KYRGYZ REFORMS LEAVE PRESIDENT STRONGER  Plan for leaner, tighter government 
seems as much about increasing president’s role as about turning economy round. 
 By Timur Toktonaliev and Ainagul Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek

and rights activists in questioning judge’s decision that trial was sound.  By 
Ainagul Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek

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Plan for leaner, tighter government seems as much about increasing president’s 
role as about turning economy round.

By Timur Toktonaliev and Ainagul Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek

Wide-ranging reforms announced by President Kurmanbek Bakiev were headlined as 
an attempt to overcome economic crisis by means of technocratic government and 
sweeping away bureaucracy. However, some aspects of the new structure look 
suspiciously like an attempt to concentrate power in the president’s hands. 

President Bakiev unveiled details of his much-anticipated reform package at an 
October 20 meeting with central and local government officials. 

Before embarking on economic reforms, he said, governance systems themselves 
must be restructured, starting with his own presidential office. 

As a result, the current presidential administration has been abolished, and 
replaced by a Presidential Institution with less staff but with several new 
functions and much more authority. In the president’s words, this becomes the 
“unified decision-making body”.

In line with the economic focus of the reforms, the Institution will include a 
Central Agency for Development, Investment and Innovation. 

For less obvious reasons, it will also include the foreign minister, and a 
presidential advisor for defense, security, and law and order, who takes over 
the functions of the now-defunct national Security Council, on which the 
defence, internal affairs and other “power” ministers used to sit. The 
Presidential Institution also acquires direct control over the state security 
service and the financial police.

Also within the Presidential Institution is a new council called the 
Presidential Council. When Bakiev outlined his reforms to parliament in early 
December, it appeared that this body would draw its members from various 
interest groups, but it is now looking more like a super-cabinet, with the 
president’s new defence and security adviser, the foreign minister, the prime 
minister and the speaker of parliament among its members.

For the government itself, Bakiev prescribed a massive streamlining of civil 
servants in the ministries, in a bid to slash a bureaucracy that he said had 
proven itself incapable of pro-active planning to combat the ongoing economic 
crisis. He noted that the reduced wage burden on government would be an 
additional benefit.

As the president made clear in his speech, this phase is about fixing the 
structural obstacles to change, and the substantive economic policy decisions 
are yet to come.

At this point, politicians and commentators are divided on whether the reforms 
are enough to steer Kyrgyzstan out of troubled economic waters. 

Begaly Nargozuev, a member of parliament from Bakiev’s Ak Jol party, is certain 
that things are going to get better. 

“These reforms are likely to produce results, since many things have been 
achieved so far. There is no way back,” he said. 

Mars Sariev, an independent political analyst, argues that making the 
presidency look visibly different is essential to recruiting highly educated 
technocrats capable of delivering effective government, who might not have 
wanted to work in the old structure. 

“This had to be done, with a new title and new, more attractive watchwords, so 
as to make educated intellectuals more inclined to join the Presidential 
Institution,” he said. 

Pavel Dyatlenko, an analyst at the Polis Asia think-tank, believes the new 
development and investment agency shows how serious the president is about 
having direct control over the way economic policy is planned and resources 

Dyatlenko believe the plan is designed to ensure political stability, which in 
turn creates a window for modernisation led from the top.

“If this is carried through successfully, President Bakiev will go down in 
history as a reformer,” he added.

Dyatlenko is less enthusiastic about the reduction in the army of public 
servants, calling it “a step to increase the president’s popularity rating by 
showing that the state cares about its people at a time of hardship”. 

In reality, he said, “The practical efficacy of this step is questionable, as 
reorganising government institutions and finding employment for a large number 
of redundant civil servants will take substantial resources, which are in short 
supply during this economic crisis. If it leads to economies in government 
funds, that will happen only after some time.”

Arkady Dubnov, a Moscow-based journalist and veteran Central Asia-watcher, 
believes Bakiev wants to use the new structures to bring together a variety of 
political interest groups. 

“Creating the Presidential Institution represents a solution to the problems 
surrounding him [Bakiev], and to regional and clan strife,” says Dubnov. 

Regional, tribal and clan affinities remain important factors in Kyrgyz 

Dubnov does not, however, think Bakiev will achieve his overarching aim of 
turning the economy around.

“His idea that this reform will provide the impetus for an economic 
breakthrough is unlikely to come to fruition, because Kyrgyzstan is a country 
without resources, without high levels of human capacity among officials, and 
with little in the way of financial investment,” said Dubnov. “Reshuffling the 
bureaucracy and redistributing the functions are hardly going to produce 
economic change.” 

The most controversial part of Bakiev’s reform package is the appropriation of 
foreign affairs and security functions which traditionally with the government 
led by the prime minister.

Bakiev’s explanation of why the foreign minister should shift from government 
to presidency was that this role should involve oversight of all ministries and 
agencies which have a foreign policy element to their activities.

As for the security sector changes, Dubnov suggested that the Kyrgyz leadership 
might be trying to create more effective systems for striking at corruption – a 
move which could win Bakiev a lot of popular support.

Cholpon Nogoibayeva, who heads the Institute for Public Studies in Bishkek, is 
worried by the growing focus on internal security. 

“The problem of terrorism is now discussed constantly, and the budget for 
equipping and building up the security forces is being expanded. The trend is 
towards strengthening the security services, and that explains why they are 
being hived off from government,” she said. “Kyrgyzstan is turning into a 
police state.” 

Nogoibayeva predicts that from now on it will be the Presidential Institution 
that governs – it will shape policies, while the cabinet is left to implement 

Sariev agrees with this view, adding that the government was being set up to 
serve as a “scapegoat”. 

“They always need someone they can blame for everything later on,” he added. 

On October 21, the day after the president unveiled his reforms, Prime Minister 
Igor Chudinov and his cabinet stepped down to make way for the changes. His 
replacement was named as Daniyar Usenov, until that point the head of Bakiev’s 

Timur Toktonaliev and Ainagul Abdrakhmanova are IWPR-trained journalists in 


Western diplomats join OSCE and rights activists in questioning judge’s 
decision that trial was sound.

By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek

There has been widespread criticism of this week’s appeal court decision to 
confirm a prison sentence passed last month against Yevgeny Zhovtis, a leading 
human rights defender in Kazakstan.

On October 20, the Almaty regional court upheld the four-year sentence given to 
Zhovtis, who heads the Kazakstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law. He 
was convicted on September 3 of causing the death of a pedestrian by dangerous 
driving. (For a report on the trial, see Kazakstan: Jailing of Rights Activist 
Condemned, RCA No. 588, 10-Sep-09) 

Human rights groups and western diplomats have expressed disappointment that 
the appeals hearing failed to address concerns about possible procedural 
violations during the initial trial, and renewed calls for a review of the 

At the appeals session, the judge either rejected outright or suspended 
judgement on all except one of the motions put to him by Zhovtis’s defence 
One of these was a request for new forensic tests to determine technical 
aspects of the accident. Lawyers for Zhovtis say he was denied an opportunity 
to question the conduct of forensic testing early on in the investigation, 
because investigators failed to inform him that his initial status of witness 
had been changed to that of suspect. 

Judge Yerzhan Totybay-Tegi turned down a plea for the defendant to be allowed 
to attend his appeals hearing, but did accept into evidence a statement by the 
dead man’s mother that she had forgiven Zhovtis and wanted the charges against 
him dropped. 

The decision to stand by the verdict elicited a wave of criticism from western 
diplomats, local and foreign human rights activists and the Organisation for 
Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, which Kazakstan is to chair next 

The United States embassy voiced concern at the decision and urged the Kazak 
government to launch a review of the way the case had been dealt with 
procedurally. Although in this case the Almaty court is the highest place the 
defendant can appeal to, the law provides for procedural reviews to ensure due 
process has been followed. 

The French foreign ministry noted that Zhovtis was not present at the hearing 
and said that “the rights of the defence were not fully respected”, adding that 
it hoped the verdict could be reviewed. 

The head of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Janez 
Lenarcic, issued a statement on October 21, saying, "We are dismayed by the 
appeal court's reported failure to appropriately address the apparent 
violations of due process that occurred during the initial trial.” 

Lenarcic said that while Zhovtis should not be entitled to special treatment, 
it was the responsibility of the Kazak authorities to guarantee his right to a 
fair trial as enshrined in OSCE documents. 

The New York-based Human Rights Watch called the ruling “a terrible miscarriage 
of justice”. 

“Today's ruling is a blow for anyone who cares about fair trial standards in 
Kazakstan," said According to Rachel Denber, the group’s deputy director for 
Europe and Central Asia. "The international community should continue to call 
for a new investigation and should measure Kazakstan by the standards it set 
for itself when it sought the chairmanship of the OSCE." 

Local human rights defenders were equally shocked, although less by the ruling 
itself than by the Kazak authorities’ apparent disregard for the numerous 
international expressions of concern, not least from the OSCE. 

“Of course I had no illusions about the Kazak legal system,” said Ninel Fokina, 
head of the Almaty Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, “but there were so many 
violations during the initial trial that [on appeal] the verdict should have 
been annulled.” 

Viktor Kovtunovsky, a political analyst and head of the Civil Society 
foundation said that although he had anticipated that Zhovtis’s conviction 
would be upheld, he had been hoping the sentence would be lightened. 

“Countries that supported Kazakstan’s OSCE chairmanship are now placed in an 
embarrassing situation by the authorities’ actions,” said Kovtunovsky. “They 
are going to have to respond to what’s happening in Kazakstan in a very serious 

Kovtunovsky says Kazakstan needs to be reminded of its obligations as an OSCE 
member in light of its forthcoming chairmanship. 

“If the OSCE and its member states tolerate this, it this will mean that the 
OSCE’s values don’t exist,” he said. 

Sergei Duvanov, a journalist who is leading the committee set up to defend 
Zhovtis’s rights, said, “It is a worrying trend that [President Nursultan] 
Nazarbaev is less and less receptive to views expressed by western countries. 
Kazakstan is going to chair the OSCE, so this is a direct challenge – Kazakstan 
is trampling on all the principles of this organisation.” 

Duvanov concluded, “We do not have the right to lose hope, and we will fight 
for Zhovtis’s freedom until we are successful.” 

Ainagul Abdrakhmanova is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan. 

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