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.
Speaker of parliament and member of ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) Chynybai Tursunbekov 31 July withdrew his candidacy for 15 Oct presidential election; official SDPK candidate PM Sooronbai Jeenbekov 21 Aug announced his resignation to run for presidency; parliament 25 Aug approved appointment of former president’s chief of staff Sapar Iskov as PM. Leaders of three southern-based opposition parties (Butun Kyrgyzstan, Ata-Jurt Mekenchil, Onuguu-Progress) 6 Aug announced single political association formation; move raises concerns among observers that presidential campaign may inflame country’s north-south divide. Bishkek court 16 Aug handed eight year prison sentence to opposition Ata-Meken party leader Omurbek Tekebayev and former Emergency Situations Minister Duishonkul Chotonov for bribe-taking; Supreme Court 31 Aug upheld Central Election Commission’s rejection of Tekebayev’s presidential candidacy despite 39,000 signatures collected by his supporters. Birinchi Mai district court in Bishkek 22 Aug shut down TV channel Sentyabr for extremist content broadcast after it aired interview with chief of police allegedly insulting now former PM Jeenbekov.
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.
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.