It has often been said that Hamid Karzai’s authority as president of Afghanistan means he is effectively the mayor of Kabul. The way things are going in Kyrgyzstan, Otunbaeva’s government is looking more and more like Bishkek’s city government.
Melis Myrzakmatov, the mayor of Osh and a thorn in the side of the new government since it came to power, has again poked Otunbaeva’s government in the eye, fending off an attempt to remove him (which may have involved making empty promise to the central government). And to put an exclamation point on his resistance, he explicitly rejected the authority of the central government in southern Kyrgyzstan in an interview with Kommersant.
In an interview printed on August 19, the Kommersant daily quoted Myrzakmatov as saying that the provisional government in Bishkek, 750 kilometers to the North, has no jurisdiction in the South, an area where Bakiyev still enjoys considerable support. “Provisional government directives have no legal force in the South,” Myrzakmatov told Kommersant. “I am responsible for Osh, and just let anyone try to violate our rules.”
Myrzakmatov has repeatedly claimed that he speaks for the people of Osh and his supporters (or friends, family, and clients, some say) have rallied to emphasize to Bishkek that replacing the mayor risks unrest. Up to several thousand supporters, some of whom appear to have turned out in genuine support and admiration for Myrzakmatov’s willingness to stand up to the Uzbek community,” rallied in Osh on the mayor’s behalf while he was still in Bishkek. Myrzakmatov apparently can now also count on assistance from Deputy Prime Minister Azimbek Beknazarov who declared his support for the mayor (and interestingly was heckled and attacked at the rally in Osh).
The continued defiance of Myrzakmatov keeps on proving what many suspect — that Otunbaeva’s government lacks the ability to enforce its authority in regions far from the capital. Edil Baisalov called Myrzakmatov, “a threat to the stability of the country.” And he is doubly so by directly challenging the government and demonstrating to other political actors that there are no consequences for challenging them.