It has been a fortnight since the Kyrgyz people raised the banner of revolt against the October 4 parliamentary election results, which have been annulled for fresh polls. However, aggravating the crisis is Opposition groups’ inability to arrive at a consensus on picking up a leader
The sudden political unrest and conflicts in former Soviet nations are not accidental. The primary reason is that all of them have suddenly ceased to become a sphere of Russian influence after 1991. Kyrgyzstan, known as the only democracy in Central Asia, has literally turned herself into a mobocracy in a span of few days. The rag-tag Opposition backed groups are fast occupying Government establishments, including the most prestigious Parliament building of the country. Currently, the protesters are appointing their favourites as mayors, ministers and even Prime Minister. The only problem with these self-declared or mob-appointed authorities is that all of them can be overturned by stronger and well-armed groups again. So, there would be no end to such chaos if it persists like this. The safe road ahead is to bring legitimate authorities back to the seat of power as per the law of the land.
However, Kyrgyzstan is no stranger to such calamities as its people had a good experience of Tulip Revolution of 2005 and the resurgence of violence in the year 2010. The Tulip Revolution is also known as the First Kyrgyz Revolution that led to the ouster of President Askar Akayev in early 2005. Going back to the recent history of the country, what we find is the people of Kyrgyzstan had a strong yearning for democracy. The country conducted parliamentary elections on February 27, 2005. The revolution started after the parliamentary elections when Askar’s allies came out victorious. But it was alleged that the election was marred by widespread election frauds. In fact, such malpractices were also confirmed by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) after the election. Thus, a massive protest campaign started to dislodge the corrupt and authoritarian regime of Akayev, who had been ruling the country since the 1990s. The revolution was a turning point for Kyrgyz people as it made them realise that democracy is possible in their country.
The 2010 crisis took place because President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted from power in an uprising on April 7, 2010. His stronghold in the south of Kyrgyzstan witnessed massive violence. During that time, the pro-Bakiyev supporters organised resistance to the interim Government led by President Rosa Otunbayeva by seizing Government buildings and taking officials hostage. What added fuel to the fire was that the sizeable Uzbek community in the country backed the interim Government. Taking advantage of the power vacuum, criminal gangs and drug mafias aided in sparking communal violence in the southern city of Osh between Kyrgyz and Uzbek groups. It forced thousands of Uzbeks to flee the region. Most of them had fled to neighboring Uzbekistan only. As per the UN estimate nearly 4,00,000 people were displaced during this violence. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees regarded the crisis as ethnic clashes. But many say that there was a strong element of Bakiyev in stoking violence across. But only this factor could hardly be blamed for mass killings and indiscriminate fighting among numerous groups.
The current political turmoil started only after the results of the parliamentary election held on October 4 was declared. Interestingly, only four political parties out of 16 have crossed the threshold to claim a seat in the country’s Parliament called Supreme Council. This council was earlier known as the Supreme Soviet of the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic until 1991. Unfortunately, out of all these four parties, three are closely connected to ruling President Sooronbai Jeenbekov. None of the established Opposition parties has even secured a single seat in Parliament. Therefore, all the 12 Opposition parties have come together after the election to reject the results. That is how the current political drama unfolded across the country, mainly in the capital city of Bishkek. The primary charges brought against the pro-Jeenbekov parties are vote-buying and voter intimidation. For now, the authorities have annulled the results of the disputed election, necessitating a re-run of the vote in the country of more than 6.5 million people. What now the protesters are demanding is the immediate impeachment of the President. A group set up by several Opposition parties called as the Peoples Coordination Council Opposition for now has assumed all state powers and dissolved the Parliament. Meanwhile Parliament agreed to nominate Opposition leader Sadyr Zhaparov for the post of Prime Minister. He also aired his view that he would propose a constitutional reform before holding presidential and parliamentary elections within two to three months from now. But he was uncertain about the backing of the coordination council about his candidature because there are strong differences of opinions among all the allies. It was absolutely unclear when Parliament could be convened to approve his appointment as Prime Minister. This all demonstrates that the current situation is too fluid. And there is every possibility that some other leaders might also claim key political offices. As Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov resigned, Jeenbekov called for an all-party meeting to resolve the political crisis.
Former President Almazbek Atambayev might play a key role in this crisis. It’s very apparent from the series of events that have taken place in and around Bishkek. The mob led by Atambayev’s son went to the State Committee for National Security and released his father from the prison. Therefore, Jeenbekov has termed this crisis as an attempt to seize power. Precisely, Zhaparov do not have a clean background and he was sentenced to prison for ten years for taking a person hostage. He is a former MP from the nationalist Ata Jurt Party. Around the same time, some other notorious leaders have also appeared in the scene just to take the advantage of the chaos. Among them the most prominent one Melis Myrzakmatov, who was a former mayor of Osh city, is now back from his self-exile and started gathering his supporters. He is well known for his ultra-nationalistic campaigns in the region wherein ethnic clashes took place in the year 2010. Incidentally, he was the mayor of the Osh when these conflicts took place there.
The problem at the heart of Kyrgyzstan is that it is the poorest nation of the former Soviet Union. There is an acute shortage of natural resources in this country. But after the sudden collapse of the USSR, the country became a gateway of trans-shipment of Chinese goods for the whole post-Soviet republics. And the problem was that since the beginning, no single group or leader could have monopoly over the country’s political landscape. It is only the coalitions that have been dominating the political scene so far. But ironically, there is no broad consensus among all these coalition groups. And again, those who were not included in the coalitions have also been able to exert control over some pockets across the country.
Another issue is that in most of the Central Asian Republics, the power of the First Secretary was brought to practice. But this did not materialise in both Kyrgyzstan and in Tajikistan. As a result in Tajikistan, the absence of an efficient leadership led to bloody civil war in that country. When it comes to Kyrgystan, the power calculation was initially stable, but gradually the fissures have come to the fore. In fact, frequent changes of leadership have led to fierce political competition. Many a time, there is insufficient legitimacy of people who are occupying the corridors of power in Bishkek. These have added to what we have witnessed today in Kyrgyzstan.
At present, it’s simply mob rule. Now, to be pragmatic, Bishkek needs to find a way to hold a fresh parliamentary election. But the worst-case scenario could be a fresh civil war. The chances of such a catastrophe are too high. Too many groups are claiming and re-claiming their leaders as genuine representatives of the people. Better for Kyrgyz people is to see that situation remains under control. The plain and clear message for both the vigilante and the activists is not to destroy public properties in the days to come. After all these are public assets. No one will gain anything by smashing public squares. Of course, they represent symbols of power and authority. But in reality, they are run by the politicians. Hence instead of crushing the physical structures, it is better to change the leaders. And bring back true leaders so that they would be able to safeguard common interests. Finally, it’s high moment for Jeenbekov and the rest of the political folk display complete sense and sensibility to save the fragile democracy of this former Soviet republic.
(The writer is an expert on international affairs)