On 1 December 2017, the six-year term of President Almazbek Atambaev will come to an end and Sooronbai Jeenbekov will take oath as the next president of Kyrgyzstan.
The focus of this article is the dubious legacy President Almazbek Atambaev is leaving behind.
The purpose is solely to point out some of the predicaments that are the outcome of the particular style of governance of Atambaev.
Central Asia is a closely knit region — what happens in one country, can have different kinds of effects in the neighbourhood.
Sometimes, the flaws of a leader are forgotten or overlooked if the economy was doing exceptionally well during his or her watch. Sadly, this is not the case with Kyrgyzstan. The economy has remained stagnant, and that brings even sharper focus on political positioning and style of governance of the outgoing president of Kyrgyzstan. —– The total value of GDP of Kyrgyzstan was USD 6.6 billion in 2012, the first year of assessment after assumption of power by Atambaev. It is about USD 7 billion as he leaves the office. As a matter fact, there was negative growth in GDP in 2015 and 2016.
The inclination of Atambaev to use harsh language, even profanity, in any given situation or against any person is one of the things that will remain in memory for quite some time. At times he seemed to forget that he was speaking from the highest rostrum of the country, occupying the highest office in the system. On several occasions, he used what is colloquially called ‘street language.’
Internally, it caused embarrassment and concern in the political circles of Kyrgyzstan. For instance, some members of the Ata-Mekan Social-Democratic Party once appealed to the office of the Prosecutor General of Kyrgyzstan to conduct a psychiatric examination of the actions and statements of the president.
His choice of words and phrases in certain situations was quite seriously questionable. On several occasions he called his opponents ‘smelly,’ ‘moral monsters,’ ‘slanderers,’ and ‘cannibals who eat corpses of relatives.’
These are milder examples of his verbal barrage. Some of his more colourful phrases are not printable.
The use of derogatory language by Atambaev was so widespread that an official enquiry was actually carried out. However, since it was an official enquiry, the outcome was predictable.
A quick look at the demographic map of Kyrgyzstan shows that the north and the south of the country are quite different from each other in ethnic composition, outlook toward life, and hopes and aspiration. The lifestyle between the north and the south is also gives a contrasting picture.
For eleven years, from October 2000 to October 2011, Atambaev made several runs for the office of the president. He succeeded in becoming prime minister twice but that was not his end destination. In his relentless quest for the topmost office, his policies divided the north and the south, and sowed seed of deep distrust among various segments of the society.
It is a painful part of his legacy and it will take exceptionally compassionate approach from his successor to heal the rift.
In international relations, Atambaev seemed to be driven by the sentiment of the moment, without any consideration for the long-term effects of his words, forgetting the fact that government come and go, but countries remain in their own geographical location, no matter what.
Instead of highlighting any particular incidents – though there are many – it must suffice to underline that Russia and Kazakhstan are important neighbours of Kyrgyzstan and significant powers in the region. Any bad words about the leadership of these or any countries, said in the heat of the moment, cannot be explained away later. There are many sayings in the eastern languages to emphasize this point – one of which is ‘the wound caused by sword can heal, but the wound caused by tongue cannot heal.’ —– Words can be forgiven but not forgotten.
This becomes even more sensitive when we consider that Kyrgyzstan, with its sluggish economy, is dependent on more prosperous neighbours for different kinds of support.
When all is said and done, the fact remains that the mere rhetoric, the so-called Black PR, is of no practical use.
The measure of the success of a leader is his ability to uplift the economy and strengthen the standing of the country in the world community.
The challenges before the new leadership of Kyrgyzstan are many, and quite a few of them are part of the legacy of Atambaev.
It became necessary to comment on the legacy of Atambaev because Kyrgyzstan is the first country in the region that is experimenting with a particular model of democracy. The whole region is watching and so far nothing worth emulating has emerged from this exercise. /// nCa, 31 October 2017