Kyrgyzstan — Not a Failing State

By Erica Marat

Two weeks after the regime change, Kyrgyzstan continues to be unstable. Five more people died in the unrest in Bishkek last Monday, unrest that was reportedly instigated by former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s supporters. Kyrgyzstan’s provisional government has ordered use of force against anyone seeking to provoke conflict.

To date the provisional government has been unable to establish adequate control over the police forces. The interim head of government Roza Otunbayeva has yet to find an efficient head for the Ministry of Interior who would be able to discipline the police and pursue democratic reform. Given that Kurmanbek Bakiyev has announced from Minsk that he refuses to give up, the chaos is likely to continue in Kyrgyzstan.

Against this background, pundits rush to see Kyrgyzstan as a failed or a failing state. They argue that the country is split into north and south, and the possibility of a civil conflict is imminent. While it is true that state institutions are weak in Kyrgyzstan and the provisional government has already made numerous mistakes, positive changes introduced by the government should not be underestimated.

The Otunbayeva government has appointed prominent NGO leader to head the Central Elections Commission. Her government has also formed a special Constitutional Council to stage public debates on the new Constitution. This marks a comeback of the NGO community into public life – some of Kyrgyzstan’s major achievements to date.

Importantly, it is in the interest of the new leadership to conduct free and fair elections as one of the conditions for legitimizing itself. Never before in the country had several formidable political parties competed among themselves to reach a common goal: international recognition. The government announced that the referendum on the new constitution is to take place on June 27 and parliamentary elections on October 10th.

These experiences are vital for the country. Even if the current leadership eventually fails to fulfill some of its promises, there will still be powerful reference points to experiments with democracy in the post-Soviet period. This is something neighboring Central Asian countries, including Kazakhstan, still lack. Kyrgyzstan’s ongoing change is therefore a lesson for both its citizens and its neighbors.

Calling Kyrgyzstan a faltering state is to ignore the efforts of civil society leaders and the few in the provisional government who fearlessly challenged Bakiyev’s brutal regime. The next six months will likely be chaotic for Kyrgyzstan. Unrest will be caused both by the new government’s ineffective policies and brought by former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

But instead of writing Kyrgyzstan off as a failing state, experts should focus on the failures of the international community to support democratic change in the country. While supporting Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the U.S. government ignored the sentiments of political opposition and NGO community. The European Union began prioritizing Central Asia in its foreign policy only few years ago. Kyrgyz civil society has the potential to contribute to democratic reform in the country. But it needs the assurance of the international community that its efforts will be supported.