Kyrgyzstan appoints reformist PM, averting crisis
BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to appoint reformer Joomart Otorbayev as prime minister and avert a political crisis in the volatile Central Asian nation where two leaders have been overthrown in the past decade.
The previous government, led by Zhantoro Satybaldiyev, resigned on March 18 after the ruling coalition fell apart in a row over alleged corruption.
Otorbayev, a deputy prime minister in the previous government, was proposed for approval by the same three parliamentary factions which once backed Satybaldiyev. They reunited to avoid further tension in the country, where violent revolts have felled two presidents since 2005.
"Our common goal is a developed Kyrgyzstan, and together we will achieve it," Otorbayev told deputies after a 103-7 vote for his appointment.
Such a unanimous vote is unusual for Kyrgyzstan, which stands out for its efforts to build a genuine parliamentary system in a region where autocrats in other post-Soviet states treat national assemblies as rubber stamps.
The prime minister enjoys strong executive powers in the former Soviet republic of 5.5 million people, and President Almazbek Atambayev had to formally accept the resignation of the government when the ruling coalition collapsed.
The corruption scandal broke out after the socialist-minded Ata Meken party said it was leaving the coalition in protest at alleged abuse of office and misappropriation of state funds and foreign aid by Satybaldiyev when he was in charge of restoring the southern city of Osh after ethnic clashes there in 2010.
Satybaldiyev has made no public comment on the allegations.
Otorbayev, 58, is a doctor of physico-mathematical sciences. He was a deputy prime minister in charge of investment when President Askar Akayev was deposed by an uprising in March 2005. He later worked as an adviser for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Otorbayev faces a daunting task to reduce poverty and speed up economic growth in a nation whose per capita gross domestic product (GDP) is $1,300, or just a tenth of that in oil-rich neighbor Kazakhstan.
One million Kyrgyz citizens work abroad, mainly in Russia, sending home remittances worth over $2 billion a year, or about 30 percent of the country's GDP.
Otorbayev will also have to continue difficult talks with Canadian mining company Centerra Gold on forming a new joint venture to run Kumtor, Kyrgyzstan's largest gold mine.
Located in the Tuen Shan mountains near the border with China, the mine accounted for 7.7 percent of Kyrgyz national economic output, 24 percent of industrial production and 36.5 percent of all exports last year. The opposition has staged violent rallies calling for it to be nationalized.
The mainly Muslim country lies on a drug trafficking route out of Afghanistan and hosts a Russian military air base. The United States set up an air base in Kyrgyzstan in 2001 but plans to withdraw its last servicemen in July.