Kyrgyzstan: the last revolution

Article published on March 30, 2005
community published
Article published on March 30, 2005

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Kyrgyzstan has just become the latest of the ex Soviet republics to witness a democratic revolution. But things are far from over

In the second round of parliamentary elections held on March 13th, the pro-government party won 69 out of the 75 seats. Despite the numerous allegations contesting the legitimacy of these results, barely any attention was paid to the elections in the European media. Everything pointed towards things remaining the same: an entrenched government and a weak, divided opposition which had only begun to organise itself in view of the elections. Nothing prepared us for the subsequent unravelling of events.

Superficial changes?

In the days following the elections, the opposition gathered in strength. Beginning in towns in the south, opposition movements progressively grew until reaching the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, last Thursday, storming the government headquarters and causing President Akayev to flee to Moscow. Kurmanbek Bakiev, the acting president, had been close to Akayev until 2002 and had even been his Prime Minister. This takeover by members of the old regime and their recognition of the new parliament has caused frustration among the demonstrators, who are finding it difficult to understand the point of this “revolution”.

Since 1990 this small, mountainous country had been governed by Askar Akayev, who radically reversed his previously democratic political stance in the mid-1990s, and started to adopt polices typical of an authoritarian state, the elections in 1995 and 2000 being clear examples of these governmental manipulations. Kyrgyz society, which has got considerably poorer since then, has seen many of its rights violated. The government has almost absolute power over the population, as it dominates the media and controls the opposition groups, thus impeding the creation of a strong and organised civil society.

Despite governmental repression, the Kyrgyz opposition groups, characterised by their lack of internal cohesion and by their weakness, started to organise and strengthen themselves across the country in the months preceding the elections. In mid-January, and in preparation for the first round of the parliamentary elections, members of the opposition group Ata-Jurt organised protests in Bishkek against the decision to reject the candidature of the ex-Foreign Affairs Minister Roza Otunbaeva, one of the leaders of the group. The right to participate in the elections was also denied to other former ambassadors sympathetic to the opposition, in favour of candidates from Akayev’s family circle (such as his daughter).

Future developments

As a result of the rapid organisation of opposition groups, some international analysts had speculated about the possibility of a post-electoral social revolution. However, most had only foreseen a reinforcement of the opposition - not a change in the ruling elite. The presidential elections, which will take place in June and probably be followed by further parliamentary elections, will be the chance for Bakiev to put his legitimacy to the popular vote. But although this electoral process may clear up the political turmoil currently facing the country, there is a chance that the recent changes could be reversed. For the moment, Akayev has declared his intetention to go back to Kyrgyzstan to put an end to this “anti-constitutional coup”, while the new Interior Minister, Felix Kulov, has announced “the revolution has just begun”.