Kyrgyzstan on the Edge
Asia Briefing N°55
9 Nov 2006
Street battles between thousands of pro and anti-government protestors broken up by police billy clubs and tear gas in the central square of the capital this week illustrate dramatically that Kyrgyzstan is on the verge of political breakdown and possible civil war. The government and opposition have begun talks to pull the country back from the brink, and the president signed a new constitution on 9 November that the parliament had passed the previous day. But tensions are still high. The talks will need to be widened if they are to resolve the underlying dispute, which is centred on the division of power between the president and the parliament, and related issues. The international community should become much more active in preventive diplomacy because if a solution is not found quickly, Kyrgyzstan’s instability could easily affect other states in the fragile Central Asian region.
For much of this year, two groups have been competing for control:
the government, headed by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, First Deputy Prime Minister Daniyar Üsönov and State Secretary Adakhan Madumarov; and
the opposition movement “For Reforms!” (Za reformy!), led by parliamentarians including Ömürbek Tekebayev, Melis Eshimkanov and Azimbek Beknazarov; a number of former ministers in the Bakiyev administration, including Almazbek Atambayev and Roza Otunbayeva; and civil society activists such as Edil Baysalov.
A confrontation has been growing since the spring of 2006, with the opposition holding demonstrations in Bishkek and elsewhere, demanding political reforms. The troubles, which began over opposition demands for checks on presidential power, have taken on a regional character, with the government relying on support from the southern regions (particularly the provinces of Jalalabat and Osh), and the opposition relying heavily on support from the north (particularly the provinces of Chüy and Talas). The police and security forces are split between the two camps but so far they have been keeping both sides mostly apart in the capital.
The opposition had been holding large demonstrations in central Bishkek since 2 November, trying to force Bakiyev to approve a new constitution that would limit presidential powers and allow the largest block in parliament to form the government. Bakiyev, who under the constitution enjoys almost unlimited powers, refused. Both sides began rallying their supporters and what began as a dispute between political elites is rapidly drawing in larger numbers of ordinary citizens. The centre of the capital has been divided into two parts, with opposition supporters rallying at the main government compound, the “White House”, and government supporters gathering near the parliament building.
As further clashes appeared likely on 7 November, last-minute negotiations reduced tensions, but demonstrations from both sides are continuing and the possibility of conflict remains. The talks between Speaker of the Parliament Marat Sultanov and President Bakiyev produced agreement to present a compromise constitution to parliament, which adopted it on 8 November. President Bakieyev signed it the next day but it remains uncertain how he will implement it. Moreover, further action is required to shore up political processes. The truce remains very fragile.
Quick action is still needed from government, opposition and international community alike in order to take advantage of what may be no more than a brief lull. The following steps are needed:
the government and the opposition must both call on their supporters to vacate the squares in Bishkek they currently hold and urge their supporters in other parts of the country not to come to Bishkek to participate in demonstrations;
the EU, U.S., Russia, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and UN (through the Secretary-General in the first instance) must each appeal to President Bakiyev for restraint, especially to avoid using force to bring the situation under control;
the OSCE mission in Bishkek should be prepared to provide, if needed, a neutral venue for continuing negotiations between the government and the opposition;
the OSCE secretary general and the EU special representative for Central Asia should immediately visit Bishkek, work to draw in to the talks more representatives from both sides, and offer to mediate efforts to find a suitable mechanism for reaching a compromise on a plan for institution building; and
the Kyrgyz government and opposition, with active international support, should embark on a program of national reconciliation to ease tensions between the country’s various regions and factions.
Beyond the urgent need for rapid diplomatic action to defuse the immediate crisis, the OSCE, EU, Russia, Kazakhstan and U.S. all need to be more fully involved in helping negotiate an end to the political breakdown.
Bishkek/Brussels, 9 November 2006