By LEILA SARALAYEVA
2009-03-19 10:44 PM
The Constitutional Court on Thursday resolved questions about whether the next presidential vote should be held this year or next, ruling that it must take place by Oct. 25. Hours later, a parliament committee proposed July 23, and that date is likely to confirmed by the full parliament Friday.
President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced last month that he plans to seek a second term, and critics say the government is trying to stifle opposition before the vote in a bid to shore up his power amid the economic trouble. Electricity shortages and rampant unemployment are deepening discontent in one of the poorest former Soviet republics.
Analysts say Bakiyev is eager to have elections held as soon as possible, before the fractured opposition has a chance to unite. With no clear opposition candidate, Bakiyev is widely expected to win, despite his government's falling popularity.
Parliament is dominated by the pro-presidential Ak Zhol party and is likely to give its consent to a July election.
Bakiyev was elected to a four-year term in 2005 after opposition protests drove his predecessor from office, but the constitution was later amended to increase the maximum possible presidential term by a year. That raised questions about whether the next vote should be held this year or in 2010.
Opposition lawmaker Asylbek Jeyenbekov had sought the ruling from the Constitutional Court, saying uncertainty about the election date was stoking political tension.
Kyrgyzstan is a target of the struggle between Russia and the United States for influence in a region crucial to the U.S. and NATO military campaign in Afghanistan.
Shortly after securing a $2.1 billion loan-and-aid package from Russia, Bakiyev announced a decision last month to close a U.S. air base that has been important for the Afghan operations. The eviction will leave the U.S. without an air base in former Soviet Central Asia.
Independent political analyst Nur Omarov said the financial windfall will allow Bakiyev to raise public spending quickly and secure enough political capital to win re-election.
Opposition parties are planning nationwide protests next week to demand Bakiyev's resignation, accusing him of mishandling the economy and worsening government repression.
The opposition United People's Movement said last week's arrest of its coordinator, Alikbek Jekshenkulov, for alleged involvement in a 2007 murder was a politically motivated act of intimidation. Jekshenkulov has denied the charge.
Opposition Ata Meken party leader Omurbek Tekebayev faced an illegal weapons charge earlier this year that was dropped.
Kyrgyzstan and other former Soviet republics in Central Asia have been the focus of an influence struggle involving Russia, the U.S. and China.