December 17, 2010 / 4:41 PM / 8 years ago

Kyrgyzstan lays foundation for parliamentary democracy

BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan’s parliament elected a speaker and approved a new government on Friday, laying the foundation for Central Asia’s first parliamentary democracy after months of upheaval and violence.

Deputies stand around a ballot box during the election of parliamentary speaker in Bishkek, December 17, 2010. REUTERS/Vladinir Pirogov

The country’s Central Asian neighbours, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, have authoritarian presidential systems their leaders say are essential in a region marked by ethnic and clan rivalries as well as Islamist insurgencies.

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

“We now embark on a new track, and whatever difficulties we may face, we should learn lessons of true democracy,” Kyrgyz interim leader Roza Otunbayeva told deputies after voting.

Alluding to the nomadic roots of the ethnic Kyrgyz, she likened the country’s path to that of a “caravan” which becomes more orderly as it travels along.

The new Kyrgyz model of government, backed by the United States 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. Otunbayeva will step down as acting president on December 31, 2011.

Candidates for speaker and prime minister, as well as the structure of the government, were proposed to parliament by Ata Zhurt (Motherland), the Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan and Respublika, which formed a governing coalition this week.

A previous three-party grouping had lasted just two days, failing to elect a speaker.

Ata Zhurt faction leader Akhmatbek Keldibekov was elected speaker by a 101-14 vote in the 120-seat legislature.

Deputies later approved Social Democratic Party leader Almazbek Atambayev as prime minister and Respublika leader Omurbek Babanov as first deputy prime minister.

Three failed attempts to elect a speaker and prime minister would have forced Otunbayeva to hold a new parliamentary election in the impoverished mountainous nation, where tensions still run high after more than 400 people were killed in June in clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the volatile south.

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

ETHNIC TENSION, CLANS AND RADICAL ISLAM

A mainly Muslim nation of 5.4 million, the country 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.

“The new government should now get down to business. We must roll up the sleeves and work. There is no place for personal ambitions,” Otunbayeva told parliament.

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 once Bakiyev’s prime minister, told deputies. “There will now be strict control.”

Keldibekov, 44, ran the state tax committee under Bakiyev. Babanov, a 40-year-old entrepreneur, was first deputy prime minister in Bakiyev’s day.

“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 and Babanov 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. Many party supporters favoured Bakiyev’s leadership.

The Social Democrats are ardent supporters of Otunbayeva’s plan to build the first parliamentary democracy in ex-Soviet Central Asia. Respublika also supports a parliamentary model.

Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; editing by Noah Barkin

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