The first post-oligarchic government of Kyrgyzstan appears to be on the verge of failure. After the March 2005 ouster of President Askar Akayev in the so called, “Tulip Revolution,” the opportunity for Kyrgyzstan to shake off the vestiges of its autocratic past and system of corruption appeared to be bright. Akayev was the first and only President since independence in 1999 and his removal from power was seen as a new beginning. As part of that new beginning, Kurmanbek Bakiyev was elected President of Kyrgyzstan pledging to reform a corrupt and bankrupt political system. Two short years later, it appears that patience with Bakiyev’s pace of reform has already worn out and that he may share the same fate as his predecessor. The opposition has already called for him to step down from office and are now threatening to instigate nationwide protests in the next week to demand early presidential elections.
President Bakiyev has been widely criticized for not instituting reforms fast enough, leaving many members of the opposition and general populace to wonder if he is just a continuation of the same malaise that has plagued the former Soviet republic since their independence. To be fair to Bakiyev, he has not had much time to make changes to a system that is inherently disorganized, corrupt and inefficient.
Many former Soviet states have faced similar problems of transition once achieving independence. No longer part of the previous Soviet political system, these countries still have difficulty shedding the political methods of the past. This is most notable in Central Asia, where many of these independent states still function as mostly autocratic systems of governance. Even those states that have made the most democratic progress are still having problems. Instead of cooperation to improve the system utilizing new democratic freedoms, dissension and squabbling has contributed to a lack of perceived progress and reform. The current turmoil in the Ukraine is also indicative of the growing pains of these independent states. It is disconcerting that now approaching almost two decades of independence these countries are still stumbling to implement a lasting democracy.
As the Kyrgyz Turn
Although President Bakiyev has an inordinate amount of pressure on him to make the system work, he is also largely responsible for his own failures. Bakiyev is stubborn in his outlook, however usually backs down to opposition demands, making him look weak and ineffective. In 2006, Bakiyev was pressured to accept a constitutional proposal to limit presidential powers, a proposal which he initially resisted claiming that it was an attempt by the opposition to seize power. After numerous protests, some of which were violent and demanded his resignation, Bakiyev eventually acquiesced to the constitutional reforms (Previous Report). Included in these reforms was the ability for Parliament to form the government.
After these events, the situation in Kyrgyzstan became more chaotic. In December 2006, the Cabinet resigned, and in January 2007, Azim Isabekov was newly named Prime Minister. However, amid growing political turmoil, Isabekov was replaced with an opposition leader, Almaz Atambayev. This move was seen by many as an attempt by Bakiyev to court favor with the opposition rather than as an act of genuine political generosity. The political tension increased intensity when Bakiyev invited members of the opposition to join his Cabinet, which they declined. As a result, Bakiyev refused to accept some of the Cabinet resignations and reappointed some members. Bakiyev’s confusing actions appeared to be the act of political desperation.
It is clear that the government and the legislature are in conflict with each other in Kyrgyzstan. We anticipate that the Bakiyev government will not remain in power for much longer unless a coalition government is formed or Presidential power is completely emasculated. At this time, it seems that the opposition groups are uninterested in cooperation and power sharing, and will try to orchestrate the President’s ouster by early elections if possible.
Kyrgyz political unrest is important to the United States as the US currently enjoys airbase rights in Kyrgyzstan. This military base is a valuable asset in Central Asia, and for military operations near this region. To lose this access because of political instability or the emergence of a regime unfriendly to US interests would be a setback.