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Thursday, February 22, 2007

New Kyrgyz opposition fuels political dispute

The United Front for a Worthy Future for Kyrgyzstan is the newest opposition movement in Kyrgyzstan and, with former Prime Minister Feliks Kulov as one of its leaders, it is already stirring up the political waters.

By Bruce Pannier for RFE/RL (22/02/07)

According to the United Front, Bakiev "is in no condition" to carry out his duties as head of state, and if he stays in office Kyrgyzstan "has no future." In a statement released on 19 February, the group called for an early presidential election.

The president's office responded today with a statement saying that the new movement has "no moral, and moreover, no political basis" for making such claims and demands, and it warned the United Front not to take any radical action.

"There is no basis for early presidential elections," the president's press secretary, Nurlan Shakiev, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. "For that, there would [have to] be some negative situation here. On the contrary, today the nation - most of the people - support President [Bakiev's] policies."
Government failed to reform

The opposition Ar-Namys party is one of the groups that joined the United Front. One of the leaders of Ar-Namys, Emil Aliev, said the creation of the new movement is necessary because Bakiev and the government have not fulfilled promises made during and after the widespread protests of spring 2005 that chased former authoritarian President Askar Akaev from power.

"Those events in 2005 were organized by political parties, politicians, and NGO leaders who wanted to change, to annul, a political system that was very corrupt," Aliev said. "But now we see that corruption is even worse than at that time, and that's why we are creating this United Front."

The formation of the new movement is the latest development in a crisis that actually began in November 2006, when a massive protest in Bishkek forced Bakiev to agree to a new constitution. That document took away some of Bakiev's powers - but pro-Bakiev lawmakers succeeded just before the New Year in adding amendments that basically restored many of the powers the president had lost.

Aliev of Ar-Namys said constitutional reform is still one of the demands of the United Front. "First of all, it's a constitutional reform, we must change a [political] system. One person shouldn't be given all the power in the country," he said. "Secondly, the current leaders can't rule in a new system. Our statement says that the current president has no desire to change this system."
Kulov returns

Kulov resigned as prime minister just before the late December passing of the new, revised constitution that restored many powers to the presidency.

Kulov was originally named prime minister in the summer of 2005 as part of a deal, the so-called "tandem" with Bakiev. In the deal, Kulov agreed not to run for president against Bakiev in exchange for being named prime minister if Bakiev - who was heavily favored - won the presidency.

Kulov confirmed that the "tandem" is over when he announced last week he would join the opposition and on 19 February that he is part of the movement calling for an early presidential election.
United Front's purpose

Opposition lawmaker Kubatbek Baibolov, another member of the United Front, said the new movement will not resort to any "radical steps" and simply wishes to spur Bakiev and the government into action on important issues for the country.

"Elections should be held on time. Those who were elected should complete their terms." Baibolov said. "This statement is a political and an emotional document. We want to give an impulse to the authorities; we are saying, 'hey, there is such a kind of movement, you should think, keep it in mind that you should change your policies.'"

A Bakiev ally in parliament, lawmaker Iskhak Masaliev, said there is no reason to hold an early presidential election and equally believes that there is no reason to be overly concerned about what the United Front is saying.

"I consider the situation today as proper. The parliament is carrying out its functions and the president will be fulfilling his responsibilities until the end of his term. There is no fundamental contradiction here," Masaliev said. "I consider this to be a political demand. Every opposition group, in order to justify itself, has to have some kind of slogan."
Possible inside secrets

Former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva, who is now a co-leader of the opposition Asaba Party, questioned Kulov's role in the new opposition movement. Otunbaeva noted that Kulov was a member of the government that he suddenly opposes and that Kulov would gain credibility by revealing some of the "secrets" he knows from being prime minister.

"Kulov knows the secrets, he knows how at the very start Bakiev's team defined what advantages it could derive for itself," she said. "I think that Kulov, as a person who says he knows about the family business and corrupt methods [of governing], should tell this to the people."

The United Front said in a statement that it is a "temporary structure" formed to achieve its stated goals and no more. But the new movement's appearance in Kyrgyz politics presents a new problem for the Kyrgyz government and - considering Otunbaeva's comments - seems to have effectively split the opposition.
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