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.
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With his seven-year term set to end in 2020, uncertainty is growing over whether Tajikistan’s long-time ruler President Rahmon will handpick a successor or continue his reign. Growing troubles at home and abroad ensure both scenarios are fraught with risk and must be managed prudently, lest the country become another source of regional disorder.
China and Russia's separate visions for Central Asia could transform the region’s political and economic landscape as well as relations between the two Eurasian giants. To the smaller, embryonic Central Asian nation states, the new geopolitical realities could offer both economic prosperity as well as worsening instability and conflict.
Uzbekistan’s first new president in more than a quarter century has taken some positive steps in the early days of his administration. In order to encourage more sustained progress, western partners and regional powers will need to balance conditional support with tactical pressure.
After 25 years of authoritarian rule, Uzbekistan faces unpredictable neighbours, a jihadi threat and deep socio-economic challenges. New President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has taken small steps toward vital domestic and foreign policy reform, and outside partners should push him to do more to avert real dangers ahead.
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.
Domestic repression and self-imposed isolation has characterised Uzbekistan for much of the time since its independence in 1991. Following the death of Islam Karimov, the country’s long-time and only post-Soviet president, the outside world must seize a rare opportunity to re-engage with this critical Central Asian country.
If mishandled, [Kyrgyzstan's] election could shatter [the country's] facade of democracy. A fragile stability is at stake.
If the succession process [in Uzbekistan] is less than smooth, there is potential for this to create regional instability, particularly if we look to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
If the transition [in Uzbekistan] turns to political chaos, the risk of violent conflict is high; and in a region as fragile as Central Asia, the risk of that spreading is also high.
China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative could potentially transform relations with over 60 countries across Eurasia, Africa and beyond. But to bring the concept to fruition, Beijing must overcome mammoth logistical obstacles, navigate fragile political situations and placate growing regional apprehension surrounding its ambitions.
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.
Originally published in The Interpreter
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.