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Kyrgyzstan: Coalition building, Machiavelli style

Niccolo Machiavelli, the Florentine renaissance era political philosopher, had an especially bleak view of human nature. Exiled in his native Italy and publically denounced by popes and politicians in the centuries since his death, his eminent treatise ‘The Prince’ is nevertheless still devoured secretly – and compulsively – by diplomats, mob bosses and MBA candidates all over the world. Far from being a dour analysis of the art of statesmanship, ‘The Prince’ reads more like a juicy thriller; a punchy novella-sized text which glorifies political cunning and excuses any number of means in pursuit of the ultimate end – raw, unbridled power.

A prince,” Machiavelli writes, “must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps and a lion to frighten the wolves.”

Kyrgyzstan’s Jogorku Kenesh parliament is thick with wolves. One such lupine character might be seen in the form of Felix Kulov, a former prime minister of the country and the leader of the faction Ar-Namys, or “Dignity”. Having gallantly given his blessing to the parliamentary coalition formed by Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SPDK) head Almazbek Atambayev, Kulov’s party, left in a minority by the arrangement, proceeded to vote solidly against the proposed speakership of Ata Meken leader Omurbek Tekebayev, thus helping to derail the coalition on its inception; all in the interests of national unity, of course.

In Machiavell's world of animal metaphors, Tekebayev, the author of Kyrgyzstan’s new parliamentary constitution, increasingly resembles a sacrificial lamb. Described by one media outlet as a “tragic political character”, Tekebayev now finds himself well and truly in the wars.

An entertaining piece entitled ‘The Kyrgyz Parliament in Figures’, by Kyrgyzstani blogger Marat Sartpaev [eng] considers the mathematical conundrum offered by Tekebayev’s non-election to the speakership:

“I was both confused and entertained when I heard the first coalition did have the majority of votes (67 MPs out of 120), yet failed to appoint its own candidate Omurbek Tekebayev [as] the speaker of parliament. This (planned?) failure reveals many factors including, but not limited to, certain discontentedness with the very candidacy of Tekebayev, internal divisions and lack of integrity inside the parties and the “opposition” parties’ potential role in disintegrating the coalition.”

While Sartpaev’s analysis of the voting arithmetic makes interesting reading in itself, it is sufficient to say that in addition to a bloc vote by the two parties in “opposition”, a certain element in the coalition must have voted against their own nominee. Sartpaev quotes two “anonymous Respublika MPs” as admitting to having done precisely that, an assumption shared by political analyst Marat Kazakpaev.

So what is the next stage in the process? The mandate to build a coalition has now been transferred by President Rosa Otunbayeva to Omurbek Babanov, leader of Respublika, the assumed ‘rebel’ faction in the last coalition. He will thus enjoy the final chance to fashion a government on his own terms before “snap” parliamentary elections are held; a costly and undesirable alternative for each of the five parties, not least because a sixth party may creep into the mix, thereby reducing everybody’s share of the spoils.

Naturally, it wouldn’t be a proper Central Asian conspiracy if Russia wasn’t involved somewhere in the plot. In what may turn out to be a prescient analysis, RFE/RL columnist Daisy Sindelar [eng] wrote back in November: “To be certain, Russia has invested considerable energy in ensuring its presence is felt in the new parliamentary arena. All but one of the parliamentary party heads has spent time in Moscow since the elections – [the “Pro-Western”] Tekebayev being the exception… With this in mind, pragmatists have suggested that Respublika (whose leader, Omurbek Babanov, has strong business ties with Russia) and the Social Democrats (whose head, Almazbek Atambaev, secured $50 million in Russian loans following the April revolution) may ultimately find a partnership with Ata-Jurt and Ar-Namys (both openly pro-Russian) a more suitable political strategy.”

Yet even this version of events is complicated by the fact that the latter two parties are both openly against the new parliamentary system per se, and consequently have an inherent interest in watching it collapse. For impartial onlookers meanwhile, the machinations taking place in and around Kyrgyzstan’s main representative body are taking on an increasingly exhausting quality. EurasiaNet’s Central Asia Editor David Trilling neatly sums up the general mood : “Inhale deeply, again.”

Addendum: For those sick of reading about the trials and tribulations of the country’s would-be- rulers, it may be a relief to know that non-political adventures can also be had in Kyrgyzstan. Armed with two Kyrgyz language translators and a Fulbright grant, Dennis Keen’s blog keenonkyrgyzstan is an eloquent and entertaining insight into some of the more appealing aspects of the national heritage: Falconry, Komuz playing and literary hero Chingiz Aitmatov.

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