Kazakh investors need a predictable elite in Kyrgyzstan
The Bishkek Press Club approached Kazakh political scientist Eduard Poletayev for comments. Here is an interview with Poletayev on how the developments in Kyrgyzstan are viewed in Kazakhstan and on what is expected by way of the outcome of the referendum and parliamentary election in Kyrgyzstan.
Question: What does the Kazakh expert community think of the latest developments in Kyrgyzstan?
Eduard Poletayev: The way I see it, the latest developments around the Kyrgyz Constitution failed to attract the attention of the Kazakh expert community (much less that of ordinary Kazakhs) to the extent many other events did. As a matter of fact, lots of Kazakh media outlets never even reported these developments or reported them but in passing. Why is that? If you ask me, the Kazakhs are fed up with all these games over the Constitution under way in Kyrgyzstan these last several years. (If I'm not mistaken, they are contemplating the seventh draft at this point, aren't they?) In other words, the people here view all that is happening as an attempt on President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's part to solidify his positions. The population of Kyrgyzstan is expected to answer two questions at the forthcoming referendum, and the outcome of the nationwide ballot may give Bakiyev a carte-blanche for at least until 2010.
Another cause of this indifference comes down to the simple fact that Kazakhstan has its own problems to worry about. Economic and political successes of Kazakhstan gave way to a crisis in the construction market that followed election of the Milli Majlis. Crisis in the United States had its effect on the banks here, food prices and electric power tariffs went up. As a matter of fact, Kazakhstan has not yet recovered from the August 10 parliamentary election. It is only logical therefore that Kazakh experts have been more concerned with the domestic developments in their own country rather than distracted with whatever might be happening in Kyrgyzstan. Particularly since the Kazakhs know that the policy of Kyrgyzstan is more efficient from the PR standpoint. What I'm saying is that public democracy over there is better advanced than in Kazakhstan. We haven't seen any major protest actions in Kyrgyzstan for months now. It means that Bakiyev's is solidifying his positions quietly, at the bureaucratic level.
In short (and please believe me when I'm saying I'm aware of how cynical it sounds), since nobody is torching stores or beating demonstrators in Kyrgyzstan, the Kazakhs are convinced that everything is more or less fine and dandy there. In the meantime, a more attentive look reveals that the undercurrents over there in Kyrgyzstan are fairly strong. As I see it, Bakiyev is trying to fix the status quo in the confrontation with the opposition. As things stand, he does not need any active and public methods of struggle. (Forecasts that the political situation in Kyrgyzstan would deteriorate this autumn failed to come to pass, as we see.) I do not expect that any political force will manifest itself at this point to prevent Bakiyev from organizing this referendum.
Question: What do you expect by way of the outcome of the referendum and parliamentary election in Kyrgyzstan?
Eduard Poletayev: I'd say the election will take place in early 2008. Things like that take time to arrange, you know. Bakiyev will get what he wants. The referendum will take place. Its boycott, hypothetical as it is, will only play into Bakiyev's hands because the people who disagree with this or that initiative usually constitute the opposition to the powers-that-be (Kazakhstan is a vivid example, you know). Every boycott plays into the hands of the regime because the voters like budget sphere employees, pensioners, and the socially active always vote and they vote the existing regime without giving a thought to the goals and consequences of the given function.
It poses another problem, you know, that of how the population votes. Unfortunately, people tend to succumb to emotions, and winning them over with populist slogans and wild promises remains easy even now. As for the politicians who think strategically who and earnestly want to help their country advance to a new level, they are unfortunately few in Kyrgyzstan, as few as they are in Kazakhstan for that matter.
In fact, a great deal of observers abroad hope that even should Bakiyev fail to make Kyrgyzstan a prosperous country, he will at least abstain from generating worries anywhere abroad about the domestic sociopolitical situation. Stability is needed from the standpoint of the heads of states and even ordinary Kazakhs who like to take their annual vacation on the Issyk-Kul shores in summer.
We were stunned by all these reports in the media on preparations for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek. I'd say it was somewhat surprising both for Kazakhstan and Russia - I mean all these reports. Functions of this magnitude usually take place without pomp or that much attention focused on security. At least in public. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit is proof therefore that the situation in Kyrgyzstan is not stable yet. At least, that's how we in Kazakhstan perceive it. The more Bakiyev solidified his positions and those of his power vertical, the stiffer his control over the regional elites and akims. Shortly speaking, the outcome of the parliamentary election will be more or less what Bakiyev wants it to be.
If you ask me, fortification of the power vertical will benefit all of society. Bakiyev is unlikely to encounter any particular difficulties because Kyrgyzstan is still viewed as the foremost democracy in Central Asia. Bakiyev is still weak. He is still bound by the promises he gave when he climbed the pinnacle of political power in the country in 2005. In the meantime, the opportunities for him to solidify his stand are still numerous.
Take a look at Mikhail Saakashvili in Georgia for example. Whatever he does to strengthen his own positions is anything but democratic, but it is mostly Russia that comments on it and Russia itself is not exactly an example of democracy. Bakiyev in Kyrgyzstan may go far from this standpoint and elites in the nearby countries will support him.
Question: Do you think it may have any effect on the bilateral relations?
Eduard Poletayev: No, I don't think that it will. Kazakh investors need a predictable elite in Kyrgyzstan, an elite they will be able to deal with. They need guarantees that no replacement of the regime will take place in Kyrgyzstan in the near future. It is common knowledge that the Kazakh businessmen who had had certain agreements with Askar Akayev lost it all when Akayev's regime was toppled and new rules of the game were introduced. By the way, it is one of the hurdles that keep Kazakh investments away from Kyrgyzstan. As a matter of fact, businesses do not really care whether Kyrgyzstan promotes democratic principles or strives to slide into authoritarianism. What businesses need are clear and predictable rules. Unfortunately, post-Soviet states (with the exception of Ukraine probably) rarely give any such guarantees whenever the state in question lacks an authoritarian regime. Businesses are accustomed to coming to an agreement with politicians rather than to abiding by the law that, we all know, is amended all too frequently. Consider the situation with the Kyrgyz Constitution, and you'll get my meaning.
Shortly speaking, the Constitution of Kyrgyzstan has been greatly discredited and that I believe is the worst problem. When people see that the Constitution is amenable to the political conjuncture and politicians' ambitions, developing a state with the law-abiding population is a chore because people see that the powers-that-be would rather amend the law to suit their interests than abide by it.
Dina Tokbayeva (BPC), Bishkek Press Club, October 15, 2007. © Translated by Ferghana.Ru