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Kyrgyzstan: Did Revolution Sow The Seeds Of Democracy? (Part II)

The drive to oust President Askar Akaev gathered strength in Osh on 22 March Many of those involved in sweeping President Askar Akaev from power did so in the name of democracy. Akaev's leadership was widely viewed as corrupt and unresponsive to people's needs. And there was a real fear that Akaev might seek yet another term in office later this year. It's only been two weeks since the changes, but are there at least signs Kyrgyzstan is moving toward greater democracy? The second of this three-part series on Kyrgyzstan's “revolution,”looks at why optimism is still strong amid some initial disappointments.

Prague, 8 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The new Kyrgyz leadership faces a tough job in meeting people’s high expectations.

On the long-term agenda are things like eradicating corruption, poverty, and unemployment. These problems will not be solved easily.

But the new government seems to be failing in making other -- relatively smaller -- changes. Edil Baysalov, the head of a coalition of pro-democracy NGOs ("For Democracy and Civil Society"), says the new leaders appear more interested in winning over former Akaev supporters than in cleaning out the government.
The political disorder is continuing, particularly in regions where protesters held mass demonstrations last month seeking to oust Akaev.

“Our demands to replace [pro-Akaev] members of the Supreme Court and the Central Election Commission have not yet been met. [Interim President and Prime Minister Kurmanbek] Bakiev is now seeking support not among the people, but among Akaev’s 'nomenklatura.' In the provinces, there is disorder, lawlessness, and anarchy. The new authorities remind me of a 'blind kitten' that doesn’t know what to do or where to go," says Baysalov.

The political disorder is continuing, particularly in regions where protesters held mass demonstrations last month seeking to oust Akaev.

In one district (Bazarkurgan) of the Jalalabat region, five people now claim the governor’s post. Each is trying to prove his legitimacy by claiming to have opposed Akaev.

In the southern city of Osh, the head of the state university has been replaced four times in the past month.

Before Akaev’s ouster, many had hoped that the country's fragmented opposition would be able to unite around one leader. That does not appear to be happening.

The leader of the opposition is interim President and Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev. He led protests in the south.

Bakiev's main rival is Feliks Kulov, a former vice president and the charismatic leader of Ar-Namys (Dignity) party. Kulov -- who is from the north -- took control of the country’s law-enforcement agencies in the immediate days after Akaev's ouster. He subsequently resigned -- allegedly over disagreements with Bakiev.

The two are now expected to compete for the presidency in new elections.

There are fears that a personality-driven election campaign could harm the country. Many still cherish the hope that Bakiev and Kulov will be able to unite Kyrgyzstan's north and south.

In an interview with the Internet publication "Transitions Online" on 4 April, Kulov said he had agreed with Bakiev that the winner of the election would become president and the other would lead the government.

Another concern is over the economy. The political changes -- especially in the heavily agricultural south -- have resulted in delay of sowing.

Alisher Saipov, an independent journalist from the southern city of Osh, notes, “Economists say next autumn, the harvest will be small. Due to political fighting, the sowing season was missed, works like planting and sowing have been delayed”.

The southern cities of Osh and Jalalabat were opposition strongholds in the run-up to Akaev's ouster. The protesters in the south were especially active in bringing about the changes, and their expectations are proportionally bigger. Two weeks after Akaev's removal from power, pessimism and disappointment seem to be stronger in the south than in the capital Bishkek.

Independent journalist Saipov says, “Those who supported the opposition and believed in revolution seem to be disappointed. Politicians try to get new posts. Infighting is very strong. Besides, a negative attitude toward what is happening prevails.”

That may be true for some, but journalists at least seem to be happy about the changes.

The media environment has traditionally been freer in Kyrgyzstan than elsewhere in Central Asia. But ahead of parliamentary elections earlier this year, many publications faced serious harassment.

Alisher Mamasaliev, the leader of the Kyrgyz KelKel youth movement, says the situation changed dramatically for the better after 24 March.

“[The state-controlled TV channel] is to be reformed to public television. The channel KOORT, which belonged to Akayev’s son-in-law, is also to be reformed. Its new head will be named soon. Radio stations give truthful information about the current situation. So do newspapers. The Internet sites haven’t been blocked [since the revolution]. There is no political censorship at all,” says Mamasaliev.

Mamasaliev says his party, for now, is being patient in demanding major changes.

“We still have the impulse. We are ready to work. I wouldn’t say there is disappointment. We are waiting. We understand that it would serve no purpose if we demand some changes immediately. We are going to wait and get prepared for the presidential election," Mamasaliev says.

Baysalov says the Kyrgyz people still have a lot of learning to do. He contrasts the situation to Ukraine, where a two-month-long revolution served as a nationwide lesson in civic education. Kyrgyzstan's revolution was quicker, but the transition could take much longer.