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Kyrgyzstan Review, 10 years ago

[07.11.2OO2] Administration Infighting Prompts Speculation On Presidents Political Future In Kyrgyzstan

Ongoing protests in southern Kyrgyzstan, coupled with concerns about energy supplies, are fostering fears of instability this coming winter.
In addition, some observers say splits in President Askar Akayevs team are becoming apparent amidst the building opposition to the administration. The administration infighting is, in turn, prompting speculation about Akayevs political future.
Akayev at present appears to be in control of the government, and has given no public statements that he has even considered leaving office before his presidential term expires in 2005. Nevertheless, some Kyrgyz politicians are wondering whether ongoing instability might prompt Akayev to follow former Russian President Boris Yeltsins example, by engineering a transfer of power.
After a brief period of relative calm, protests have again started in southern Kyrgyzstan. The cause of popular unrest this time was the governments disqualification of a candidate in a parliamentary by-election. Usen Sydykov had won the first round of the vote in the southern town of Kara-Kulja before being ruled ineligible for supposed election irregularities. The run-off vote has been postponed indefinitely. The government action sparked immediate protests by Sydykovs supporters, who have now launched a march on Bishkek.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nikolai Tanayev sought to ease public concerns about a looming energy crisis. During a November 4 radio interview, Tanayev said: "I can say clearly that this time those structures that are responsible for heating in the winter have done their job. The Uzbek prime minister has assured us clearly that natural gas supplies will not be cut off this year."
The Akayev administration has been on the defensive since the March riot in the southern town of Ak-Sui that left six dead and dozens injured. Throughout the summer, Akayevs political opponents became increasingly aggressive, with some publicly calling for the presidents resignation. They also demanded that those responsible for the Ak-Sui events face criminal prosecution.
The governments handling of the Ak-Sui investigation and the trial of those blamed for the shootings have only exacerbated the political oppositions enmity towards the administration. Some observers say the governments stand on the Ak-Sui investigation has seriously damaged chances for reconciliation between Akayev and his political opponents. They point specifically to Temirbek Akmataliev the Minister of Internal Affairs during the March events who many opposition supporters suspect gave the order to open fire on protesters as a source of instability. Opposition supporters are furious that Akayev, instead of punishing Akhmataliyev, promoted him to vice-chief of the presidential administration.
Akayev has not developed a clear policy since the Ak-Sui events to reestablish calm.
His ad-hoc approach has caused criticism even from some presidential supporters, and now policy differences within the administration are plainly evident. Two distinct camps inside government are now struggling to influence developments. One faction has staked out a confrontational position, and appears willing to resort to force in order to crush the political opposition. The other faction prefers to engage in dialogue in a search for a compromise solution.
The first factions key politician is Akhmataliyev, who enjoys strong support in the so-called power structures, including the Interior Ministry and state security apparatus. He reportedly has close ties with Chairman of National Security Committee Kalyk Imankulov.
Misir Ashirkulov, the secretary of the presidents National Security Council, is the leader of the faction favoring conciliation. Ashirkulov reportedly enjoys Akayevs strong support. Some believe that Ashirkulov would be Akayevs preferred choice to assume the presidency in the event of his own premature departure from office. Despite Ashirkulovs more senior post within the administration, however, observers say he lacks a broad power base and thus is in an inferior political position to Akhmataliyev.
Speculation that Akayev may be mulling an engineered resignation intensified after publication of the recently proposed amendments to the Kyrgyz constitution, one of which was a provision to grant former presidents immunity from prosecution for actions taken while in office.
At present, Akayev appears to be staking out the middle ground. Observers say several developments in October suggest that Akayev is playing for time, hoping to find a way out of his political predicament. On October 11, a Bishkek appeals court upheld the conviction of jailed opposition leader Feliks Kulov. To appease government critics, Akayev opted on October 16 to fire Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev.
As Akayev occupies the middle ground, the split among the presidents closest collaborators is growing, to some extent fueled by the budding belief that Akayev may resign if conditions continue to deteriorate. The rivalry within the presidential administration thus may be developing into a full-fledged succession struggle. Some observers believe an indicator of the growing intra-governmental crisis is the September assassination attempt against Ashirkulov.
Though the opposition has little direct role in this brewing political struggle in Bishkek, it nevertheless can exert an influence over the outcome. The oppositions stance, although clearly anti-presidential, has moderated somewhat since September after opposition leaders reached agreement with the government to end a mass protest march on Bishkek. A major factor in the oppositions moderation is concern that aggressive action at the present time could bolster hardliners in the administration.
Although the opposition still seems determined to press for Akayevs resignation, some believe the longer the president remains in office, the greater the chances that Ashirkulov, a conciliator, can outmaneuver Akhmataliyev for the presidency. Akhmataliyev, who is loathed by many in the opposition, is currently believed to be in better position to replace Akayev.
Wojciech Bartuzi, EurasiaNet, November 7, 2002

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