Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva addresses journalists at a Bishkek polling station during the presidential election October 30. Otunbayeva steps down from her position December 1. [Reuters]
During a November 29 roundtable with journalists in Bishkek, Otunbayeva said she doesn’t plan to form a political party but will continue working to develop her country’s future.
“I could do much in education, culture and social issues,” she said. “Maybe, with that purpose in mind, I’ll create a special foundation in order to contribute to developing the country, its culture and its art.”
In an interview last week, Otunbayeva said she also plans to write a book.
Despite her successes, Otunbayeva expressed some regrets – mostly about missed opportunities.
“I regret I wasn’t able to advance judicial reform,” she said. “But it wasn’t my fault. Now the parliament has to pass the relevant changes in the package of laws on judicial reform.”
But her team accomplished a great deal during her interim presidency, she said. “We succeeded in restoring all institutions of power. Our parliament, which reflects our entire society, is functioning. We’ve formed a government that protects stability nationwide while solving socio-economic problems.”
Emil Umetaliyev, the former minister of economic regulation who served with Otunbayeva in the interim government in 2010, listed some of her achievements.
“The referendum on the new constitution, the arrangement of parliamentary elections with minimal administrative interference, the creation of a pluralist parliament based on new principles, and the arrangement of presidential elections in 2011,” he said. “This completes the transitional period.”
Umetaliyev praised her for staying ‘clean’ rather than enriching her family.
“None of her relatives had the opportunity to become actively involved and suspected in a conflict of interest,” he observed. “We have never before had a president who flies commercial instead of on private jets and for her birthday asks for books for children’s homes rather than gifts.”
However, he also noted some disappointments. “We still do not have visa-free travel for countries that matter to us for tourism and investment purposes. We were not able to eliminate motor vehicle inspections or the mandatory residential registration system, and we failed to institute direct elections for heads of local governments from top to bottom and to transfer the appropriate finances and authority to them.”
“But the main blow to the economy, comparable to the effects of the armed conflict in the south, was caused by unbridled nationalisation, and it was not possible to reduce its scale.”
In general, he described her as a good person: “I have often watched Roza Isakovna take some food from the table to give it to someone whose position does not allow them to sit at the table and who may not have time to eat, such as drivers and sometimes translators.”
Police reform was a focus
Otunbayeva devoted considerable attention to the work of the police, Shamshybek Mamyrov, deputy head of the Interior Ministry’s Chief Administration for Law and Criminal Analysis, said.
“The police have become more open and transparent, and the position of civil society is clearer,” he said. “The most significant achievement is that law enforcement officers have become freer and more independent in their work.”
Otunbayeva “came to power as a result of the April 7, 2010, revolution,” April 7th Party member Felix Kim said. “Although not everything went smoothly in her work, it would be wrong to heap abuse on her. Even the ousted presidents Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev had some good moments.”
Otunbayeva dodged the temptations of power, so that “we, the Kyrgyz people, spent a year and a half in peace, despite the constant threats,” Kim said. “Most important, the elections took place peacefully.”
Otunbayeva did not transform the country, he argued. “The new constitution reduced her authority so much that there was nothing she could do,” he said, but he cited improvements: “The old electricity rates were restored, as well as the old rates for mobile communications. … Although there was a threat of a rate increase, Roza Isakovna not only held the line on gas rates but made them 2 KGS (4 US cents) cheaper per cubic metre. And the most important change is that pensions increased, if only by a little; as a whole, the elderly’s welfare benefits increased by 15%-20%.”
In 2010-2011, Bishkek homes were rarely blacked out, said housewife Alima Koshmuratova, expressing gratitude. “The years 2008 and 2009 were just awful. In a country that is renowned for its abundance of water, for some reason there was not enough of it to run the hydro-electric power stations. … Thanks to Roza Otunbayeva, power returned to our homes.”
Otunbayeva called ‘president-protector’
Otunbayeva merits nomination as the “president-protector,” said Anara Dautaliyeva, a member of the Taza Tabigat NGO.
“During the one and a half years of her presidency, she was able to bring Kyrgyzstan out of its crisis,” she said. “A year and a half ago, our country faced a choice: to be a nation or not. Several years ago she worked for the UN in Georgia and Abkhazia as a peace negotiator and gained extensive experience … which she then employed in her native country.”
The Kyrgyz also gained a greater degree of freedom of expression.
“When she was head of state, the country enjoyed a new level of freedom of speech, and the media were given the right to exercise that freedom,” said Tilebaldy uulu Elizar, president of National Heritage, an NGO. “NGOs have played a more substantial role, and voices from the non-governmental sector were heard.”
Many wonder what Otunbayeva will do after leaving office.
“When she steps down, I think she will still have great political influence in Kyrgyzstan,” Elizar said. “I don’t think she will leave politics and may well become foreign minister.”
Otunbayeva served as foreign minister in the early to mid-1990s, shortly after independence.
“After she leaves office, knowing her character and self-sufficiency, I can assure you that she will not sit on her hands,” Umetaliyev said. “Maybe the presidency was not her last word in protecting the interests of this new country.”