New Kyrgyz coalition closer after Keldibekov resigns

By bne IntelliNews December 14, 2011

bne -

Kyrgyz MPs are close to agreement on a new coalition government after the resignation of Parliament Speaker Akhmatbek Keldibekov over his links to organised crime. This looks to have cleared the main sticking point in negotiations between the major political parties, offering hope a deal can be found that will soothe tensions that have spread since the previous coalition split on December 2.

If a new coalition including both the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) and Ata-Zhurt - the two largest parties in parliament - can be formed, this would go some way towards calming the volatile country and narrowing the political divide between north and south. Speedy agreement on a new government would also allow Kyrgyzstan's politicians to focus on the troubled economy.

Before the ink was even dry on Keldibekov's resignation letter, talks between Kyrgyzstan's five parliamentary parties had already started to move forward. The leader of the SDPK parliamentary faction, Chynybay Tursunbekov, said on December 13 that a new coalition was due to be formed by the end of this week.

Tursunbekov, who was mandated by President Almazbek Atambaev to form a new government on December 8, said he has issued formal invitations to the Ata-Meken and Ar-Namys parties to enter a new coalition. However, the SDPK is still in talks with its former coalition partners Ata-Zhurt and Respublika, Tursunbekov told the Kabar news agency.

Although Kyrgyzstan now has an elected president for the first time since the April 2010 revolution, the country moved from a presidential to a parliamentary regime 18 months ago, meaning that without a government, many policy decisions - in particular those relating to public spending - have been delayed.

Married to the mob

Keldibekov announced his resignation at an extraordinary parliamentary session on December 12, after a government commission confirmed his links to organised criminal groups. A vote of no confidence in the speaker took place later that day. Dissatisfaction with Keldibekov's role as speaker was one of the reasons the SDPK quit the previous coalition, in which it governed alongside Ata-Zhurt and Respublika.

Keldibekov's criminal links were first raised by members of the Ata-Meken party, who accused Keldibekov of meeting mafia boss Kamchy Kolbayev at an Issyk-Kul hotel on New Year's Day, amongst other charges. The commission set up to investigate the allegations confirmed 11 of 13 claims made by Ata-Meken, and also said that some officials working in the Kyrgyz Parliament were members of organized criminal groups, reported.

Keldibekov resigned "to keep political stability in the country," he told parliament. "A real information and moral attack was turned against me. I just wanted to achieve justice and fairness, and would not allow such dirty political games, as those that were used on the national political scene during the rule of Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev," Keldibekov said in his resignation speech, Kabar reported.

After tendering his resignation, Keldibekov flew to Osh, the largest city in south Kyrgyzstan, to meet with his supporters, who have been rallying for several days. His spokesman told Kyrgyz journalists that Keldibekov wants to calm demonstrators, who include both Osh residents and horsemen from nearby villages.

Horse trading

Keldibekov's record was one of the most divisive issues for the former coalition government, an often uneasy alliance between parties from different parts not only of the political spectrum, but also the country. That meant that although the SDPK and Ata-Zhurt have opposing views on numerous issues, the power-sharing deal between the two helped to unite Kyrgyzstan after the 2010 revolution.

Both President Almazbek Atambaev and his predecessor interim president Roza Otunbayeva are from the SDPK, which has a broad base of support in north Kyrgyzstan and Bishkek. Ata-Zhurt, meanwhile, has its power base in the south of the country, and takes a more nationalist stance. Supporters of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted last year, also tend to support Ata-Zhurt.

With the parliament's 120 seats split between five parties, agreement between at least three parties is needed to form a new government. Given the nature of Kyrgyz politics, and the intense horse-trading that went into forming the last coalition government, it is hard to know whether the SDPK/Ar-Namys/Ata-Meken agreement currently on the table will be adopted until it is formally announced.

After Keldibekov's resignation, a new coalition including Ata-Zhurt can't be ruled out. More than any other formation, this would have the effect of uniting the country behind the new government. Results from the October 31 presidential elections showed a strong north-south divide, and a government excluding Ata-Zhurt is likely to leave Kyrgyz voters in the volatile south feeling disenfranchised.

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