Power Struggle in Kyrgyzstan

Power Struggle in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan has long been seen as an island of stability in Central Asia. Now, a power struggle between former president Atambayev and current president Sheenbekov has ensued. Both accuse each other's camp of nepotism as well as corruption and the former president accuses Sheenbekov of replacing the democratic system with clan based-structures. Atambayev was arrested on Thursday and is about to stand trial for his charges. Meanwhile, he called upon his supporters to protest his arrest. Dradio interviewed Sebastian Schiek on the matter. Schiek is a political scientist and an expert on Central Asia.

On the question of how serious the situation is, Schiek mentions how the clash between military units and the private security personnel of Atambayev as well as supporters of both camps brings back fears of a broader escalation. The current events remind observers of previous conflicts along ethnic lines in South Kyrgyzstan in 2010 and prior coup attempts. Yet, he says that the situation seems to calm down after a couple of skirmishes between both sides over the last couple days.

Schiek applauds the initial transition of government between Atambayev and his former political heir, which is not all that common in a region known for political instability. Yet, Atambayev later refused to give up all of his power and tried to keep involved through his informal networks and his chairmanship of the governing SDPK, of which both political figures are members of.

This led to Atambayev's attempt to split the party in 2017 as Sheenbekov tried to emancipate himself from his former political patron. In June, the parliament revoked Atambayev's immunity to start the current corruption investigations. This is a common way to deal with political rivals in the post-Sowjet space, according to Schiek.

Schiek sees Atambayev on the losing side of the conflict as he miscalculated his power when he unsuccessfully called for protests. After being detained, he will now face charges for a violent coup attempt in addition to the original corruption charges.

When asked if Atambayev supporters are now suppressed, Schiek explained that Kyrgyzstan is ruled by it's political institutions on the one hand and patronage networks on the other. So even if the former president lost his institutional power, he will keep a significant amount of influence through his informal networks, says Schiek. Nevertheless, he expects Atambayev to be weakened by the recent political struggle.

Schiek believes that Kyrgyzstan will remain a positive example for the region due to its recent democratic transition up to 2017 and it's relatively strong civil rights in a region that is most known for its autocratic leaders. Yet, it is obvious that there are obstacles left on Kyrgyzstan's way towards a functioning democracy. Schiek believes that the weakness of the state, as it was shown in the failures to properly deal with the violence caused by the ex-presidents supporters and his private security, are of particular concern in this regard.

Asked about the role and interests of Russia as the most prevalent external power in the region, Schiek says that Moscow is primarily interested in stability in Central Asia. This is considering the background of ethno-religious conflicts in the region. He confirms that Moscow remains the strongest external influence in the region and especially in Kyrgyzstan, yet he denies that Moscow is in full control of the events in the region, as it is often portrayed.


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