Kyrgyzstan  >  Political Risk Analysis


Independence from the Soviet Union

The Soviet Union first established power in the region we now call Kyrgyzstan in 1918, the area became known as the Kirghiz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. However after 1985 the communist party’s power was slowly eroded.

The erosion of soviet control increased due to Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of perestroika and glasnost. They did not have an immediate effect, however decentralising power from Moscow and loosening the monopoly of power the communist party held would eventually lead to the collapse of the soviet system.

The communist party started to reform with Absamat Masaliyev, the leader of the communist party, when he assumed the new position of Chairmen of the Supreme Soviet of Kirghiziza in April 1990. However, Masaliyev and the party struggled to deal with the speed and scale of the problems that the reforms to the political system and economy had caused. One of the most destabilising effects of glasnost and perestroika across the entire Soviet Union was the rise of inter-ethnic tensions. In Kyrgyzstan, there had always been tensions between certain groups, particularly Uzbek and Kyrgyz. However, these reached new heights with the rise in nationalism across the republic. This led to the departure of large parts of the ethnic Russian populace, this further destabilised the economic situation as the Russians were often the most skilled elements of the workforce. The subsequent social disorder led to fighting between the Kyrgyz majority and the Uzbek minority. 

The communist party held an election in 1990, as they were the only party running they won unanimously. A new position of executive president was created by Masaliyev to gain some control over the rapidly destabilising situation. However due to the rise in public protest in the republic, Moscow decided to let the local soviet choose the candidate rather than give the position directly to Masaliyev. The presidential election had 11 candidates, none of which received a majority. To deal with the ensuing deadlock Moscow then sent Askar Akayev to Kyrgyzstan, he was an ethnic Kyrgyz who had been a member of the Supreme Soviet and the Central committee in Moscow. Once he returned he quickly won the presidency, while Masaliyev was side-lined. 

During this period of political manoeuvring an independent democratic opposition started to form, the Democratic Kyrgyzstan Movement (DKM). The DKM developed a nationalistic outlook, this originally occurred due to the communist party alienating the ethnic Kyrgyz populace. As although the Kyrgyz were the largest ethnic group they were mostly employed in low skilled or manual jobs. This resentment was further compounded by the fact that the homelessness and unemployment rates were far higher among the Kyrgyz populace than for Russians. As a result the DKM's social polices focused on primarily addressing ethnic Kyrgyz issues. However it was the early growth of these democratic elements that led to the creation of the Kyrgyz democratic system. 

Kyrgyzstan’s position as the only parliamentary democracy in central came more accidentally than planned. When Akayev became president,  Masaliyev and his power-base the communist party were sidelined. So unlike the other Central Asian republics where the communist party leader became president as head of the communists, the election of Akayev allowed for the growth of the DKM and other democratic opposition. The divide between Akayev and the communists came to ahead in August 1991 with the attempted coup in Moscow. Akayev opposed the coup and as a result the local KGB attempted to arrest him. The move backfired when the KGB officers were detained and loyal troops were sent to surround the communist party offices.

After the failure of the coup Akayev suspended the party and seized their assets. Many fled to Moscow, while the representatives in parliament that stayed became independent candidates, who unanimously supported the Supreme Soviet motion on Kyrgyzstan’s independence.


President Akayev 

The election of Akayev allowed for the growth of democratic parties. However, the divide between Akayev and the communist hardliners,caused by his election win, came to ahead in August 1991 with the attempted coup in Moscow. Akayev opposed the coup so the local KGB attempted to arrest him. The move backfired when the KGB officers were detained and loyal troops were sent to surround the communist party offices.

After the failure of the coup Akayev suspended the party and seized their assets. Many fled to Moscow, while the representatives in parliament that stayed became independent candidates, who unanimously supported the Supreme Soviet motion on Kyrgyzstan’s independence.

During his early years as president, he was perceived as a liberal and a moderniser, he consulted with different political and social groups weekly. However, he became increasingly more authoritarian and corrupt as time went on. 

Akayev held another presidential election in 1995to placate the US and to continued receiving IMF funding. He won the electionand was secure for another five-year term. He then started to monopolisepower, enriching himself and his family through corruption and suppressed theopposition. He became the centre of an increasingly extravagantly corruptregime. Akayev then set his sights on extending past two presidential terms,which his allies managed to achieve through the constitutional court, allowinghim to run for another term.  Despite the repression, the opposition stillexisted although heavily monitored by the authorities. 

Akayev was elected for a third five-year term in October 2000, due to the changes to the constitution that he had pushed through, but Western observers criticised the ballot for irregularities. Tensions started to rise when in February 2003 he moved to increase his presidential powers further. This was on top of a series of grand corruption cases that involved the Prime Minister and Akayev’s  eldest son, Aydar, and eldest daughter, Bermet, won were being groomed for political office.

Akayev became alarmed when a large proportion of opposition parties, under the leadership of former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiyev, united to form the People’s Movement of Kyrgyzstan (PMK), who were intent on challenging Akayev in the 2005 parliamentary elections.

Matters came to a head when the PMK and the opposition suffered heavily in the first rounds of the election to pro-Akayev candidates, mainly because of widespread electoral malpractice.Tensions finally boiled over with Aydar and Bermet Akayev winning seats in parliament, as it was believed that Akayev would position his children in key positions to maintain power. Protests began demanding a cancellation of the fraudulent election results and Akayev’s resignation, the movement response was a crackdown on several newspapers and increasing coverage on state media of pro-Akayev candidates.

In march twenty-three opposition MPs declared a symbolic vote of no confidence in Akayev and the Central Election Commission.The second round of voting was marked by widespread electoral malpractice and had a lower turnout that the previous round.

As a result the PMK and its supporters started to protest and demanded an early presidential election. The protests started to gather momentum particularly in the south of Kyrgyzstan which was Bakiyev’s and the PMK’s heartland. Protesters started to occupy regional government buildings and 3000 matched on Bishkek, however they were repelled by the police. However their numbers soon swelled, 50,000  assembling in Jalalabad alone, resulting inthe government losing control of the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad.

In March 20,000 protesters amassed in central Bishkek and matched on the presidential administrative buildings, they soon overpowered the riot police guarding the building and they seized the building. Many journalists belonging to the state media subsequently switched their allegiance and started to broadcast anti Akayev views. With the ensuing rioting and break down of order Akayev and his close allies and family fled to Russia. Later investigation into the materials left behind by Akayev and his cohorts fully exposed the obscene level of corruption and nepotism that had existed during his leadership.

The opposition leaders formed an interim government with Bakiyev as Interim President, and Felix Kulov was released from prison and would go onto becoming Bakiyev’s Prime Minister.

This relative peaceful transition became known as the ‘Tulip Revolution’.


President Bakiyev
(2005–2010 )

When Bakiyev become Interim Prime Minister the country was in a state of turmoil, with widespread rioting and looting. To combat this and to restore order he released from prison prominent opposition leader Feliks Kulov, who had been a top security official before his imprisonment. He then focused on economic development as the Kyrgyz economy had been declining for the previous decade. A significant part of this was to restore the international communities and international investors confidence in Kyrgyzstan.

The elections of 2005 were generally fair and Bakiyev received 89 percent of the vote. However many of his ministerial nominee were blocked from office by parliament, and he dismissed Azimbek Beknazarov a leading member of the opposition from his position as attorney general. These early skirmishes between parliament and Bakiyev set a pattern for Bakiyev’s regime, which was fraught with deadlock and organised protests.

Bakiyev responded to these conflicts by calling a referendum on a new constitution in 2007, that provided the president with far ranging powers. Although the constitutional referendum was approved it was widely criticised by international observers. Bakiyev called for a snap election in December 2007, Ak-Zhol his party suspiciously won 71 of the 91 seats. A series of crises followed; power shortages due to hydroelectric mismanagement and a series of corruption and nepotism allegations. As time progressed Bakiyev become less tolerant of opposition and was increasingly accused of intimidation against the opposition as well as journalists.

Tensions continued to increase due to Bakiyev’s increasingly authoritarian policies. An election was held in July 2009 which resulted in a landslide victory for Bakiyev, however it was widely condemned by international observers and the opposition due to widespread electoral fraud.

Rising utility bills and the anger caused by the 2009 elections led to further protests. However, the situation escalated after a protest in April 2010, where thousands of protesters attempted to seize Bishkek’s main political buildings. When tear gas and stun grenades failed to disperse the crowd the riot police fired upon them with live ammunition. Killing around 80 people and wounding hundreds more. After this action the  protests increased in scale, particularly in Naryn, Tokmak and Talas, which resulted in the government declaring a state of emergency on the 7th April. However, by the morning of the 8th Bakiyev had fled Bishkek and escaped by plane, with the opposition forming an interim government.

The days following his escape Bakiyev’s whereabouts remained a mystery, although statements had been made by him opposing the interim government.  He resurfaced in Jalalabad, where he refuted the interim government’s claim that they had received his resignation and insisted that he still had widespread public support and that he was the legitimate president. Meanwhile the violence across the country was only escalating and the interim government issued an order that authorised deadly force. After a few more days in the south he fled to Kazakhstan, then to Belarus. Meanwhile the Russian and US governments quickly confirmed the interim governments legitimacy.

Interim Government 

President Otunbayeva 

Before Bakiyev had fled the opposition, led by ex-foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva, started to take control of the key areas of power. They started by commencing talks with key power brokers, the US and Russia, while also replacing government officials. Despite Bakiyev fleeing to Belarus violence and looting continued to escalate across the country which forced the interim government to authorise deadly force in an attempt to return Kyrgyzstan back to normality.

However two months after the transition of power the violence hit new heights in the southern provinces of Kyrgyzstan. Osh and Jalalabad oblasts have historic ethnic tensions between the majority Kyrgyz population and the minority Uzbek, however the unrest triggered by Bakiyev’s departure led to widespread ethnic violence. What originally started as violence perpetrated by Uzbek and Kyrgyz criminal gangs quickly escalated into a wider battle of the communities. The interim government was unable to control the violence which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Uzbeks and a smaller number of Kyrgyz, while forcing hundreds of thousands out of their homes and many to flee across the Uzbek-Kyrgyzstan border.

The interim government struggled to respond to the crisis as security forces were overwhelmed, unwilling and in some examples aiding the Kyrgyz mobs attack Uzbek neighbourhoods. The violence was eventually stopped but it cast doubts on the interim governments ability to control the country. Despite this the government pushed for its planned constitutional referendum, a vote which would make Kyrgyzstan a parliamentary democracy. The new constitution was approved by around 90 percent of voters, in what international observers called a fee and fair election.

Kyrgyzstan held its first parliamentary elections in October 2010, Ata-Zhurt became the largest party but they did not win a majority, they joined four other parties that had received enough votes to sit in parliament. As there was no majority party a government coalition was formed, led by the Social Democratic Party’s (SDP) leader Almazbek Atambayev, who became Prime Minister.

Atambayev resigned as Prime Minister to run in the presidential elections in October 2011. In the election Atambayev won 60 percent of the vote and became Prime Minister. It was the first peaceful transition of power by an election in Central Asia.


President Atambayev  

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Kyrgyzstan – Political risk analysis



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