Kyrgyz politicians strike deal that could undo 'tulip' revolt

Postrevolutionary leaders agreed Monday to recognize the parliament that protesters say was fraudulently elected.

The fractious political forces here patched together a compromise Monday ending - at least for now - the uncertainty and legal limbo following the overthrow of President Askar Akayev last Thursday.

But the deal, which will legitimize a new parliament allegedly elected by fraudulent means, appears to undo the main achievement of the "tulip revolution" - infuriating many of the same protesters who helped topple the government - and could even create a fresh role for the deposed and self-exiled Mr. Akayev.

"It is clear that Kyrgyzstan has stepped out of the framework of law, and the most crucial task is to get constitutionality back on track," says Muratbek Imanaliyev, a former foreign minister and professor of international law at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek. "We may have to pay a price for that, but in order to move forward we must have legitimate authorities."

Monday Kyrgyzstan's former parliament decided to suspend its sessions in favor of the new legislature, elected in February and March. This concludes several days of standoffs during which both parliaments claimed legitimacy and each were backed by different leaders of the country's fragmented opposition.

The speaker of the old parliament, Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, told journalists the decision to suspend its sessions was "a political, not a legislative decision, made for the sake of stabilizing the situation."

The new legislature quickly confirmed Kurmanbek Bakiyev as prime minister, but not as acting president. He had been acting president and prime minister of the postrevolutionary government.

Just a day earlier, another rapidly rising leader, Felix Kulov, had complained that it was "unconstitutional" for Mr. Bakiyev to hold both posts. Mr. Kulov, former vice president and police chief, now controls all of Kyrgyzstan's security forces and was sprung from jail only last week.

Although it appears that the political tension is easing, a raw power struggle may be shaping up between Kulov and Bakiyev, who are separated more by personality than ideology.

"The main danger now is that extremely ambitious politicians with a low level of political literacy are fighting for power," says Mr. Imanaliyev.

Kulov's strength lies in his native north Kyrgyzstan while Bakiyev hails from the south, and a battle between the two threatens to widen that fragile faultline.

It was allegations of vote-rigging and coercion in elections for the new parliament that triggered the revolt that culminated in the seizure of the Akayev's presidential palace and his departure.

Omurbek Tekebayev, speaker of the new parliament, told Kyrgyz television that Akayev is still the legal president of Kyrgyzstan, and should return to the country if only to complete the paperwork of a formal resignation. "New presidential elections can only be called after talks with Akayev, otherwise it will be another anticonstitutional move," he said.

Mr. Tekebayev warned that Kyrgyzstan, which is deeply divided between its more developed, Kyrgyz-populated, north and the impoverished and ethnically diverse south, could split up if the political crisis is not resolved. "We need to halt the disintegration of authority which is threatening the integrity of the state," he said.

The new legislature, heavily stacked with Akayev supporters - including the president's son and daughter - is widely despised by opposition activists, several hundred of whom gathered outside the parliament Monday to protest.

"They have stolen the peoples' victory," says Alla Shabayeva, a protest organizer. "This new government is turning out just like the old one. If they don't do what the people want, we will stage a second revolution."

The protesters were demanding a rerun of the elections - the same solution that ended Ukraine's similar crisis last December - as well as tough measures to take back the "peoples' wealth" allegedly stolen by the Akayev family during its kleptocratic 15-year rule. "We want a parliament chosen honestly, without bribes and manipulation, to represent the peoples' will. Isn't that what we fought for?," said Saginbek Mambekov, a musician who says he was in the thick of the revolution.

Mr. Kulov was jailed five years ago on fraud charges that his supporters claim were trumped-up to remove him as a potential rival to the president. He was sprung from prison in last week's uprising, given temporary charge of law enforcement, and moved quickly to quell rioting and looting in the capital. "Kulov has done a brilliant job for himself," says Stuart Kahn, Kyrgyzstan program director for Freedom House, a nonpartisan group partly funded by the US.

"He looks like the hero, he saved Bishkek from the looters," says Mr. Kahn.

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