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Time For Real Change? Kyrgyzstan's Opposition Is In Control And Seeking A New Path


The protesters in Bishkek may not be satisfied by the same old faces taking over, yet again.

Kyrgyzstan is in the midst of its third major political upheaval since 2005 and the same important questions have arisen: Who will the new leaders be and how will they move the country forward?

This time however, it seems the "old" ways will not work.

Many supporters of the 12 opposition parties that took part in the October 4 parliamentary elections went to the polls to vote for changes in the leadership and changes in the way the country was run.

These voters were naturally disappointed that of the 16 parties competing, three of the four parties that won seats in those elections were pro-government parties that many in Kyrgyzstan felt attained victory by buying votes and using state resources.

One thing seemed sure to the Kyrgyz people and that was there wouldn't be any positive changes coming from a parliament packed with people loyal to the president or shadowy business figures and suspected criminal groups.

Barely 24 hours after the announcement of preliminary results from the vote, angry protesters had stormed the parliament building and state television headquarters, ransacked the president's office, and freed some high-profile prisoners.

Turmoil In Kyrgyzstan After Disputed Elections
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On October 6, a group of opposition leaders met and announced the formation of a Coordination Council comprised of representatives from eight of the 16 political parties that competed in the parliamentary elections.

The leader of Butun (United) Kyrgyzstan, Adakhan Madumarov, was chosen to head the council and standing beside him in photos were familiar faces from other political parties.

In some ways, maybe too familiar.

Familiar Faces, Yet Again

In March 2005, a genuine, popular revolution swept Kyrgyzstan's first president, Askar Akaev, from power.

Akaev had been gradually concentrating power into his hands and when two of his children ran for seats in parliament in the 2005 elections and a series of obstacles were thrown in the way of other candidates, it was too much for many Kyrgyz people to endure any longer.

No opposition parties led the protests that broke out. It was all accomplished by ordinary citizens with help from civil society groups and it eventually engulfed the entire country.

Opposition leaders tried to catch up and "ride the wave," so to speak, but when March 24 came and Akaev fled the country no leader leader had emerged as a guiding force for that revolution.

But it was opposition leaders who formed a new government.

In a process that is still unclear, a handful of these leaders selected former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev to be acting prime minister and later the main presidential candidate in early elections that Bakiev easily won in June 2005.

Bakiev in turn appointed other opposition leaders and veteran politicians to key posts in government.

But it was not long before many people saw there was no real change, as Bakiev began acquiring many of the same corrupt practices as the man he had replaced.

Some people even said Kyrgyzstan had simply exchanged "A," meaning Akaev, for "B," meaning Bakiev.

Kyrgyzstan did not seem to be any better off under Bakiev than it had been doing under Akaev, and Bakiev's habit of bringing cronies and family members into government -- such as putting his then-32-year-old son Maksim in charge of the country's economy -- made people start clamoring for change.

But the people generally making the decisions were the same names and faces people in Kyrgyzstan had known for many years.

Bakiev was ousted in the revolution of April 2010. That revolution was localized and primarily took place in two northern cities -- Bishkek and Talas -- in the span of a little more than 48 hours.

Kurmanbek Bakiev was a bit too much like his predecessor as president, and was ousted the same way.
Kurmanbek Bakiev was a bit too much like his predecessor as president, and was ousted the same way.

It had been stoked by opposition figures such as Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebaev and Social Democratic Party leader Almazbek Atambaev, and once Bakiev fled the capital and eventually the country, Tekebaev, Atambaev, former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva, and some other familiar top opposition figures took control.

The constitution was amended to give Kyrgyzstan a parliamentary form of government and some progress was made toward that end, but the overall system of government stayed mostly the same.

Kyrgyzstan plodded along from 2011 to 2017, when Atambaev was president, and the country continued on that course after Sooronbai Jeenbekov was elected president in 2017.

All that time those making the decisions were, once again, mostly the same names and faces people in Kyrgyzstan had known for many years.

Kyrgyz Revolution 3.0?

October 6 was a chaotic day in Bishkek. It is apparent no one is truly in control of the situation at the moment.

But in the confusion, there is also a danger that the changes many wanted when they voted will be ignored and that the new government could return to business as usual in Kyrgyzstan.

The Coordination Council shown in photos on October 6 is virtually all men.

Most of the politicians who dominated the news on that day were men and most were older men, some of them politicians released from prison earlier that morning -- such as disgraced former President Atambaev -- more than a few of whom were convicted for having committed crimes.

The old crowd seems to be rising to the top again, and once again many of them are the same names and faces people in Kyrgyzstan have known for many years.

It is no wonder, then, that several youth groups held a gathering on October 6 where supporters called for lustration and urged the people trying to form a new government to include more young people in the decision-making process.

The Bishkek Feminists wrote on Twitter that at least half of the population is women and they should therefore have 50 percent of the posts in any new government.

Business as usual has not helped Kyrgyzstan advance, and when the dust finally settles from this recent revolution it won't help the country achieve greater things.

There are some talented young men and women in politics in Kyrgyzstan.

Now is their moment and they need to be consulted and included in decisions being made during these days that will guide Kyrgyzstan well into the future.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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