Restoring Legitimacy in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz Protest Rally

With ousted President  Kurmanbek Bakiyev now out of the country, and fears of a civil war weaning, the international community should carefully consider its agenda if it wishes to bringing about stability and true change to Kyrgyzstan. It would be a mistake to blindly accept the transition government as the trigger of the country’s democratic transformation — the same mistake which was made in 2005 when Bakiyev was pronounced the leader of the "Tulip Revolution." 

The problems in Kyrgyzstan run much deeper and stretch far beyond Bakiyev, his family and the associates. The trials being set-up to bring to "justice" those who served in the Bakiyev government make it seem like the transition folks are after setting old scores, rather than pursuing real democratic change. 

What Kyrgyzstan needs is transformation, a real effort at political change. Justice, as the new interim leader, Roza Otumbayeva, likes to point out, is not the panacea. Rather, justice is a part of the larger whole, which must also include a plan to restore political legitimacy to a system that has been robed off all decency and trust, first by the former President Akayev followed by Bakiyev. Already in 2005 the country had weak political institutions and no real parliamentary culture, which is precisely what enabled Bakiyev to consolidate his position and expand hold on power. Unless this is addressed, there are no assurances that the next President will be any different from the last two. 

The Parliament in Kyrgyzstan resembles a club of clan leaders each elected to cater to the interests of regional cronies. Party-politics as the driver of the political system is still a novelty for Kyrgyzstan’s political elite.  Each Parliament member works alone, under the motto: to each his own.  The real power was and still is in the hands of the executive branch. How Roza Otumbayeva devolves power away from the executive branch is key to building a functional political system in Kyrgyzstan.

 The interim government cannot stay on for too long.  For the sake of restoring legitimacy to the country’s badly wounded democracy, Kyrgyzstan needs an early election. Only an elected leader in a free, fair and a competitive political environment will have the necessary authority and stamina to carry out the deep reforms the country needs — especially in the fields of human rights, economy and finance. Whether the election is in three or six months, the point is it must be a transparent and fair one. The international community needs to help organize this election, and monitor it through the help of the OSCE.

 At the same time, the international community should make sure that the interim government doesn’t use the upcoming months to ready itself for a take-over of leadership of the country, but uses the next months to restore the basic services like security, electricity, sanitation, and that it begins to increase the power of the Parliament.

 Political legitimacy is fundamental to effective governance in any country, and especially in Kyrgyzstan where the last two changes in leadership came about through street protests, violence and bloodshed. Therefore, it is in the interest of all that this interim government manages the transition in a transparent and an inclusive way. Marginalizing segments of the population now is detrimental to building a strong Kyrgyzstan tomorrow.

Borut Grgic, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, is the founder and chairman of the Institute for Strategic Studies in Brussels, a nongovernmental institution focused on the EU’s foreign policy. Photo credit: Getty Images.


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