otunbayeva, a co-author of the last constitutional reformation and one of its most persistent performers, is a member of the party headed by Atambayev.  She has many relationships in the West, which factor makes Atambayev’s party rather acceptable for partnership with the West.  The latter party is, apparently, evaluating viability of the new Kyrgyz political system as some sort of a precedent for other countries of the region.

Mr. Atambayev also appears rather acceptable in the eyes of Russia. It was during his Premiership and Ms. Otunbayeva’s presidency that Kyrgyz public and national Securocrats with their historic and traditional relationships with Russia, became very influential. Variant based on Kulov must have appeared not attractive, eventually. Because in that case, Moscow would have to confront many influential Kyrgyz groups or buy their support, thus incurring in substantial material and moral expenses. Easier to find common grounds with the race leader, which individual, besides, shall not be entitled to monopolize power. Northerner Atambayev will always face necessity to seek compromise with South politicians.

For Russia, such development scenario appears preferable. Moscow, of course, would like to see US Air Base leave Manas, but that issue may still become an issue for a discussion with Washington D.C.  More important is Kyrgyzstan’s general dependence on Russian policy.  October 18, Eurasian Economic Community Prime-Ministers announced during the summit in St.-Petersburg, that Kyrgyzstan would join Customs Union.  Vladimir Putin added, Kyrgyzstan would receive funds from the Eurasian Economic Community common fund.

Kyrgyzstan’s admission to Customs Union is in full conformance to Vladimir Putin’s earlier published Eurasian Union concept. Vladimir Putin, in virtue, announces assigning of priority to the concentration of lands in the orbit of the Russian center. His statement that the collapse of USSR was a greatest tragedy of the 20th century indicates at presence of brand new priorities in the Russian foreign affairs. That explains why Moscow hastens so much to complete the Customs Union and CFMZ integration strengthen the activities of supernational bodies. Russia finds it important to accelerate the issue, as the beginning of recession in the world will constitute a problem for exports oriented countries. So, it would be silliness not to take advantage of the present situation now, that Russian has the money to be able to influence such countries, as Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine.

Tactically, expansion of Customs Union’s coverage to Kyrgyzstan and then Tajikistan will allow Russian to strengthen its standing in Central Asia, where Russia faces rather complicated attitudes from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Two weak countries fully independent on Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan may become reliable beachhead for Russia’s presence in the region, especially with the Afghanistan and Middle East developments taken in account. For Moscow, it appears important to have the opportunity to conduct consolidated foreign policy and stay not strongly dependent on local specifics.

With respect to above, we face a rather fine issue.  Latest events associated with Kyrgyzstan, as well as developments in Ukraine, where Yanukovich found himself in a complicated situation, in the eyes of Europe, for Yuliya Timoshenko’s detention sentence in the middle of October, clearly demonstrated that plans to develop integration through Customs Union, CFMZ and Eurasian Union are acquiring more political character. In other words, all integration discussions are based on economic considerations, but it appears that in reality those consideration are more political.

The above explains certain negligence caused by frantic activity regarding creation of Customs Union and CFMZ, as well as unaddressed main factor of any economic integration, i.e. the harmonization of the indicators of various countries to one single foundation. What we observe in Customs Union:  Belarus at stage of development of state capitalism with some elements of the Soviet order and Russia and Kazakhstan at stage of free market development with Russia showing higher level of state guarantees. Kyrgyzstan, in its turn, is a World Trade Organization (WTO) member and it is totally unclear, how would it be possible to combine some prohibitive duties of the Customs Union with the rules that govern members of WTO.

Political consideration explains everything.  For its sake, particularities may be disregarded. But it is impossible to ignore Kazakhstan.  Out of all countries, including present Customs Union member Belarus and all potential future members, Kazakhstan is only self-sufficient country. All others needs something from Russia.  Belarus needs donations and cheap oil and gas, Ukraine – cheap gas and access to Russian market, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – donations and access to Russian labor market.

Besides, Kazakhstan has always directed its own multi-vector policy. In case Customs Union is more of a political formation, it implies certain complications to us. Because, if admission of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Customs Union is, first of all, in line with Russia’s geopolitical interests, then Customs Union appears a tactical instrument to secure Russian interests in the time of struggle for influence in the region.

The above objectively reduces our freedom of maneuver for the best of our own national interests.  For example, let us review the format Prime-Ministers chose to communicate their St.-Petersburg decision: it is clear that Russia’s present Premier Putin will be the next President and all Russian state public relations apparatus is now operating in support of his publicity. Besides, one of discussed individual’s present major objectives is to Reclaim Lands.  That, however, appears not very correct from the standpoint of our state publicity.

Also interesting is that in line with Vladimir Putin’s article in Izvestiya, some Kyrgyz professors proposed the idea of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan Confederation.  It is clear, that said confederation is not up to national interests of Kazakhstan, - too costly, many drawbacks and benefits are not so obvious, except for mythical idea to have Issyk-Kul join Kazakhstan, which idea finds enthusiastic support among some native Almaty dwellers. We will have to make spendings to leverage their life, face the Kyrgyz political chaos and many other factors of the kind.
Actually, we will have to have Kyrgyzstan as a dependant. The latter consideration may be, in the eyes of some Kyrgyz elites, a justification of proposed Confederation. Those elites share position that if Kazakhstan does not make donations to Kyrgyzstan, it will acquire a rather problematic neighbor.

The latter thought is rather sophisticated.  It is clear that nobody would appreciate presence of something like Afghanistan in the close proximity, but that is not something to be discussed now. Because unstable Kyrgyzstan could become the place supplying problems to us.  For example, the 200 guerillas of Kazakhstan Jamaat in the ranks of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a famous Kyrgyzstan specialist Alexander Knyazev told about.  Mr. Knyazev should be better informed, but serious specialists never reported any facts of the kind. At the same time, the IMU appearance in 1999 and 2000 left many issues open.

Please be reminded, IMU infiltrated Kyrgyz and Uzbek sectors of Ferghana Valley from territory of Tajikistan.  Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan made very tough statements referring to various unpleasant circumstances.

In principle, the injection of the Confederation idea into the public mind looks like a clear hint to not only begin to play more important role in the region, for example assume responsibility for Kyrgyzstan, but also act as the liaison between Central Asia and Russia. In other words, become a more important element, but abandon multi-vector policy. Because in such case Kyrgyzstan will definitely look at Russia, so to weaken potential influence from Kazakhstan.

But all above is a hypothetic exercise, likewise is the belief Atambayev does not have serious rivals at upcoming election.  Anything can still happen and we will hope for the best.


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