JUNE 23 (The Bulletin) — Former presidents in Central Asia and the South Caucasus have more in common with London buses than you would expect.
An old adage says that you wait for ages for a London bus and then two come along at once. To some extent, the same could be said of former presidents in Central Asia and the South Caucasus.
In Bishkek, a judge marked a first by imprisoning former president Almazbek Atambayev for 11 years for corruption. He is the first former president in the region to be imprisoned but is likely to be followed quickly by two more. In Armenia, former presidents Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan are in and out of court and both appear destined for a spell in prison.
There have, of course, been other attempts to imprison former presidents in Central Asia, but they have failed. Just. Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a former president in Kyrgyzstan, was found guilty of corruption after a revolution in 2010 but had already fled to Belarus and Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s former president, has also been found guilty of corruption but is living and working in Ukraine.
The point is that unless they are very careful, incoming governments tempted to set prosecutors onto the trail of former presidents and their various associates, look like they are more interested in settling scores than governing.
Rightly, US and EU diplomats have lobbied for various governments not to go down this route. It undermines their credibility and damages both relations with foreign investors, who don’t like the aggressive headlines, and also ordinary people’s trust in politics.
Perhaps it would have been better in Kyrgyzstan and Armenia and Georgia to spend less energy on settling old scores and more on improving people’s lives? The drivers can be different — in Kyrgyzstan, Pres. Sooronbai Jeenbekov had to stop Atambayev dominating politics; in Armenia, PM Pashinyan felt that he needed to perpetuate the popular revolution of 2018 and punish former governments for shooting dead anti-government protests in 2008; in Georgia, the incoming Georgian Dream coalition government needed to prove that Saakashvili and his government were as corrupt and evil as they had claimed in an acrimonious pair of elections — but the results are the same.
And it perpetuates as the next incoming government will be tempted to right the wrongs that they have also been nursing.
When this cycle is broken, politics in the region will have truly grown up.
— This story was first published in issue 451 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin on June 23 2020
— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2020