Kyrgyzstan: Parliament topples PM, the ex-president's final holdover ally

A vote of no-confidence in Sapar Isakov's Cabinet was overwhelmingly backed by lawmakers.

Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan have turned in dramatic fashion on the government and voted overwhelming for a motion of no-confidence in the Cabinet led by Prime Minister Sapar Isakov. 

Of the 112 present in the Jogorku Kenesh on April 19, 101 voted in favor of dismissing Isakov’s government and five against. The vote proceeded without any debate. One of the five deputies who voted against the no-confidence motion claimed later he had accidentally pressed the wrong button.

This defeat of the government was both stunningly rapid and expected. Isakov’s fall deprives ex-President Almazbek Atambayev of his final solid, high-ranking ally within the halls of power.

The no-confidence motion was put forward by two deputies from opposition parties Respublika/Ata-Jurt and Ata-Meken and endorsed by more than 40 fellow members of parliament. Parliament speaker Dastan Jumabekov initially proposed there would first need to be discussion at committee level, but deputies protested, insisting that the overwhelming level of support for the proposition meant they could take it immediately to a plenary vote.

“This is an important matter for the political stability of the country,” Almambet Shykmamatov, a member of Ata-Meken and one of the two sponsors of the proposal, was reported as saying.

By way of a compromise, there was a summary discussion in the committee for constitutional affairs, where a majority agreed to the proposal to force the government’s ouster.

Under Article 85 of the Constitution, the prime minister is required to present a report of the government’s achievements to lawmakers once a year. If at least one-third of the deputies decides that it wishes to use the opportunity to force a vote of no-confidence in the government, the proposition is put to the entire chamber.

The omens began to look poor for Isakov on April 17, when MPs from the Ata-Meken, Respublika/Ata-Jurt and Onuguu-Progress — the three opposition parties in parliament — all took turns criticizing the government’s performance. Discussions on the report lasted nine hours.

Among the low points dwelled on by the deputies was the shambles surrounding the government’s decision to grant a multimillion-dollar project contract on the construction of an important hydropower project to an obscure Czech company called Liglass Trading. Isakov was head of the presidential administration at the time news of that contract was announced, but much was made of the fact he had personally brokered the deal. It subsequently emerged, however, that Liglass Trading was a no-name company with negligible assets and the entire arrangement collapsed to much embarrassment.

An even worse crisis was the breakdown in January of a thermal power plant in the capital, Bishkek, that left residents in the city without heating for several days as temperatures plunged to around -30 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees Fahrenheit).

For all the kvetching in parliament, two of the three parties in the ruling coalition gave their backing to the annual report, which appeared to ensure the government’s survival.

But pro-government MPs apparently began to have a change of mind after Isakov on April 16 appointed, as head of the state anticorruption service, a man who was fired as deputy head of the State Committee for National Security only a few days earlier. Bolot Suyumbayev, a former bodyguard to Atambayev, had been unceremoniously bundled out of the security services by the president and the new job looked like a life vest from the prime minister.

“It became clear that the government and the president could not work together. A crisis emerged between them. The government has of late begun to work against the president,” Aida Kasymaliyeva, a deputy with the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, or SDPK, which holds the largest bloc of seats in parliament. 

President Sooronbai Jeenbekov sealed Isakov’s fate a few hours after the vote in parliament by adding his signature to the marching orders. 

Isakov, 40, has sought since the Liglass business to restore his reputation with his active support for Taza Koom, a much talked-about government initiative to enhance the role of IT with a view to modernizing the country and increasing transparency. 

The dismissal of Isakov, who had been in the job since August, will also come as a blow to the former president, Atambayev. Although the current and former presidents are ostensibly allies, there has been an ever-broadening rift between the two in recent weeks.

It felt for a short while as though Atambayev might be able to hold his own since he has only recently been reelected leader of the SDPK. It was thought that parliament might emerge as an emboldened counterweight to president’s office. Instead, Atambayev’s erstwhile companions are scurrying away like rats off a sinking ship.

Medet Tiulegenov, a professor of international and comparative politics at Bishkek’s American University of Central Asia, told news website that Isakov’s ouster marks a de facto victory for President Jeenbekov. For now.

“This shows that the current head of state has a certain degree of control over parliament and that there is a consolidation of power around his appointees. There will be many twists and turns ahead,” Tiulegenov said.

The prediction of rapid developments was on mark. In the first post-Isakov twist, it emerged that the opposition Respublika/Ata-Jurt faction is to cross the floor in parliament to become the fourth member of the governing coalition, along with the SDPK, the Kyrgyzstan party and Bir Bol.