Catfight in Kyrgyzstan: President and predecessor show their claws

Catfight in Kyrgyzstan: President and predecessor show their claws
Happier days. Jeenbekov (left) and Atambayev.
By bne IntelliNews November 21, 2018

Political tensions are mounting in Kyrgyzstan where President Sooranbai Jeenbekov has been accused by ex-president Almazbek Atambayev of arresting his closest allies in order to put on “a show” to give the impression that "a fight against corruption is under way".

Atambayev spoke out during a 95-minute televised interview, vowing to remain in “big politics” and suggesting that he will seek to rein in Jeenbekov. And it was all supposed to be so different. Prior to the October 2017 election that brought Jeenbekov to power as the favoured candidate of Atambayev, critics suggested that the then president was lining up Jeenbekov as a stooge and pretty much planned to continue ruling the Central Asian nation from the shadows.

But if that really was the plan, it appears to have come off the rails—on November 16, in an interview with news agency, Jeenbekov accused Atambayev of trying but failing to unduly influence him. "His attempts to turn me into a puppet leader through some third individuals, to direct my actions, discredit him as a person, as an ex-president, as a fellow party member and associate," Jeenbekov reportedly said.

Jeenbekov is an ex-prime minister and like Atambayev a member of the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK).

Atambayev, who was limited to a single six-year presidential term by the Central Asian country's constitution, initially kept a low profile after leaving office. But since his election in March as head of the SDPK, he has publicly hit out at Jeenbekov on several occasions. Although Atambayev is the party chief of the SDPK, its parliamentary representation, which heads a ruling coalition, appears to be aligned with Jeenbekov.

‘Protecting’ democracy
In describing why he would make efforts to curb Jeenbekov, Atambayev said moves needed to be made to guarantee the survival of a parliamentary democracy in Kyrgyzstan.

Two close allies of Atambayev, Sapar Isakov and Jantoro Satybaldiev, who both served as prime minister while he was president, were arrested in June on corruption charges. Last month, Atambayev's former adviser, Ikramjan Ilmiyanov, was detained in Russia, brought to Kyrgyzstan, and also arrested for alleged corruption.

In April, Jeenbekov, also an ex-PM, fired several other Atambayev allies, including prosecutor-general Indira Joldubaeva and former security chief Abdil Segizbaev, who had been criticised for a crackdown on opposition politicians and independent journalists.

Some politicians and lawmakers, meanwhile, have called in recent months for an investigation of some of Atambayev's decisions while in office.

In early October, the Supreme Court ruled that the immunity enjoyed by the country's former presidents was unconstitutional.

“Just a slogan”
In further remarks during the TV interview, Atambayev dismissed Jeenbekov’s anti-corruption campaign as “just a slogan with no results”. Moreover, he said Jeenbekov would "throw Kyrgyzstan back to the era of [second president of Kyrgyzstan] Kurmanbek Bakiev". Atambayev is regarded as a primary player who was behind the revolutions of 2005 and 2010 in Kyrgyzstan. Bakiev fled the country in 2010 after bloody riots overturned the government.

Jeenbekov’s campaign against Atambayev has also targeted another close ally, former mayor of Bishkek Albek Ibraimov. Authorities pressed corruption charges against against Ibraimov and even made moves to directly target Atambayev himself – on May 17 lawmakers placed him on a list of officials who might be held responsible for events behind a power plant breakdown that left Bishkek residents without heating during wintertime.

Jeenbekov appears intent on completely dismantling any sway his predecessor still holds.