Kyrgyzstan democracy faces tough road ahead

A man casts his vote at a polling station in the village of Baytik outside the capital Bishkek Reuters

Kyrgyzstan faces a tough time building a coalition and inter-ethnic trust despite Sunday’s parliamentary elections going off smoothly, observers say.

This content was published on October 14, 2010 - 21:30

Kyrgyzstan is trying to form the first parliamentary democracy in Central Asia, a region dominated by post-Soviet strongmen, only four months after hundreds died in ethnic violence and six months after its president was toppled in a popular uprising.

On Wednesday the five political parties that won seats in the new parliament agreed to a vote recount, after concerns about irregularities and protests from losing party supporters. The recount may admit a sixth party to parliament.

However, Sunday's election was widely hailed by international observers and passed without violence. Ata Zhurt, a nationalist party whose members include former colleagues of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was narrowly placed first with 8.7 per cent.

The other four parties that won seats include one whose leader was an architect of the reforms that shifted power to parliament, and two that oppose the changes. Approximately 57 per cent of voters participated.

Under new rules, parliament will be the country's main decision-making body, assuming more power than the president, Roza Otunbayeva, who will remain until December 31, 2011.

The authorities say the vote opens a new chapter in the country’s political culture and future.

“The parliamentary model offers a unique opportunity for the country to build a society based on democracy, liberty and equality,” Temirbek Sultanbaev, the chargé d’affaires at the Permanent Mission of the Kyrgyz Republic to the United Nations in Geneva, told

Complex coalition-building

Analysts praised the conduct of the election but said personal rivalries and factional differences between the parties and their leaders mean that negotiations over a coalition government will be complex.

“We shouldn’t be pessimistic, as these were their first parliamentary elections after the new constitution vote in June, but there is not really a renewal of the political elite so factionalism will remain and regionalism may develop,” said Thierry Kellner, a specialist at the Free University of Brussels.

“It risks being an instable government and that’s not what the country needs right now.”

The landlocked former Soviet Republic of 5.4 million people – one of the poorest countries in central Asia - has been hard hit by the recent global economic downturn, which has pushed up youth unemployment and stifled development.

Ethnic violence

The vote comes after a year of political turbulence and ethnic violence in the south.

Bakiyev was ousted in April in violent public demonstrations over stagnant living standards and corruption. Clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks in the south of the country around Osh and Jalal-Abad in June left more than 400 people dead, most of them Uzbeks, and displaced around 400,000 people. It destabilised the country and sent shock waves across the region.

A recent Human Rights Watch report said some government forces, knowingly or unwittingly encouraged attacks on Uzbek neighbourhoods in June. And violations have taken place during the authorities’ investigation into the events.

Sultanbaev said he believed that the June events were “orchestrated by third forces” who had to be brought to justice to help raise trust among Uzbeks and begin the reconciliation process.


But Stephen Aris, a Central Asia expert from the Centre for Security Studies at Zurich’s Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ), felt it would not be that simple.

“It will take a sustained effort and period of time for trust to be rebuilt to a level, within which the ethnic Uzbeks no longer fear violence directed against them as a group and whereby they come to view the Kyrgyz state as a reliable source of protection against such violence,” he said.

In July, the member states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), including Kyrgyzstan, agreed to deploy a small advisory police group to southern Kyrgyzstan headed by Swiss expert Markus Müller to assist the Kyrgyz authorities in reducing ethnic tensions.

The deployment of the unarmed 52-strong group has been repeatedly postponed, but the authorities say they should start after the parliamentary elections and formation of a government.

Herbert Salber, director of the OSCE Conflict Prevention Centre, said he was “moderately optimistic” that the group will soon begin their mission.

“I think it’s still very relevant as we still have lots of question marks over the situation in southern Kyrgyzstan and the conduct of police work,” he told


Population: 5.41 million
Size: 199,951 sq km (more than four times the size of Switzerland)
Life expectancy: 69.4 years old
GDP: $5.06 billion
GDP per capita: $934.40
Inflation: 21.21%
Unemployment: 18%
Major religion: Islam (65.1%)
Swiss exports: SFr11.4 million
Swiss imports: SFr5.5 million
Ethnic groups: Kyrgyz (70%), Uzbeks (14.5%), Russians (9.0%), Tatars (1.9%), Uyghurs (1.1%), Tajiks (1.1%), Kazakhs (0.7%), and Ukrainians (0.5%)

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About 50 Swiss nationals were registered with consulates in Kyrgyzstan in 2009.

Switzerland recognised the country in December 1991, less than three months after declaring its independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Switzerland has been active in Kyrgyzstan with development aid since 1994 and has invested approximately SFr200 million. The country is part of a priority region, along with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Switzerland represents them at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Swiss involvement in Kyrgyzstan is a joint effort between the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco). SDC supports projects in the water management (irrigation), health care reform, and disaster risk reduction areas. Seco supports urban water supply, public finance management and private sector development projects. The 2010 budget amounts to around SFr15 million in Kyrgyzstan.

The SDC office in Bishkek was temporarily closed in April 2010. Project activities were only affected near the capital. In May projects in conflict-affected areas in the south had to be suspended for one week.

The SDC’s programmes were reviewed and it was decided to continue ongoing projects while integrating “conflict sensitive programme management”. Several humanitarian and small cooperation projects have been launched to assist the victims of the unrest to create rapid employment, particularly for young people and to support political reforms and national identity building. The planning process for water supply projects in the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad were accelerated.

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