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Kyrgyzstan: ‘Charming’ Prime Minister Falls from High Horse

Kyrgyzstan's political elite is once more facing a momentous shakeup after the country's parliamentary ruling coalition formally collapsed on August 22, 2012. The biggest casualty of the schism is likely to be 42-year-old Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov, who has caught the attention of the global media recently due to his apparent penchant for expensive race horses.

On August 13, one of the coalition's own MPs, Omurbek Tekebayev, alleged that the head of the cabinet had received “Islander One”, a British thoroughbred racehorse, as a bribe from a Turkish company, SERKA, in order to secure a contract at the controversial United States military airbase stationed near the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. Just over a week later, two of the four parties that made up the coalition upped and left, leaving the alliance without a majority in the legislature and Babanov's premiership in limbo. On social networking sites, Kyrgyz netizens have been musing on his fall from grace.

Babanov with a horse. Screenshot taken from Twitter user @Babanochka's public profile.

Babanov with a horse. Screenshot taken from Twitter user @Babanochka's public profile.

“Babanov Bashing”

“Babanov Bashing” has been a favourite passtime of the now “interim” PM's rivals for some time. Accused of everything from importing radioactive coal to not being a full-blooded Kyrgyz (see Global Voices background), the founder of the parliament's “Respublika” faction admitted to being Islander One's owner, but denied he had received the horse as a gift from SERKA, maintaining he had bought it above board and for a price far cheaper than the $500,000-$1,500,000 claimed by Tekebayev.

A statement released by his office on August 13, implied he wasn't prepared to take the accusations very seriously:

 We can offer Omurbek (Tekebayev) a better deal — let him buy the horse from the Prime Minister for US$20,000 and then he can try to sell it at a higher price

Perhaps Tekebayev was expecting a more humble response. At any rate, with the national legislature in turmoil again, politics has re-emerged as the watchword of the Kyrgyzstani Twitterazzi. Perhaps surprisingly, given his unpopularity inside the parliament, a large number of tweets last week conveyed sympathy for Babanov, lamenting the tragic nature of his eight-month tenure as head of government and complimenting him on his good looks.

Blogger Ilya Lukash tweeted [ru]:

Жаль, что уходит адекватный, симпатичный и инициативный премьер #freekg Бабанов. Единственное правительство, которое не вызывало раздражения

Its a shame that the sane, handsome and enterprising premier of #freekg Babanov is on his way out. The only government that didn't cause [me] irritation

While Amadhon Yusupkhanov waxed poetical in less than 140 characters [ru]:

Недолго правил нами полубог: / Очарованью места нет во власти. / Бабанов сделал все, что мог. / Его запомним молодым и страстным.

Not long ruled over us the demigod: / there is no place for charm in power. / Babanov did everything he could. / He will be remembered as young and passionate.

And even Shirin Aitmatova, an MP from the Ata-Meken party that regularly sullied Babanov's name, reflected [ru]:

большая часть электората в КГ – женщины. Грустный, красивый Бабанов наверное в сердцах у многих всхлипывающих кыздарок

A large part of the electorate in Kyrgyzstan are female. Sad, handsome Babanov is probably in the hearts of many sobbing women.

But @Juve_Kg was happy, exclaiming [ru]:

я понял почему с утра я в хорошем настроении – Бабанов же и.о

Now I understand why I have been in a good mood since morning. Babanov is already interim
A cartoon of Kyrgyz MP Omurbek Tekebayev counting horses. By Vecherni Bishkek, used with permission.

A cartoon of Kyrgyz MP Omurbek Tekebayev counting horses. By Vecherni Bishkek, used with permission.

A poll taken [ru] by media outlet K-News on August 24 asked readers who they wanted to be next Prime Minister. The results showed a plurality of respondents in favour of Babanov continuing on as Prime Minister, with messages of support such as this one, from Tologon, flowing in as people voted:

дайте врнемя человеку поработаь, а. Ну что это такое? Мы когда нибуль будем жить в номральном государстве без всех этих интриг? Бабанушка. давай работай. Не сдавайся, с тобой народ

Give a person time to work. What is wrong? Are we ever going to live in a normal country without all these intrigues? [Babanov], work! Don't give in, the people are with you.

But as another reader uu noted [ru], some of the pro-Babanov messages circulating across forums might have originated from Babanov himself:

Читаешь эти комменты и видишь, что пишут несколько человек из команды И.О. премьера. Смешно. Вот как формируется общественное мнение!

Reading these comments you understand, that a few people from interim Prime Minister Babanov's team are doing all the writing. Funny. This is how public opinion is formed!

Despite the implications of the current discord in Kyrgyzstan's ruling class, netizens continue to observe domestic politics with a good sense of humour. Fake News Kyrgyzstan, tweeting [ru] under @fnews_kg had the following things to say about the latest national scandal:

@fnews_kg: ”Коня! Коня! Правительство за коня!” – кричал Омурбек

“Horse, Horse, My government for a horse!” Screamed Omurbek

@fnews_kg: Я парламентская коалиция, я ничего не хочу решать. Я хочу развалиться

I am the parliamentary coalition. I don't want to decide anything. I just want to collapse

@fnews_kg:  Президент Кыгрызстана А.Атамбеав решил не создавать коалицию большинства. Причина – скорый конец света

President A. Atambayev of Kyrgyzstan has decided not to form a ruling coalition. The reason – the impending end of the world

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