Bishkek/Brussels: President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has turned Kyrgyzstan in effect into a one-party state, but its surface calm could soon be shattered if he does not deal with its real problems of corruption and economic crisis before winter sets in. Kyrgyzstan: A Deceptive Calm,* the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, assesses the political developments and potential dangers in a state which had until recently been regarded as a liberal exception among the former Soviet republics in Central Asia. The key change came last December, when manipulated elections installed a parliament fully dominated by President Bakiyev’s newly-created political machine, Ak Zhol. Decorative roles were assigned to two parties that were apportioned seats in contravention of the electoral code.
“Long before Russian tanks administered a bloody nose to Westward-leaning Georgia, Kyrgyzstan was moving - for its own purely domestic reasons - to conform its system of governance to the more authoritarian climate of its neighbours”, said Robert Templer, Crisis Group Asia Program Director. “The Bakiyev regime has concentrated power in the hands of the presidential family and adopted many political methods favoured by Vladimir Putin in Moscow”.
Bakiyev’s advisers claim they want to break out of the political paralysis that has marked the time since independence in 1991. The liberal democratic model has failed, they say; Russia’s model of limited democracy, a marginalised opposition and strong presidential power is better suited at this stage. Though there has been little sign so far of a heralded two-year program of radical privatisation, the ruling elite appears committed to selling off much of the country’s energy infrastructure as soon as it can.
Deep popular disillusionment with the government has become apparent since the elections, expressed mostly in resigned disgust with the system rather than overt anger. Food prices and inflation are rising faster than expected. Few officials or citizens expect that energy cuts will be limited to unheated homes once the cold weather comes.
A further deterioration in living conditions could spark serious anger among a public already worn down by power cuts, the steady increase in fuel prices and the memory of the previous grim winter. If anger turns to violence, it risks being brutal, destructive and xenophobic — and the remnants of the discredited opposition may not be able to channel demonstrations into a more controllable form.
“The current leadership’s problems are greater than they appear on first sight”, says Paul Quinn-Judge, Crisis Group’s Central Asia Project Director. “Signs of dissension inside the ruling group could encourage its opponents, while disunity could prove even more problematic if the regime is confronted with the need to crush unrest”.