Sceptical Reception for New Kyrgyz Opposition Bloc

Is nascent political grouping a genuine force or merely a creation of the authorities?
By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek (RCA No. 601, 22-Jan-10)
The emergence of a new opposition grouping in Kyrgyzstan is being viewed with a mix of scepticism and outright suspicion.
Few commentators interviewed by IWPR believe that Eldik Kenesh (People’s Council) stands much of a chance of growing into a viable political entity. Others argue that it is being covertly encouraged by Kyrgyzstan’s ruling administration in order to split the opposition, or that at best, it is just another fragile coalition that, like others before it, will come and go.
The Eldik Kenesh movement was launched at a press conference in the capital Bishkek on January 18. It represents a merger between two groups, For the Salvation of Kyrgyzstan and Eldik Kenesh, from which it inherits its name.
Its founders say the new group represents a departure from existing opposition groups, which they characterise as dominated by the personalities in charge.
“We are tired of following this or that leader,” said Eldik Kenesh member Roza Nurmatova. “We are united by an idea.”
Eldik Kenesh’s leader Mukar Cholponbaev, who has served in the past as speaker of parliament and justice minister, made it clear that his movement would be less radical in its demands than other groups that have emerged in opposition to President Kurmanbek Bakiev since came to power in the 2005 “Tulip Revolution”.
Another member of the group, Ashyrbek Bolotov, explained that this softer line meant “we are not going to demand the president’s resignation; we only want to change the current system of power”.
“We will organise meetings only after obtaining permission from the authorities and we’ll only hold them at designated locations,” Bolotov said, referring to a ban on “unsanctioned” protests instituted by Bishkek’s mayor in an effort to curb the mass anti-Bakiev demonstrations that have taken place sporadically since 2005.
One of Cholponbaev’s main aims is to get Kyrgyzstan to revert to the constitution of 1993, the first after it gained independence from the Soviet Union two years earlier.
Political analyst Nur Omarov explained what was behind this desire to revive an old constitution.
“The 1993 constitution [now] seems the most democratic one. All the changes to that have followed, and the [latest] constitution of 2007, have resulted in a great deal of power being concentrated in the hands of the president,” said Omarov.
Although it is positioning itself as different from past opposition blocs, Eldik Kenesh appears to overlap significantly with them in their latest manifestation, the United People’s Movement, UPM.
Cholponbaev said members of his group included people from Ata-Meken and the Social Democrats, both of which are formally part of the UPM.
“Now they’ve united; that is, the workhorses of all the opposition parties have united,” he said.
Topchubek Turgunaliev, one of the UPM’s leaders, expressed bemusement at the emergence of Eldik Kenesh, noting that Cholponbaev himself was part of the UPM leadership.
“He didn’t consult us about setting up his own movement, and that raises doubts,” he said.
At the same time, he said, “If Mukar Cholponbaev can consolidate a lot of people within his movement, that can only be a good thing. We are prepared to support him and work with him.”
Turgunaliev went on to suggest that Eldik Kengesh at best had few chances of success, and at worst was a government creation.
“I know everyone who’s joined the movement’s leadership, and I don’t see much potential there,” he said. “This could be a project by the authorities, since I know that they [Eldik Kenesh] include at least one person whom Green Party leader Erkin Bulekbaev, who’s currently in detention, has identified as agents of the Kyrgyz secret service.”
One of the analysts interviewed by IWPR, Mars Sariev, said it was plausible that the authorities were behind the new grouping, especially as he had seen no prior signs that the opposition was fracturing from within.
“It would be very convenient for the authorities to have a constructive opposition that they can manage,” he said.
“I am concerned at the very timely appearance of this movement ,” he added, suggesting that the authorities could use the next two years engineering a role for Eldik Kenesh and sidelining other opposition leaders ahead of a parliamentary election scheduled for 2012.
Another commentator, Omarov, disagreed, saying, “It makes absolutely no make sense for the authorities to create this new opposition movement, because we no longer really have an opposition now, just a number of opposition leaders.”
“I imagine this movement has been set up as a result of personal ambition on the part of individuals who’ve hitherto been in the background,” he said. “Opposition movements like this are created on an annual basis, and after another year they disappear.”
Sergey Masaulov, director of the Institute for Strategic Analysis and Assessment, which has links with the Kyrgyz president’s office, said what really counted was not how Eldik Kenesh emerged but whether it would prove effective.
“An opposition is needed, especially one that works for the country, offers alternative solutions and looks at possible ways of cooperation,” he said.
Political analyst Orozbek Moldaliev believes the prospects are not bright for any opposition group including Eldik Kenesh.
Interviewed by Azerbaijan’s Trend news agency on January 20, he noted that the UPM itself has not lived up to expectations since its formation at the end of 2008 as an umbrella group for the main opposition parties.
Moldaliev recalled the presidential election last summer, which left the UPM floundering as President Bakiev defeated their joint candidate Almazbek Atambaev, and won another term in office.
Ainagul Abdrakhmanova is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan.