Kyrgyz pick PM, parliament speaker

The Central Asian nation approves new government, solidifying unprecedented moves toward parliamentary democracy.

Kyrgyz president Roza Otunbayeva, right, has US support in fomenting parliamentary democracy [Reuters]

Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has elected a speaker and approved a new government, laying the foundation for Central Asia’s first parliamentary democracy after months of upheaval and violence.

The parliament on Friday elected Almazbek Atambayev, the Social Democratic Party leader, as a prime minister, and approved the make-up of a new cabinet.

Atambayev’s candidacy received 92 votes in the 120-seat chamber, with the same number of votes confirming his new cabinet.

Earlier in the day, deputies also voted to elect the head of the Ata-Zhurt faction in parliament, Akhmatbek Keldibekov, as speaker of the first parliament with real power in ex-Soviet Central Asia.

The virulently nationalist Ata-Zhurt (Fatherland) is the largest party after October elections which created the first parliamentary democracy in Central Asia but stoked fears over a resurgence of ethnic tensions.

Kyrgyzstan is still recovering after clashes in June between the ethnic Kyrgyz majority and the Uzbek minority in the south of the country left hundreds dead and thousands homeless.

The government was formed after Ata-Zhurt formed a coalition with the Respublika Party and the Social Democrats.

Democracy is born

The country’s Central Asian neighbours, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, have authoritarian presidential systems they deem essential in an area marked by ethnic and clan rivalries as well as a fundamentalist insurgency.

The West, Russia and China all want access to the region’s huge natural resources but are wary of any involvement that might worsen its ethnic and religious divisions.

The new Kyrgyz model of government, backed by the US but previously criticised by former imperial master Russia, makes parliament the main decision-making body and gives the prime minister more power than the president.

Future presidents will be limited to a single six-year term but will have the right to appoint the defence minister and national security service head. Interim leader Roza Otunbayeva will step down on December 31, 2011.

Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic that hosts Russian and US military air bases, held elections on October 10 that resulted in five parties winning seats in the new legislature.

Ethnic tensions

Kyrgyzstan, a mainly Muslim nation of 5.4 million, lies on a drug trafficking route out of Afghanistan and is regionally and culturally divided into north and south.

Clan rivalries and widespread cronyism are additional threats to the fragile peace.

“Now you will no longer be divided into reds and whites, or into regions,” Atambayev told deputies.

Adding to general instability is the government’s tenuous control of the south, which shares the Ferghana valley with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan where radical Islam is rising.

Longtime president Askar Akayev was forced to flee in 2005 after mass protests. Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who deposed him and took over, suffered a similar fate in April this year and fled to Belarus following violence in which at least 85 were killed.

Proponents of parliamentary democracy say Kyrgyzstan’s experience has shown the inefficiency of authoritarian rule and a lack of public control that allowed the plundering of state coffers by family clans.

“The nation must not be run by one family,” Atambayev, 54, who was Bakiyev’s prime minister before joining the opposition, told parliament. “There will now be strict control.”

“We must regain investor confidence,” said Atambayev. He said gold deposits, ample hydro power resources and agriculture could be drivers of the country’s future economic growth.

Keldibekov’s swift election and the approval of Atambayev could not hide sharply contrasting views within the coalition on Kyrgyzstan’s future.

Ata-Zhurt is strongly opposed to parliamentary rule and was fiercely critical of the interim government during the election campaign.

Source: News Agencies

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