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.
This week on War & Peace, post-Soviet security expert Dr Erica Marat joins Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope to discuss the drivers of anti-establishment protests and the policing thereof across Central Asia and globally.
Human rights group warned draft law on “foreign representatives” threatened civic space; EU and Central Asian leaders sought to strengthen regional cooperation.
Draft law on “foreign representatives” raised concerns. NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) 9 June called on parliament to reject “highly repressive draft law”, which would require organisations to register as “foreign representatives” if they receive funding from abroad and engage in political activity. Noting similarities to Russia’s controversial 2012 “foreign agents” law, HRW warned law “could have a chilling effect on the country’s civil society”.
High-level EU-Central Asia meeting took place in Kyrgyzstan. Following China-Central Asia summit late May, European Council President Charles Michel 2 June gathered with Kazakh, Kyrgz, Tajik and Uzbek leaders, alongside representative from Turkmenistan, in Kyrgz town of Cholpon-Ata for high-level meeting. In joint press communiqué, leaders reaffirmed importance of deepening ties and used opportunity to express “continued commitment to uphold the UN Charter, particularly the principles of respect for the independence, sovereignty [and] territorial integrity of all countries”; they also discussed climate change, emphasising need to continue dialogue on “open water-energy cooperation in Central Asia”.
Four Central Asian states – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – have argued over their water resources since the collapse of the Soviet Union. At times these disputes have seemed to threaten war. The forthcoming presidential summit in Astana can help banish that spectre.
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.
While Kyrgyzstan’s 15 October elections are a rare milestone for Central Asian democracy, the campaign is exposing dangerous fault lines. In the largest city of Osh, the new president will have to face down robust local power brokers, defuse Uzbek-Kyrgyz tensions and re-introduce the rule of law.
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.
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.
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.
Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.