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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
ICG’s first report on Kyrgyzstan, published in August 2001,
highlighted the potential for crisis facing the country. International
attention was then rarely focused on Central Asia but since September 2001 the
region has suddenly registered on policy-makers’ agendas. Nearly 2,000 U.S. and
Coalition troops are now located at Manas Airport near Bishkek, as part of the
forces active in Afghanistan, and Kyrgyzstan is playing a key strategic role in
the region. Stability in this country is now of fundamental concern to the
international community but, since early 2002, it has declined sharply.
The leadership has taken an increasingly authoritarian line
towards the opposition, perhaps believing that the U.S. presence gave it more
leeway. A popular deputy, Azimbek Beknazarov, was arrested in January 2002, and
several opposition newspapers were closed. His arrest provoked protests in the
south of the country, particularly in his home territory of Aksy district, in
Jalal-Abad province. In confrontations with protestors in March, police shot
dead five demonstrators, the first time political protests had turned violent
After the shootings, thousands of supporters of Beknazarov
protested in the South, demanding the dismissal of charges against him and the
punishment of those responsible for the killings. President Askar Akaev
dismissed the prime minister and interior minister in late May 2002, leading to
the resignation of the whole government. But the protests continued, with
demonstrators staging mass marches between southern cities. Tensions mounted as
their demands became more radical, including a call for Akaev’s resignation,
and they threatened to march on Bishkek. It was only when the appeal courts
lifted the charges against Beknazarov that the protestors were finally
persuaded to go home.
This move calmed the situation temporarily, but the anger of
the protestors has hardly abated. And it has not solved the underlying
political and economic problems in Kyrgyzstan that have given rise to
widespread discontent. Long-term stability remains under threat unless a more
comprehensive review of policy is undertaken and serious measures introduced to
calm the situation. Many protestors have been emboldened by their apparent
success, and it is likely that demonstrations will be renewed. Even if these
grind to a halt, Kyrgyzstan is entering a period of uncertainty, as it
approaches the end of Akaev’s term in office in 2005. As the struggle for power
gathers pace during this transition period, there is considerable potential for
The way the crisis develops depends on a number of factors,
each of which can contribute to escalation or de-escalation.
First, the political
system and the struggle for power. The increasing concentration of power
around Akaev, his family and his close colleagues has led to discontent among
rival elites, who seek more participation in both the political sphere and
business. The usurpation of power in all branches of government by the ruling
elite has led to a crisis of legitimacy – in the leadership, in the courts and
in the political system itself. As the leadership has gained more power, it has
become more authoritarian in an attempt to defend itself from rising criticism.
This move towards authoritarianism has effectively provoked the current crisis.
Whether the forthcoming struggle for power will remain peaceful depends on
whether the authorities accept the need for fundamental changes to the
political system and the electoral process.
Secondly, the opposition.
Increasingly radicalised, it has little faith in the present political system
and now seeks the resignation of Akaev through popular pressure. The president
is unlikely to resign voluntarily, and the result of such a strategy is likely
to be more confrontation. Only a genuine compromise by the authorities,
involving efforts to deal with the roots of the crisis in the political system
and to take measures to guarantee free elections in 2005 will dampen some of
the radicalism of the opposition.
Thirdly, the security
forces can either play a neutral role in preserving order or become a
political force in their own right. Recent strikes by the police in the South
and rising dissatisfaction among the security forces represent a potential
threat to peace. Reform of security structures is badly needed.
protest, provoked by the increasing authoritarianism of the government, but
with its roots in a deep socio-economic crisis and a lack of political
representation, will continue regardless of agreements made by elites, unless
real attention is focused on the problems of the mass of the population. This
must cover political issues – winning back people’s faith in the constitutional
process – economic issues – raising real living standards – and social issues.
Fifthly, the growing geopolitical
competition in Central Asia may also have a destabilising impact. The U.S.
military presence, attempts by Russia to reassert its influence, and the fears
of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and China that any unrest could destabilise the
region, will all affect the internal situation in Kyrgyzstan. States with
interests there can either use the political situation to try and improve their
own positions at the expense of others, or can cooperate with the aim of promoting
stability in the country.
These five factors will decide whether Kyrgyzstan’s
political crisis is resolved through constitutional means, or develops into a
wider crisis, possibly degenerating into conflict. Since the implications of a
conflict in Kyrgyzstan are significant for the region as a whole, the interests
of the international community are in attempting to prevent any escalation of
The main effort in resolving the crisis must be made by
Kyrgyzstan’s political forces. A genuine effort on the part of the elite to
reach a ‘new deal’ of power-sharing, in politics and in business, would limit
the potential for further unrest and ensure that future political struggles
remain within the constitutional framework. But the international community can
play a significant role in promoting and supporting such a deal, and making
clear to the leadership that future political, economic and strategic
relationships depend on real measures being taken.
international community should become actively engaged in pushing political
reform. Without it, economic assistance will at best be wasted, and at worst
contribute to the increasing divide between the rulers and the ruled. A common
platform among Western states and international organisations should push for
real implementation of policies that are currently just government rhetoric.
Continued inaction on the part of the leadership poses a serious threat to
stability in the country and to the region as a whole.
To the leadership of Kyrgyzstan
1. Re-establish faith in the electoral process by:
(a) reforming laws on political parties and on elections,
ensuring that technical issues, such as registration and internal party issues,
or financial declarations, cannot be used to disqualify opposition candidates;
(b) reforming the Central Electoral Commission to include all
political forces, by removing the right of the president to appoint members,
increasing representation of opposition groups, and reducing the power of the
(c) providing a proper legal basis for NGOs willing to monitor
elections and welcoming international monitor missions;
(d) seeking, on the basis of such changes, a public commitment
by all political forces to contest for power only through the electoral
(e) restricting presidential powers to use referenda, which in
the past have been abused to extend Akaev’s term of office.
2. Institute constitutional reforms to reduce the strength of
the presidency so that power is shared more equally also with the government
and parliament, ensuring that:
(a) the president can serve as a neutral arbiter of political disputes;
(b) the parliament has the power to approve all government and
presidential decrees; and
(c) the number of presidential appointments is cut back sharply,
with parliament and a professionally competent judicial council approving all
appointments of judges.
(d) when and where possible, power is decentralised to elected
local officials in a graduated process, the pace of which should depend upon
the training and development of better qualified and competent individuals and
a system to hold them accountable.
3. Implement reforms of law enforcement agencies designed to
regain popular trust in the police, while making it a priority that they are
adequately funded and trained.
4. Abandon attempts to pass a law on political extremism and to
create superfluous bodies such as a Council for Democratic Security;
5. Adopt a package of laws to ease the transition of power,
(a) an amnesty on financial crimes associated with
privatisation, corruption and illegal business practices, that would lead to
the release of Feliks Kulov and provide a measure of protection for the
presidential family; and
(b) a law providing the first president of Kyrgyzstan legal
immunity and guarantees of security when he leaves office.
To the Opposition
6. Develop real strategies of political and economic
development of the country over the long term, rather than concentrating on
short-term political gains.
7. Unite around a public commitment to ensuring free and fair
elections as the only route to a peaceful transfer of power and cooperate with
the government and parliament to develop laws that will allow this to happen.
8. Develop political parties as engines of change rather than
the present concentration on individuals, human rights organisations, and
9. Support new laws to enable a peaceful transfer of power,
including an amnesty on financial crimes associated with privatisation and
guarantees of security for the president and his family;
To the International Community
10. Develop a common platform among the U.S., the EU and the
OSCE to push for political reform, based on:
(a) a commitment by all political forces to free elections;
(b) a reform of law enforcement agencies;
(c) a process of constitutional reform that shifts power from
the presidency equally to other institutions; and
(d) a reform of the judiciary aimed at increasing its
11. Provide financial and technical assistance to underpin these
reforms, if it is clear that there is real political will behind them.
12. Provide assistance to widen the scope and ownership of the
media and to reform the state media so that it offers broader, independent news
coverage, and train journalists in both the independent and state sectors.
13. Link further financial assistance, including assistance from
international financial institutions (IFIs), to effective implementation of
changes in the political system, without which economic development is
To the OSCE
14. Offer a substantial increase in resources, including
personnel, to assist in a wider program of political and economic reform.
Osh/Brussels, 20 August 2002