In Kyrgyzstan, Signs of Growing Instability

2 MINS READOct 4, 2012 | 15:46 GMT
In Kyrgyzstan, Signs of Growing Instability
Kyrgyz police cordon off the government headquarters in Bishkek on Oct. 3

The Kyrgyz Prosecutor General's Office filed criminal charges against three members of parliament Oct. 4, including opposition leader and head of the Ata-Jurt party Kamchybek Tashiev. This comes a day after Tashiev led protests in Bishkek's central square that prompted clashes between demonstrators and security forces, leaving dozens injured. Tashiev's arrest on grounds of "forced seizure of power" has led to further protests demanding his release in Bishkek and in southern cities such as Jalal-Abad and Osh.

Tashiev is one of Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev's greatest critics and has been trying to take advantage of controversial issues in the country to boost his political position at Atambayev's expense. Tashiev's detention and the ensuing demonstrations shed light on the social divisions and weak political foundations of the Kyrgyz state and could lead to larger protests and violence.

On Oct. 3, Tashiev led a rally in the Ala-Too Square and spoke against the Canadian-run Kumtor gold mine (which provides a great deal of Kyrgyzstan's industrial output), saying that it should be nationalized. He also called on the crowd of roughly 1,000 to overthrow the government and take power. Tashiev supporters then attempted to storm the parliament building near the central square. After a few dozen demonstrators jumped over the fence, security forces drove them off the premises. The security forces outnumbered the protesters and appeared prepared for such an incident.

Locator Map - Kyrgyzstan

Though protests occur in Kyrgyzstan regularly, it is less common that a party leader physically leads such protests into government buildings (Tashiev reportedly tried to storm the parliament as well). Tashiev is an especially important figure, as his nationalist Ata-Jurt party — whose support comes mostly from southern Kyrgyzstan — is the largest in parliament. Despite its position in the legislature, Ata-Jurt has been excluded from all ruling coalitions in Kyrgyzstan since the country moved to a parliamentary system in 2010, including the coalition formed Sept. 6. Tashiev has become increasingly vocal in his criticism of Atambayev (who hails from the north) and the Kyrgyz government, as has Osh Mayor Melisbek Myrzakmatov, who supports Tashiev and has publicly defied the central government.

For Tashiev to pose a serious challenge to the government, the current protests would have to grow significantly. This is not impossible; the uprising in April 2010 started as a rally in Talas, a small town about 300 kilometers (186 miles) west of Bishkek, then spread to Bishkek and other parts of the country. However, Atambayev's government is not nearly as unpopular as the administration of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev when it was overthrown in 2010 (or the administration of Bakiyev's predecessor, Askar Akayev, when it was ousted in 2005). Atambayev retains support from numerous factions and party leaders.

That said, numerous contentious issues ranging from ethnic relations between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the south to Kyrgyzstan's participation in Russia's Customs Union could undermine Atambayev's popularity and weaken his mandate. In that case, Tashiev and his supporters would be important to watch, as they could take advantage of these issues and attempt a larger grab for power by organizing protests and committing acts of violence.

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