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.
President Jeenbekov dismissed several senior officials early April, including head and deputy of State Committee for National Security and prosecutor general, dismantling networks loyal to former President Atambayev. Jeenbekov 19 April dismissed govt after parliament passed vote of no confidence in PM Isakov, close ally of Atambayev. Moves came amid signs of tensions between Jeenbekov and Atambayev, who earlier publicly criticised his successor after being elected head of ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) on 31 March. Atambayev said he does not want to become PM, plans to prepare SDPK for 2020 parliamentary elections. State Committee for National Security 26 April questioned former PM Isakov in relation to alleged corruption. Three people injured along border with Tajikistan in clash between some 50 residents of Kyrgyz town Uch-Dobo (Batken province) and Tajik settlement Khodja-Alo (Isfara district) 3 April, after Kyrgyz woman reportedly attempted to erect fence inside non-demarcated territory in infringement of border regulations. More than 500 people rallied against Chinese-owned gold mining and processing plant in Toguz-Toro district, Jalalabad province 11 April, claiming owners were breaching environmental laws; several buildings set on fire as protests turned violent, demonstrators reportedly attacked police with stones; fifteen people arrested.
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.