September 26-30: elections, gas, int’l ties
This week started with the single most important political event of the year – the launching of the presidential election campaigns. These elections will most probably be the top-rated event not only in Kyrgyzstan, but also in the whole Central Asian region, since it is going to be the very first time that a head of state voluntarily and conscientiously leaves post.It seems like Ankara is trying to be named the leader of whatever is eastwards from the Mediterranean Sea. The recent tour around the North African countries suggests PM Recep Erdogan is quite popular there. “Moving” further east, on Monday, 26 September 2011, the Erdogan government announced Turkey is writing off the Kyrgyz debt of $51m. While the amount is not significant in state relations, the move suggests (although does not mean) that Ankara is a generous donor, while the Kyrgyz side is persuasive indebted lender.
Although convenient times – late summer and early fall – for a possible “terrorist intrusion” are almost over, the armed forces of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan decided they still wanted to practice such a scenario during joint military exercises. The Kyrgyz-Tajik joint exercises are taking place on 25-27 September 2011, which involves over 600 Tajik and 30 (yes, thirty, no zeros omitted) Kyrgyz servicemen. It is noteworthy that the Collective Security Treaty Organization has also held large-scale exercises in Centlra Asia this week.
The pre-election frenzy officially started with an announcement by the Ak-Shumkar party leader to support the presidential hopeful Almazbek Atambayev on Wednesday, 28 September 2011. The party did not nominate a candidate apparently realizing Atambayev’s grab on administrative resources at all levels. Ideally, other numerous candidates should have taken the same step – not challenge Atambayev, that is (not necessarily to pledge to support him). However, the difference between Temir Sariyev’s support and other candidates’ challenge rests on their places of origin. Although there have been plethora of nice talks about unity and dangers of breaking along regionalism lines, the North vs. South standoff seems to be getting even stronger as 30 October draws near.
For the first time in modern history of Kyrgyzstan, the government is decreasing a utility fee. Acting PM Omurbek Babanov told a meeting on Thursday, 29 September 2011, that natural gas fees would be decreased by some 40 dollars per cu.m. This is possible thanks to a new contract with Kazakhstan on gas supply. There are speculations whether Kazakhstan is actually going to be using the transited Uzbek gas (hitherto a monopolist supplying gas to Kyrgyzstan) to Northern Kyrgyzstan, while Southern Kyrgyzstan is still dependent on the Uzbek gas. Whatever the case is, the acting PM has made a very strong statement as to his potential as a prime minister, should Almazbek Atambayev become president.
The controversial mayor of Osh told a solemn ceremony of teachers on Friday, 30 September 2011, that the language of instruction in Uzbek-language schools “must be in Kyrgyz.” According to the official, the Uzbek youth face “some problems” in acquiring knowledge in schools and while searching for jobs. He failed to mention that it was not only the Uzbek-speaking population who face such problems. He also chose to ignore the fact that the already existing Kyrgyz-language schools have problems with textbooks, teachers. For some reason he decided to suggest by this statement that Russian-language school graduates do not face those “some problems.” Why not then recommend choosing between the Russian and Kyrgyz languages?