This summer Kyrgyzstan set a precedent in Central Asia – it has revoked its ex-president Almazbek Atambaev’s immunity and accused him of corruption.
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Is revoking Almazbek Atambaev’s immunity an attempted removal of a political opponent or just a desire to investigate suspicious cases? Political analysts concur that this is, first of all, a manifestation of legal precedence.
“The authorities let us know there are no untouchables. And high office prompts double responsibility – legal and moral. Even if you are a president, your actions may be revised,” said political analyst Edil Osmonbetov.
This situation, according to him, is a new level of political thinking and a good precedent for other countries, which look to the experience of Kyrgyzstan. Especially, for Central Asian region.
“We are a pioneer country in terms of politics. Our active stand is not an excuse. We don’t imitate political life. Other countries learn from our experience, too,” Osmonbetov said.
Now, he added, the parliament has made a political decision. Now it all depends on the prosecution office. The expert doesn’t leave out that there would be other criminal cases against high-ranking officials.
Conflict with “greenhorns”
The point of no return was this June 8. Almazbek Atambaev had made unflattering remarks about the current power before, but this time he called the parliament “greenhorns” when he spoke at the party meeting. In response, deputies formed a commission (12 deputies from six factions) to revoke the former president’s special status.
Three weeks later, the confrontation reached its heights: 103 parliamentarians voted for revocation of Atambaev’s immunity and the document was passed to the general prosecutor’s office.
The deputy commission presented six charges regarding the corruption of the ex-president during the renovation of the history museum and modernisation of the Bishkek thermal power station, his relation to a weird release of the thief in law, Aziz Batukaev, illegal supplies of coal to the thermal power station, and also illegal acquisition of a land plot in the village of Koi Tash.
Back to the opposition
Almazbek Atambaev has responded immediately to the political novelties – his house in Koi Tash has become the headquarters with dozens of people coming in. The politician called them his supporters and voluntary defenders.
As to the charges, Atambaev played them down as being absurd.
“Sooronbai Jeenbekov has not found any other way to make me keep silence but with illegal and made-up charges. Unfortunately, I had thought better of some people. The bootlickers led by the Jeenbekov brothers have become the most furious enemies and critics,” the ex-head of the state complained about the incumbent president and ex-friend.
Prosecutor-General clarified the question to the parliament. Otkurbek Dzhamshitov reported that once Almazbek Atambaev’s immunity was revoked, the investigative authorities were going to work in a lawful manner.
“He will be called to the investigative authority and may either give or refuse to give testimony. However, the case has direct testimony against Atambaev and he must explain everything. He has the right to an attorney and other things,” the head of the supervisory agency said, noting that the criminal case was not opened yet.
Atambaev said to the press that he was not going to appear for interrogation, and was going to shoot back just to be safe.
The law of the boomerang
Many experts and politicians speaking to the press saw the boomerang effect in this situation. The same opinion shares Nariman Tyuleev, ex-mayor of Bishkek and ex-parliamentarian, who became an uncompromising opponent to the president during the presidency of Almazbek Atambaev, was convicted and imprisoned.
“Almaz could leave with dignity, but the lack of power brought him down so badly that he decided to become lawless. He called prime minister, president and deputies names! Moreover, he was insisting on the rule of law for six years. However, when Atambaev was president, people were imprisoned without any evidences. Finally, the system he had built himself has trapped him. The circle has been closed. Now he has to go through the system himself,” Tyuleev said.
Political analyst Orozbek Moldaliev emphasised that two years passed after Atambaev left the Number One post. Now, the new president instructed to review criminal cases that were suspended earlier. Former officials testified and pointed at Atambaev in some or other way.
“There is a concept of “betrayal”, and another one of “concealment”. Should the new president cover someone up if it’s a matter of exposure of crimes? If Atambaev is not guilty, he should point at someone who instructed to release Batukaev,” Moldaliev said.
In his opinion, in 2016 Atambaev strengthened the position of prime minister intentionally for Sapar Isakov (now arrested – editor’s note), changed the Constitution, brought his friend to the presidency, and was sure he would be ruling the country behind the scene.
“He didn’t have a chance to orchestrate because he thought it out poorly. Now Atambaev is looking for the guilty ones. However, he should be blaming himself only – everything he has done he has destroyed himself, including his own once powerful party,” the expert said.
However, political analysts think this situation does not threaten the image of the country. Vice versa, the precedent is very positive because it sets up significant legal traditions.
“We are one step ahead of Central Asia in terms of politics. What’s important is to have everything solved in a lawful manner without any thrusts or hurry. Both parties have their own supporters, opponents, and they are strong,” political analyst Tamerlan Ibraimov reminded.
However, he is not waiting for radical changes.
“I don’t see strong discontent with the incumbent authorities. They have a solid stock of strength. Moreover, the sitting president has remained silent although he was offended. Not everybody would tolerate this. This is clearly a political struggle. We should keep in mind the parliamentary election of 2020, SDPK is a strong party. It was, actually…”, Ibraimov said.
However, political analyst Mars Sariev sees different risks. According to him, it’s highly unlikely that Atambaev would be given a prison term because he is a significant link of the political establishment.
“If you remove Atambaev, the authorities would immediately switch to the Bakiev regime – the clans would occupy everything. At least, he is now acting as the opposition. During this time Jeenbekov will need to renew the political establishment because the current one has failed – it has gone all to pieces,” he said.
And he emphasised the main risk – regional one. According to Sariev, if Atambaev gets imprisoned, Jeenbekov would become a sort of a southern field commander, which could cause serious destabilisation.
“Atambaev remains a rival at large only because Moscow doesn’t let others to get rid of him. He has executed many sensitive orders. Just think of the airbase. Jeenbekov is not so bound to Moscow. But Moscow, Tashkent and Nur-Sultan are interested in Atambaev. They don’t want him to be imprisoned – no one wants field commanders,” Sariev shared his opinion.
No reaction is a reaction
However, the governments and politicians of other states try not to intervene in the situation. The only comment of Moscow was published by RIA Novosti news agency.
“The Kremlin thinks revoking the ex-president of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambaev, immunity is the domestic affair of the country. We cannot and have not the slightest intention of intervening,” Russian president’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
And the US Department of State distributed an electronic security alert among its citizens strongly advising them not to travel to the village of Koi Tash.
There are no other reactions available.
Who’s to benefit?
The analyst of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies in the Kyrgyz Republic, Sergei Masaulov, is not sharing the optimism regarding the democratic and legal step forward of the country.
In the interview to CABAR.asia, he emphasised that the transfer of power and strengthening of positions occur in the same way, while the society is still waiting for a strong man to come to power, who would distribute the resources between everybody equally.
“In our case, what is the conflict about? What’s the benefit of the society? Have the principles of power implementation changed? Has the society changed its assessment of the behaviour of leaders? No. The society has not made a step forward and gained nothing. The country is still where it is and is sleeping with its eyes open,” the expert summarised.
On the eight of July, a representative of SDPK was served a subpoena issued to Atambaev, who was ordered to come to the Investigation Department of the interior ministry of the Kyrgyz Republic for interrogation. His lawyer Sergei Slesarev said Atambaev won’t go for the interrogation as he doesn’t recognise the resolution made by the Zhogorku Kenesh of his revoked immunity.
Atambaev responding to journalists in the evening of July 8 in his headquarters in the village of Koi Tash said the authorities should return to legal framework.
“When the authorities organised this show with charging me, they violated all the laws, the Constitution, they went beyond the legal framework. They want to play according to the rules made up possibly by Sooronbai and the Matraimovs. But I think the authorities should return to legal framework, first of all. No one can violate the Constitution and the laws so rudely,” Atambaev said.
Currently, the only ex-president of Kyrgyzstan who has the immunity is Roza Otunbaeva.
Main photo: Press service of the president
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.