Nations in Transit 2009 - Kyrgyzstan

  • Author: Erica Marat
  • Document source:
  • Date:
    30 June 2009

by Erica Marat

Capital: Bishkek
Population: 5.2 million
GNI/capita: US$1,980

The data above was provided by The World Bank, World Bank Indicators 2009.

Nations in Transit Ratings and Averaged Scores

Electoral Process5.005.755.756.
Civil Society4.504.504.504.504.504.504.504.504.504.75
Independent Media5.005.005.756.006.005.755.755.756.006.25
National Democratic Governancen/an/an/an/an/a6.
Local Democratic Governancen/an/an/an/an/a5.756.256.256.506.50
Judicial Framework and Independence5.
Democracy Score5.085.295.465.675.675.645.685.685.936.04

* Starting with the 2005 edition, Freedom House introduced separate analysis and ratings for national democratic governance and local democratic governance to provide readers with more detailed and nuanced analysis of these two important subjects.

NOTE: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year.

Executive Summary

On March 24, 2008, Kyrgyzstan celebrated the third anniversary of the so-called Tulip Revolution. While the day is officially commemorated as a national holiday, for the majority of the public it merely marks the change of political regimes, from one corrupt leader – Askar Akayev – to another – Kurmanbek Bakiyev. President Bakiyev has become infamous for even greater levels of corruption, authoritarianism, and ineffective economic policies than his predecessor. Celebrations in the capital city, Bishkek, were mostly government efforts to demonstrate progress and encourage optimism regarding the political changes that took place in 2005. Most opposition leaders, however, associated the day with dashed hopes.

In 2008 President Bakiyev adopted several laws limiting freedom of speech and assembly, provoking international criticism of his regime. Furthermore, in 2008 Bakiyev replaced the heads of all security structures and revamped cadres in his administration with family and close friends. The subsequent intra-family competition over cadre politics and control of hydropower resources resembles a similar rivalry within Akayev's family, which contributed to the rapid collapse of his government.

There are other signs of simmering problems; Besides the worsening record of democratic governance, the country's economy has been deteriorating and the hydropower sector continues to be mismanaged. Winter 2008 was marked by frequent rotating blackouts, while double-digit inflation peaked at the end of summer. In the meantime, the opposition in Kyrgyzstan is slowly regrouping to challenge the government.

National Democratic Governance. Following the December 2007 parliamentary elections President Bakiyev formed a new government with loyal political supporters primarily interested in the continuity of the current political regime and their public offices. Most of the new ministers have low popular approval ratings, yet Bakiyev installed his candidates with ease; His Ak Zhol political bloc formed in October-November 2007 occupies the majority of parliamentary seats. Only one opposition political party was able to win seats in the parliament. Due to the amendment and adoption of laws limiting freedom of speech and assembly, along with inappropriate and unpopular political appointments Kyrgyzstan's rating for National Democratic Governance worsens from 6.25 to 6.50.

Electoral Process. Following parliamentary elections in December 2007, local government elections on October 5, 2008 allowed President Bakiyev's regime to place more loyal supporters in power. The competition for local elections was fierce, with roughly 15,000 candidates registered to 491 contested seats. According to local experts, even the number of candidates informally supported by the government exceeded the available local government positions. The government mobilized public employees of various ranks to facilitate pro-regime victories. As a result, mostly candidates supportive of the ruling regime were able to win seats. International observers were not allowed to attend the elections, and observers fielded by the candidates engaged in massive falsification of the results. Given the uncompetitive nature of the local government elections Kyrgyzstan's Electoral Process rating remains 6.00.

Civil Society. Kyrgyz civil society groups remain the most vibrant political and social force in the country. A number of leading NGO activists regularly speak out on political development in Kyrgyzstan, attracting the attention of the wider public. A handful of NGOs actively work on gender issues, poverty reduction, border delimitation, the population's access to water and sanitation, and environmental protection. Some of these issues have become part of official policy. However, President Bakiyev's endorsement of a new law on assemblies significantly represses local NGOs' activity. As a result, the Civil Society rating for Kyrgyzstan worsens from 4.50 to 4.75.

Independent Media. Mass media in Kyrgyzstan experienced strong pressure from the government in 2008. Several independent newspapers were persecuted by the government and sued by public officials in courts supporting the regime, while at least three opposition journalists left the country in the past two years to escape unfair trials. Two newspapers were shut down for criticizing the ruling elites. A few online news outlets experienced problems as well. Bakiyev's amendments to the law "On Television and Radio Broadcast", brought the most detrimental change in 2008 by imposing strict broadcasting rules on of local outlets. Given the numerous persecutions of journalists and new amendments to the law on mass media, Kyrgyzstan's rating for Independent Media worsens from 6.00 to 6.25.

Local Democratic Governance. Compared with neighboring Central Asian states, local democratic governance is more developed in Kyrgyzstan, with local government officials achieving a great degree of autonomy from the central government. However, in the October 5, 2008 elections results were largely falsified in favor of Ak Zhol, especially at city councils. The competition was fierce, even among pro-regime candidates. Shortly before the elections, the Chair of the Central Elections Committee, Klara Kabilova resigned, releasing a video statement that described psychological and physical intimidation by Maksim Bakiyev, to secure the victories of specific candidates in the run-up to elections. Due to uncompetitve local elections in October, Kyrgyzstan's Local Democratic governance rating remains 6.50.

Judicial Framework and Independence. The judicial sector remains among the least trusted institutions in Kyrgyzstan due to pervasive corruption among judges and low level of professionalism. Efforts facilitated by various international donors to reform the judicial sector were unsuccessful partly due to the lack of will among local judges and politicians. The judicial system is often used to persecute members of the political opposition. The Constitution of 2007 allows Bakiyev to appoint judges, while parliament, dominated by Ak Zhol can potentially help the president to dismiss heads of the Constitutional and Supreme Court. This allows Bakiyev an opportunity to secure the Constitutional Court's support in holding early presidential election. Given the president's control over the judicial system, the country's Judicial Framework and independence rating remains 6.00.

Corruption. In 2008 Kyrgyzstan hydropower sector faced the brink of collapse due to years of poor management and pervasive corruption. In spring, water levels dropped to an extreme low at the Toktogul reservoir, the main hydropower site in the country, while reports of the illegal sale of hydropower by high-ranking officials continued to surface. Yet, despite the crisis, expert reports confirmed ongoing embezzlement of water resources by top government officials. Such a devastating record of corruption among high-ranking officials affected virtually the entire population. Kyrgyzstan's corruption rating remains at 6.25.

Outlook for 2009. During over three years in power Bakiyev has secured loyalty of all state institutions. Except for the confrontation between Maksim and Zhanysh which might eventually weaken Bakiyev's government, the president has built the basis to prolong his power despite low popularity at home. Like the snap parliamentary elections in December 2007, an early presidential electin will no doubt be uncompetitive. Furthermore, the entire state apparatus works to support the incumbent president's reelection, with the Constitutional Court justifying Bakiyev's attempt to hold early elections in 2009.

Declining remittances from labor migrants due to an economic downturn in Russia and Kazakhstan in 2009 will likely have a major effect on stability in Kyrgyzstan, as more people will be forced into poverty. In 2008 Bakiyev showed little interest in alleviating the impact of the global economic downturn. On the contrary, a new tax code stifled small businesses and increased unemployment. Thanks to a fairly mild winter and low energy consumption in 2008 the public mood is less aggressive toward Bakiyev than was expected as the energy crisis unraveled. Yet, blackouts will continue in 2009. The chance that popular opposition leaders will organize the masses against Bakiyev remains a possibility.

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