Wednesday, October 25, 2006

All eyes on Kulov and Bakiyev: Where will Kyrgyzstan be Next Week at This Time?

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Felix Kulov (left) and Kurmanbek Bakiyev (right) after announcing their coalition to run the Kyrgyzstan government

As the date of November 2 approaches, observers of Central Asian politics are focused on what will happen at the protests threatened by the Kyrgyzstan opposition on that date. Will this be another attempt to use threats of protests to attain concessions from President Bakiyev, or will this be a full-fledged attempt to hold Bakiyev accountable to his pre-election promises?

Various people in Kyrgyzstan tell me that much depends upon the moves of Prime Minister Felix Kulov. As I noted in an earlier post, there have been various attempts by the opposition to pull Kulov to its side in its conflict with Bakiyev. Kulov has retained significant popularity while Bakiyev continues to lose public confidence, and Kulov’s support of the opposition could tip the balance. Furthermore, as the pro-Russian political commentator in Bishkek Alexander Knyazov notes in a recent interview, Kulov can mobilize the power ministries to follow his lead if a conflict erupts. As of yet, however, Kulov has not flinched. He continues to back Bakiyev, and his party Ar-Namys appears to have pulled out of the camp organizing the protests.

If there is no sign of Kulov changing sides, the opposition may have little choide but to negotiate with Bakiyev. That being said, Bakiyev has not shown much willingness to make concessions to the demands of the opposition, dismissing them as unrealistic “ultimatums.” While Bakiyev may be reticent to address some demands such as those regarding his family's involvement in government, he could certainly accept the demand to establish public broadcasting as well as the demands to give parliament more power over the drafting of the new constitution.

At present, it is unclear whether there will eventually be a meeting between Bakiyev and the opposition to begin a dialog on compromise before November 2nd. Bakiyev has said that he will address the parliament concerning the situation in the country on October 30. Bakiyev has also suggested that if the parliament cannot enter into a civil dialog with him, he may decide to dissolve the parliament entirely. In the meantime, the opposition bloc “For Reform” is warning of provocations in conjunction with the November 2nd protests.

Regardless, what happens in the next week could be critical to the future shape of Kyrgyzstan. A move by Kulov to the side of the opposition could quickly lead to the removal of Bakiyev. Concessions from Bakiyev and the opposition’s acceptance of compromise could ensure that the country moves further towards reform in the media sector and in governance more generally through the adoption of a new constitution stressing checks and balances. A deterioration of discussions between the two sides could lead to the dissolution of parliament and the quick adoption of a constitution with few positive changes. The worst case scenario, however, would be that provocations during the protest on November 2nd could turn violent and spin out of control.

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