Kyrgyzstan’s two strongest nationalist parties – Ata-Jurt and Butun Kyrgyzstan – have announced a new political alliance (www.akipress.kg, February 2). The new bloc, uniting the parties mostly popular in southern Kyrgyzstan, may potentially change the dynamics of political competition in the country. In effect, they are the only two forces that appeal to ethnic Kyrgyz in the south, while all the other large parties – Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), Respublika, Ata-Meken and Ar-Namys – rely on voters in the north.
Ata-Jurt is the parliament’s only opposition faction, while its new ally lacked just a few votes to win the 2010 parliamentary election. The leaders of both parties, Ata-Jurt’s Kamchybek Tashiyev and Butun’s Adakhan Madumarov, also competed in the presidential elections last year, each earning approximately 14 percent of the vote. Tashiyev spoke carefully about how Butun might be integrated into the parliament. His careful approach indicates that not everybody in his party agrees with the decision. The exact details of the merger are still unavailable, but it was most likely brokered between the two politicians.
Ata-Jurt decided to join forces with Butun, while one of its key leaders and former parliamentary speaker, Ahmatbek Keldibekov, was visiting the United States. In their statement, Tashiyev and Madumarov announced a joint vision for the country’s development and their readiness to tighten control over the government’s economic policy (www.24.kg, February 2). Both also tried to appeal to the populist idea of addressing issues in the energy sector in order to avoid shutdowns during the cold winter months.
Yet, the main intrigue behind the two parties’ new alliance is not that they are big and in opposition, but that they are considered “southern” parties. Both share an almost identical electorate in Osh, Jalal-Abad and Batken – major cities in southern Kyrgyzstan. Tashiyev is mostly popular in Jalalabad, while Madumarov’s stronghold is in Osh and Batken oblasts.
The union of the two “southern” parties has once again triggered speculation about resurgence of clanship and regionalism in Kyrgyz politics that could increase the gulf between the north and south of the country. In reality, however, the union of two “southern” parties merely formalized an already existing informal division inside the parliament. In all elections since 1991, Kyrgyzstan’s electorate voted according to the regional identity of competing candidates, rather than their political programs. To make the political north-south divide less obvious, the leaders of all parties argue that they welcome any strong politicians, regardless of their place of birth or ethnicity.
The Tashiyev-Madumarov alliance, however, comes four months too late. If they had joined forces before the October 2011 presidential election, they would have considerably increased their chances of forming a formidable competition to the eventual winner and SDPK leader Alamazbek Atambayev. Overall, during last year’s election the strongest “northern” candidates demonstrated greater ability to work together compared with their “southern” competitors.
Ata-Jurt earned the largest share of the vote in the 2010 parliamentary election, yet lost its leverage in parliament after the SDPK tried to marginalize it and include four out of five parties in the ruling coalition. Seeing its standing diminishing, Tashiyev, along with his other fellow party members, has been calling for dissolving the current parliament and holding new elections. According to Ata-Jurt’s Members of Parliament MPs), over 70 percent of the population in Kyrgyzstan do not support the parliament (Jamestown interview, February 6).
Although the current parliament was elected in largely free and fair elections, MPs always fear the “street power” that proponents of new elections might deploy to oust the parliament. “Forty thousand people in central Bishkek, and the parliament will be overthrown,” Joomart Saparbayev, an MP from the Ata-Meken party told Jamestown (February 6). According to the new constitution, however, the parliament can only be dissolved if at least 80 MPs favor doing so. At this point Ata-Jurt does not have enough MPs to support initiating a new parliamentary election.
In Butun’s case, the merger with Ata-Jurt is the only way, to boost its own influence in politics. Madumarov has shown skill in mustering thousands of people to support his candidacy and stage protests against the government’s decisions. Like Ata-Jurt, Butun is thinking one electoral cycle ahead, hoping that it will come sooner than constitutionally defined as 2014.