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Astana makes its choice at elections of Kyrgyz president

Photo: akipress.org

As President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev meets with Omurbek Babanov, the former prime minister of Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz foreign ministry files a note of protest against interference into domestic affairs of the country.

The foreign ministry handed over the note to Rymtay Karibjanov, charge d’affairs a.i. of Kazakhstan. Recalling that Omurbek Babanov is a candidate for president representing the Republic Party, Bishkek assessed his invitation to Astana - though not as a presidential candidate, but as the leader of a parliamentary faction - as an attempt to influence the election campaign.

Kazakhstan, in turn, may respond quite sharply. People familiar with the situation recall that the relations of Astana and Bishkek are not good – President of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev has made a series of non-diplomatic statements on Kazakhstan and its elite recently, though Astana donated $100 million to Bishkek for infrastructure development ahead of elections. The statements of the leaving president of Kyrgyzstan could not go unnoticed. Perhaps, inviting Babanov, Nazarbayev tried to get a more restrained and thankful ally in Bishkek. Some sources say the Kazakh president started developing plans with Babanov yet in 2012. The then prime minister Babanov met with his counterpart Karim Masimov and they allegedly agreed that the Kazakh leadership would support Babanov at presidential election. There are no official confirmations of that arrangement, but no one in the two countries calls such scenario unrealistic either.

In an interview with EADaily, member of “Jany Muun” (“New Generation”) Kyrgyz opposition movement Adil Turdukulov speaks about the election campaign in the country and the Astana-Bishkek scandal.

The Kyrgyz foreign ministry responded quite toughly to Nursultan Nazarbayev’s meeting with Omurbek Babayev. A scandal may break out. What was the purpose of that meeting? Will it have any negative consequences for Babanov? May he face disqualification or removal from the presidential campaign?

By no stretch of the imagination could the meeting of Nursultan Nazarbayev and Omurbek Babanov be called unprecedented. Foreign leaders often meet with favorites of presidential campaigns in other countries, and Kyrgyzstan is not an exception. In 2011, for instance, Felix Kulov met with Dmitry Medvedev. During the same election campaign, leaders of “Ata Jurt” party Akhmatbek Keldibekov, Kamchibek Tashiyev, Sadyr Zhaparov met with Nursultan Nazarbayev. Yesterday, Babanov met with Nazarbayev. Unlike the last case, the Foreign Ministry of Kyrgyzstan did not file any notes before. It appears to be a double approach.

Of course, the Nazarbayev-Babanov meeting can be assessed as illegal election propaganda. By officially receiving a candidate for president, Nursultan Nazarbayev demonstrated a kind protest against informal successor of the leaving Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambayev. When a president holds a high-level meeting with potential counterpart, it is a form of support. However, the note of protest by the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry was an element of panic that may reach the camp of the pro-governmental candidate Sooronbay Zheenbekov rather than an effort to protect the national interests. Although, the entire administrative resource works for him, no one makes any forecasts of the election result. Anyway, the government has no reason to remove Omurbak Babanov from the election campaign. He travelled to Astana as a representative of the Kyrgyz parliament. Besides, it is senseless now. Babanov crossed the “red line” yet long ago and his removal from the election campaign may spark public protests.

What “red line” are you speaking about?

Babanov avoided any criticism against the president and his team before the end of the registration process at the Central Election commission. As soon as he was allowed to be registered as a candidate for president, Babanov started lambasting the country’s leadership. In particular, he harshly criticized Rayimbek Matraimov, deputy head of the Customs Service, who is called “the president’s purse” behind his back. However, it became clear that the government’s Plan B – either Sooronbay Zheenbekov or Omurbek Babanov - was just rumors and gossip. The authorities do not see Babanov as Atambayev’s successor in any case. They have consolidated all their resources to support Zheenbekov.

Is Nazarbayev’s meeting with Babanov a violation formally?

This is a form of support to a candidate. It is not permissible. However, the press release does not say that Nursultan Nazarbayev met with a candidate for president of Kyrgyzstan. It says that the Kazakh president met with the leader of a parliamentary faction of Kyrgyzstan. No formal support to Babanov by Astana. At the same time, it is clear to everyone that Nazarbayev will support Babanov.

How did the people of Kyrgyzstan respond to the incident?

Many in Kyrgyzstan were surprised at that meeting, the more so as Russia has changed its approach to the presidential campaign in Kyrgyzstan. Formally, Moscow has distanced itself from the process. Here is the reason. Firstly, whoever comes to power, he will take his lead from Moscow. Secondly, Moscow tries to avoid from direct interference, not to be considered as the “manager” of the election campaign in Kyrgyzstan. In such situation, no one expected Astana to start acting independently from Moscow. Maybe, Astana had coordinated its actions, but no one can state that for sure. The response to Babanov’s meeting with Nazarbayev was stormy. The meeting showed that Astana does not want to stay aside of the processes in Kyrgyzstan. For us Kazakhstan is as equal a partner as Russia. Bishkek cares for its relations with Astana.

Under Almazbek Atambayev these relations have deteriorated. Actually, Nazarbayev’s relations with Atmabayev were the worst, even worse than with Akayev and Bakyev. This could be the incentive of his meeting with Babanov.

EADaily’s Central Asian Bureau

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