After his election as Kyrgyzstan’s president in October 2017, Sooronbai Jeenbekov inherited an economically uncertain state, which has failed to address more than twenty years of misrule despite emerging from two episodes of upheaval. Central Asia’s only nominal parliamentary democracy, Kyrgyzstan is divided along ethnic and regional lines, deeply corrupt and facing religious radicalisation in absence of a strong state. Crisis Group monitors ethnic and political tensions as well as wider regional relations.
This week on War & Peace, post-Soviet security expert Dr Erica Marat joins Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope to discuss the drivers of anti-establishment protests and the policing thereof across Central Asia and globally.
Parliament passed “foreign representatives” draft law in first reading amid human rights concerns; Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan made progress on border demarcation.
Parliament passed contentious “foreign representatives” draft law in first reading. Parliament 17 Oct held first reading of “foreign representatives” draft law amid rising concerns. Notably, UN Special Rapporteurs 13 Oct warned about wide powers draft law grants, such as unscheduled inspections of NGOs, which “could be used against organizations that voice criticism or dissent against the Government”; High Commissioner for Human Rights 13 Oct said bill “would risk violating fundamental rights to freedom of expression and association”; and NGO Human Rights Watch 16 Oct cautioned it “would have a chilling effect on Kyrgyzstan’s vibrant civil society”. Despite warnings, parliament 25 Oct passed draft law in first reading, with just seven voting against legislation and 52 voting in favour.
Bishkek hosted CIS summit with Putin in attendance. Russian President Vladimir Putin 12-13 Oct visited Kyrgyzstan in first trip abroad since International Criminal Court issued his arrest warrant in March 2023 for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. Other leaders of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) – regional intergovernmental organisation comprising former Soviet republics – 13 Oct arrived in capital Bishkek for annual summit, aside from Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan. According to Russian state news agency, Putin pledged to continue strengthening CIS’ “contacts with friendly states and international organisations”, and claimed Russia’s economic ties with CIS partners were expanding despite Western sanctions.
Bishkek and Dushanbe made progress on border delimitation and demarcation. Heads of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan’s security services 2 Oct reportedly signed protocol in Batken city on demarcation and delimitation of disputed border areas; neither side published details of protocol, but Chairman of Kyrgyzstan’s Committee for National Security Kamchybek Tashiev said it “provides a basis for resolving all border issues”. Kyrgyz and Tajik leaders 13 Oct met for further discussions on sidelines of CIS summit.
Four Central Asian states – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – have argued over their water resources since the collapse of the Soviet Union. At times these disputes have seemed to threaten war. The forthcoming presidential summit in Astana can help banish that spectre.
The inauguration of Kyrgyzstan’s new president on 24 November is a tribute to the country’s parliamentary democracy. But to overcome continued vulnerability, Sooronbai Jeenbekov must manage powerful southern elites, define the role of religion in society and spearhead reconciliation with Central Asian neighbours Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
While Kyrgyzstan’s 15 October elections are a rare milestone for Central Asian democracy, the campaign is exposing dangerous fault lines. In the largest city of Osh, the new president will have to face down robust local power brokers, defuse Uzbek-Kyrgyz tensions and re-introduce the rule of law.
Recent political protests in Kyrgyzstan signal the possibility of deeper trouble ahead of presidential elections in November. For the first time in the country’s pro-independence history, there is real competition for leadership in Central Asia’s only semi-functioning democracy.
Crisis Group’s Publications Officer Julie David de Lossy, formerly a freelance photographer of Central Asia, travels to Kyrgyzstan to take a look through her camera lens at the context of our conflict-prevention work.
The rapid rise of alternative interpretations of Islam, often at odds with the state’s concept of traditional identity, are being fueled in part by endemic corruption and perceptions of incompetency. The government must end economic marginalisation and improve inadequate institutions, or risk not just threats to internal security but also the resurfacing of ethnic tensions.
Kyrgyzstan’s relative stability belies the country’s brittle Central Asian neighbourhood, simmering ethnic tensions, religious extremism and political frustration. Russia, the West and China share interests here, creating a unique opportunity to work together for Kyrgyzstan’s democratic development during and after the upcoming 4 October parliamentary elections.
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