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.
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.
Political parties launched electoral campaigns ahead of Oct parliamentary poll amid reports of alleged vote buying and clashes between parties’ supporters. In run-up to parliamentary elections scheduled for 4 Oct, 15 political parties 4 Sept kickstarted electoral campaigns in contest for 120 seats in Supreme Council; Central Elections Commission (CEC) chairwoman Nurjan Shaildabekova same day called for all parties to ensure “clean and open elections”. After CEC 3 Sept rejected applications by Aktiv and United Kyrgyzstan parties for failure to meet registration requirements, administrative court of capital Bishkek 9 Sept announced reversal of decision for United Kyrgyzstan, allowing party to officially join parliamentary race. Reports of alleged voter buying surfaced mid-month. Parliament speaker and Kyrgyzstan Party parliamentary candidate Dastan Djumabekov 14 Sept accused of giving new mother $600 during pre-election tour in Talas region, reportedly using funds from his speaker’s official activities; move which CEC official next day called possible vote-buying attempt. Local news emerged that head of education dept in Kara-Suu district, Osh region, and Mekenim Kyrgyzstan party parliamentary candidate Gulaym Mashrapova featured in WhatsApp message circulated week 14 Sept where she reportedly threatened to withhold teachers’ salaries if they did not mobilise ten voters for her party; Mashrapova denied allegations while police reportedly launched investigation. Unity party supporters 20 Sept disrupted My Homeland Kyrgyzstan party rally in southern Aravan district, Osh province, reportedly beating participants and leaving 12 injured; police briefly detained ten suspected attackers; Mekenim Kyrgyzstan party members 21 Sept reportedly attacked and injured Republika party campaigners in Alysh village, Naryn province.
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.
Growing tensions in the Ferghana Valley are exacerbated by disputes over shared water resources. To address this, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan urgently need to step back from using water or energy as a coercive tool and focus on reaching a series of modest, bilateral agreements, pending comprehensive resolution of this serious problem.
China’s influence is growing rapidly in Central Asia at a time when the region is looking increasingly unstable.
Kyrgyzstan’s disregard for its Uzbek community is pushing the ethnic minority to a breaking point.
Without prompt, genuine and exhaustive measures to address the damage done by the pogroms, Kyrgyzstan risks another round of terrible violence.
If mishandled, [Kyrgyzstan's] election could shatter [the country's] facade of democracy. A fragile stability is at stake.
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.