Domestic politics

Parties that played important roles in the early 1990s lost electoral support or disappeared completely, while the party that won the largest number of seats in the 1995 elections—the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan—did not win any seats in the parliamentary elections of 2000. In contrast, pro-presidential parties set up since 1991 received substantial support, but none held together for long. Over half the deputies elected in successive parliamentary elections lacked any party affiliation.

2000 parliamentary elections

The results were:

  • The Party of Communists of Kyrgyzstan came in first with 15 seats
  • Two pro-presidential parties—Union of Democratic Forces and My Country—won 5 seats between them
  • The Democratic Party of Women of Kyrgyzstan won 2 seats
  • The Party of War Veterans won 2 seats
  • Ata Meken (Fatherland), a centrist party, won 1 seat
  • Three radical Kyrgyz nationalist parties—Erkin Kyrgyzstan (Free Kyrgyzstan), Asaba, and Manas—took part in the elections, but failed to enter parliament.
Reputation as oasis of democracy increasingly tarnished

Kyrgyzstan used to enjoy the reputation as an oasis of democracy in central Asia. Since 2000, however, this reputation has been badly tarnished. Media outlets too critical of the government were harassed. OSCE observers noted serious abuses in the conduct of the 2000 parliamentary and presidential elections, in which Akayev was re-elected president with 74% of the vote.

Persecution of prominent politicians

Politicians with the stature to pose an effective challenge to Akayev were persecuted, together with their supporters, associates, and relatives.

Felix Kulov, leader of the Ar-Namys (meaning Honor or Dignity) Party, who in the 1990s was successively vice-president, a provincial governor, interior minister, and mayor of Bishkek, was repeatedly prosecuted and imprisoned, preventing him from running against Akayev.

In 2002, parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov was arrested on charges of abuse of office after he opposed Akayev over an agreement that ceded to China some territory in the high Tien Shan range.  The arrest sparked demonstrations in Aksy, Beknazarov's home district.  Protestors were fired on by security forces. Six were killed and over sixty injured.

First ethnic Russian prime minister

The violence in Aksy led to the resignation of the government. A new government was formed in 2002 with Nikolai Tanayev as prime minister.

Confrontation defused but political tensions continued

As protests continued, confrontation between the government and the opposition escalated. It was also perceived as a confrontation between the north and the south of the country. A dialogue between Akayev and the opposition prevented an escalation of the conflict. An agreement was reached in 2002. Beknazarov was freed after two months in jail, and provincial officials responsible for the shootings were tried and convicted (though released on appeal in 2003).

Relations remained tense between the Akayev regime and the main opposition, united under an umbrella organization called the Movement for the Resignation of Akayev and Reforms for the People.

Constitutional referendum

On Akayev’s initiative, a constitutional referendum was held in 2003. As a result, the upper chamber of the parliament (the Assembly of People’s Representatives) was abolished, while the remaining chamber of 75 deputies acquired  greater oversight power over the executive, including the right to votes of no confidence.

Islamists banned

In 2003 the Supreme Court banned a number of Islamist organizations. It is believed that this step was connected with the arrest of three Kyrgyz on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack on the recently established U.S. airbase.

In 2006, a group of armed men in Tajikistan attacked a checkpoint on the Kyrgyz border and killed several guards. Kyrgyz soldiers sent to the area killed or captured most of the attackers. It is not known whether the assault was political in nature or drug-related.

Also in 2006, the Kyrgyz National Security Services killed a popular imam, whom they claimed was a terrorist, in a shootout in southern Kyrgyzstan. His followers protested, claiming that he was not a member of the IMU.

2005 parliamentary elections

The first round of voting produced 32 winners, with 45 races to be run again in a second round. OSCE election monitors pointed out a number of violations and failures to meet democratic standards.

The second round resulted in a landslide victory for pro-government candidates in the 75-seat parliament, according to official returns. President Akayev's daughter, Bermet Akayeva and his son, Aider Akayev, each won a seat. The opposition won only 6 seats. Opposition leader Bakiyev was defeated.

OSCE election monitors noted the same concerns, including lack of voter access to various information sources, bias in the media, continued deregistration of candidates on minor grounds, and inaccurate and poorly maintained voter lists.

2005 uprising - The Tulip Revolution

Protests that started even before the February elections mushroomed after the opposition complained that the election results had been rigged. Protesters first seized the southern cities of Jalal-Abad and Osh, and then moved on to Bishkek. As opposition leaders were planning their next moves, protesters unexpectedly seized the president’s office. Akayev fled the country as his rule disintegrated in what became known as the Tulip Revolution.

By the end of March, former opposition leaders were in power. Kurmanbek Bakiev became acting president and prime minister. Arranging an orderly and legal succession became a high priority. After an initial stalemate, the old parliament resigned, making way for the new parliament chosen in the recent elections.

Tense run-up to presidential elections

 Supporters of presidential candidate Urmat Baryktabasov briefly seized the main government building in Bishkek to protest his not being registered as a candidate because he held joint Kyrgyz-Kazakh citizenship.

2005 Presidential election

Bakiev won a landslide victory, garnering almost 90% of the 75% voter turnout. He ran very strongly in his home region in the country’s south, and his alliance with northerner Felix Kulov won him strong support there as well. Bakiev promised to name Kulov prime minister.

The OSCE evaluated the election as marking tangible progress toward meeting OSCE and international commitments for democratic elections, although there were problems with the vote count.

New public chamber

A new public chamber of 45 politicians, intellectuals, war veterans, and NGO leaders was formed in 2009 and, according to President Bakiev, was to bridge the gap between government and leaders.

The new chairman of the public chamber claimed that “the body will make suggestions to the government in accordance with the people's wishes.”

Still, the public chamber appeared to have little impact or influence.

Electoral Violence

The presidential  elections were marked by several politically-motivated murders, raising questions about the stability of the regime and the power of organized crime. A month before the presidential election, parliamentarian and businessman Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev was killed. Parliamentarian Bayaman Erkinbaev, who was at the center of the June conflict in Osh, was killed in a shootout and 12 others were wounded in September. The next month, Tynychbek Akmatbaev, a third parliamentarian and brother of an influential criminal kingpin, Rysbek, was killed in a prison riot. Rysbek himself was assassinated in Bishkek.

Tynychbek’s killing prompted protests demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Kulov, while pro-Kulov demonstrators demanded that he remain in office. Attempts to relocate prisoners who were involved in the murder only resulted in more riots that were forcibly suppressed.

Continuing political instability

President Bakiev and the mostly pro-Akaev parliament were unable to work together, prompting parliamentary speaker Omurbek Tekebaev to resign in protest.

Within a year of the Tulip Revolution, many were disappointed with how Bakiev had dealt with crime and corruption. An alliance of opposition businessmen and activists formed and began organizing demonstrations with thousands of protesters.

Meanwhile, Tekebaev was arrested in Poland for carrying heroin. He was released when evidence was presented that it had been planted. Parliament began an inquiry into the incident and Bakiev’s brother Janysh, the head of the National Security Service, was implicated.

The anti-Bakiev alliance led a series of street protests, resulting in the adoption of a new constitution. The document strengthened parliament at the expense of the president, and provided that half the members of the legislature would be elected by party lists.

Bakiev and Kulov split

Kulov served as prime minister until 2006, and then failed to receive parliamentary confirmation after being renominated by Bakiev in 2007. Bakiev then named Azim Isabekov, a close associate, to head the government. Isabekov’s firing of seven cabinet ministers was not supported by Bakiev, and Isabekov resigned after two months in office. Bakiev then asked Almaz Atambaev, the leader of the Social Democrats and until then the opposition For Reforms movement, to become prime minister. Meanwhile, Kulov joined the opposition United Front for a Worthy Future for Kyrgyzstan, which had called for Bakiev to resign and for early presidential elections to be held.

2007 referenda

In October, 75% of voters approved a new constitution and electoral law submitted by Bakiev that strengthened the president’s authority in picking key government officials and dissolving parliament. Only 4% of voters reportedly voted against. The constitutional amendments also changed the election process from a single-constituency system to a proportional all-party list, with a 5% overall threshold and a 5% threshold in each of the country’s seven regions and two cities. OSCE criticized the vote counting and use of state resources to take voters to the polls.

2007 parliamentary elections

Bakiev moved quickly to dissolve parliament and hold new elections in December. The Central Elections Committee said Bakiev’s Ak Zhol Party won 71 seats, the pro-Bakiev Social Democrats 11, and the Communists 8. The opposition Ata-Meken received no seats despite its second place finish, allegedly because it did not win the minimum number of votes in Osh.

The OSCE election mission reported that the elections failed to meet a number of OSCE commitments. Legal actions had been taken against specific parties, vote counting and tabulation challenged transparency, candidate registration procedures were unequally applied, and the media did not provide adequate information for voters to make an informed choice. The new legal framework also contained ambiguous provisions that were still unclear even after election day.

Opposition under pressure

Opposition members were put under house arrest, journalists attacked or brought before politicized trials, and newspapers shut down. Bakiev opponents formed a United People's  Movement to oppose government repression and to oust the regime.

Bakiev initiated a dialogue meeting with the opposition, which consisted of an exchange of known positions. Subsequently, another leading member of the opposition, former Foreign Minister Alikebek Jekshenkulov, was arrested.

A former head of the Presidential Administration, Medet Sadyrkulov, was killed along with his driver and policy adviser Sergei Slepchenko, in a reported 2009 automobile accident, where all three were burned beyond recognition. At the time the accident, Sadyrkulov had recently resigned to join the anti-Bakiev opposition. Motorist Omurbek Osmonov was tried and found guilty of the traffic accident. He was sentenced to 12 years in jail. He was stabbed to death in his prison cell within a year. (After the 2010 revolution, an internal investigation concluded that Janysh Bakiev, the President’s brother and head of the Kyrgyz security services organized the murder. Janysh Bakiev later fled to Belarus to join his brother in exile. Kyrgyzstan has repeatedly asked Belarus to extradite Janysh Bakiev, who has been put on the Interpol wanted list. Belarus has refused the extradition request.)

2009 presidential election

Bakiev reportedly won 76% of the vote in the presidential election, running far ahead of his closest competitor, former Prime Minister Almazbek Atambaev, who came in with 8.7% of the vote. The opposition claimed the results were fraudulent.

The OSCE/ODIHR monitoring mission asserted that the election failed to meet key OSCE commitments for democratic elections, in particular the commitment to guarantee equal suffrage, to ensure that votes are reported honestly and that political campaigning is conducted in a fair and free atmosphere as well as to maintain a clear separation between party and state.

Another political murder

A journalist, Gennady Pavlyuk, was murdered in 2009; thrown from a building in Almaty, Kazakhstan with his hands and feet tied. He was working with opposition Ata-Meken (Fatherland) Party leader Omurbek Tekebaev to create a website and newspaper. Kazakh media reported that senior Kyrgyz security officials were involved in the murder.

Bakiev overthrown

Bakiev was ousted following violent clashes between protestors and police in Bishkek in 2010, precipitated by public anger over electricity hikes, poor governance and corruption, accompanied by sharp criticism by the Russian media. At least 88 were reportedly killed and over a thousand injured. An interim government was formed, headed by former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva.

Kyrgyz-Uzbek ethnic violence
An Osh neighbourhood badly damaged during the violent unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010. Osh, Kyrgyzstan, 2 March 2011. (OSCE/Sonya Yee)

An Osh neighbourhood badly damaged during the violent unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010. Osh, Kyrgyzstan, 2 March 2011. (OSCE/Sonya Yee)

The worst ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan’s history began in the south in June 2010. Multiple versions have been put forward to explain what led to the violence, which resulted in the death of an estimated 3,000 (mostly Uzbeks) and the temporary creation of hundreds of thousands of displaced persons and refugees. The violence appears to have started in Osh, against the background of simmering Kyrgyz-Uzbek tensions. Some have claimed that supporters of ousted President Bakiev sought to inflame the situation in an effort to bring him back, others pointed to the involvement of Kyrgyz security forces in the pogroms and atrocities against ethnic Uzbeks. Criminals also may have had a role.

An International Commission of Inquiry (which included the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Special Representative for Central Asia, Kimmo Kiljunen) was set up as a Nordic initiative with the support of President Otunbayeva. The report focused on the involvement of some of the Kyrgyz security forces in attacks on Uzbek communities and the direct or indirect complicity of others in the violence. Many in the Kyrgyz government and parliament were infuriated by the report and rejected it as unbalanced and pro-Uzbek. Following the riots, many Uzbek community and religious figures were arrested and tried.

2010 referendum precedes elections

A referendum in June 2010 approved the shift from a presidential to a parliamentary system, making it the first one in central Asia. Parliament will choose the prime minister and play a key role in forming a new government.

ODIHR Director Ambassador Janez Lenarcic (l) and his adviser Bernhard Knoll (r) speak with election officials at a polling station in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, during parliamentary elections on 10 October 2010. (OSCE/Jens Eschenbaecher)

ODIHR Director Ambassador Janez Lenarcic (l) and his adviser Bernhard Knoll (r) speak with election officials at a polling station in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, during parliamentary elections on 10 October 2010. (OSCE/Jens Eschenbaecher)

Parliamentary elections were held in October 2010, but no party won strong popular support. The Kyrgyz nationalist Ata Zhurt Party led by Kamchybek Tashiyev won 8.89% of the vote (28 seats), campaigning for the return of Bakiev and a presidential system; the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan led by Almazbek Atambaev won 8.04% (26 seats), supporting the interim government; the al Namys Party led by Felix Kulov won 7.74% (25 seats) also seeking reinstatement of a presidential system; Respublika led by Omurbek Babanov won 7.24% (23 seats); and the Ata Meken Party led by Omurbek Tekebayev won 5.6% (18 seats), also in support of the interim government. Presidential elections were to be held at the same time, but were postponed until October 2011. Interim President Otunbayeva remained in office until December 2011.

The OSCE-led International Election Observation Mission noted that the elections were conducted peacefully, and that they constituted a further consolidation of the democratic process. Despite the positive remarks there remained an urgent need for profound electoral legal reform.

2011 presidential election

Alamzbek Atambayev of the Social Democratic Party, a northerner, won in the first round, with 63.2% of the vote, easily defeating Adahan Madumarov of the Butun Kyrgyzstan (One Kyrgyzstan) Party, a southerner, (with 14.7% of the vote) and Kamchybek Tashiyev of the Ata Zhurt Party, also a southerner (with 14.3 % of the vote).

The OSCE/ODHIR International Election Observation mission’s preliminary report stated that the election was conducted in a peaceful manner, but shortcomings underscored the fact that the integrity of the electoral process needed to be improved in line with international commitments. Candidate registration was inclusive, giving voters a wide choice, and the electoral campaign was open and respected fundamental freedoms. This was overshadowed by significant irregularities on election day, especially during the counting and tabulation of votes. Measures needed to be taken to improve voter lists, to amend electoral legislation and strengthen the polling process. Election day was calm and the voting process was assessed positively overall. A considerable number of voters were not on the voter lists, which became an issue on election day. The report noted that during counting and tabulation the situation deteriorated, and as a result, observers assessed a significant number of polling stations negatively. In many cases, observers were restricted from observing the counting and tabulation.

OSCE Roundtable on inter-ethnic relations

In March 2011, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities and the OSCE Centre in Bishkek supported discussion of a draft Concept for Ethnic Development and Consolidation of Kyrgyzstan's Society at a roundtable organized by the Kyrgyzstan Presidential Administration.

The roundtable brought together parliamentarians, representatives of the Presidential Administration and independent experts, who discussed the draft Concept as well as international norms and best practices in managing inter-ethnic relations through legislative and other tools.

South Kyrgyzstan continues to be volatile

Nationalism and intolerance continue at high levels in south Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz nationalist Mayor of Osh, Melis Myrzakmatov, remains the dominant figure in the area and pays little attention to the capital. Uzbeks continue to be marginalized and their role in the economy diminished. They are vulnerable to illegal detention and abuse by security forces. The sense of physical and social isolation has increased anger among Uzbek youth. Meanwhile, Myrzakmatov appears to retain the support of local Kyrgyz, who blame Uzbeks for the 2010 events.

Economy

Approximately 35% of the population lives below the poverty line, and due to high unemployment, approximately 1 million Kyrgyz work abroad as labor migrants, mainly in Kazakhstan and Russia. Their remittances made up approximately 28% of GDP in 2010.

The Kyrgyz economy is mainly agricultural with cotton and tobacco as its main agricultural sector exports. Industrial exports include gold, mercury, uranium, natural gas, and electricity. Gold exports in 2011 made up 12% of GDP - mainly from output from Kumtor mine owned by the Canadian company Centerra Gold. After the 2010 revolution some Kyrgyz villagers threatened to destroy or take over international mining operations unless their demands for greater profit-share or employment were met. While the government was able to temporarily appease these groups, threats against mining operations have continued, leading many companies to halt exploration. In 2012, the Kyrgyz Parliament narrowly voted against nationalizing Kumtor. Instead, Parliament commissioned a report, which called for a revision of the 2009 Agreement that governs Kumtor’s relationship with Kyrgyzstan. While Centerra owns Kumtor and its output completely, the 2009 Agreement gives Kyrgyzstan one-third ownership of Centerra. Parliament is no longer satisfied with the ownership terms of the 2009 Agreement.

In an attempt to move the country beyond its reliance on its income from the Kumtor mine, legislation was amended in 2012 to require all small concessions to be auctioned publicly to the highest bidder, eliminating the complex licensing system mired in corruption. The auction system aims to attract foreign investors who could develop mineral deposits mapped by Soviet geologists, but never brought into production. The first auction was broadcast live on television at the end of August and disrupted by 50 protesters.

Centerra says it expects a “constructive dialogue” but added there’s no assurance that the two sides can reach an agreement (AP/Abylay Saralayev)

Protests ar Kumtor Mine May 2013 (AP/Abylay Saralayev)

Hundreds of protesters shut down production at the Kumtor gold mine at the end May 2013, clashing with riot police, while local residents cut off electric power to the mine.  Although protestors had environmental demands, much of the unrest was organized by the national Ata Jurt party.  Protestors in Jalalabad seized government buildings to demand the release of 3 Ata Jurt members.

President Atembayev declared a state of emergency in the Issyk-Kul province's Jety-Oguz district, where the mine is located.  Meanwhile, Kyrgyz and Kumtor owner Centerra were reportedly discussing  restructuring of their relationship that would provide more revenue to the government.

The water/energy nexus

Kyrgyzstan is building the Kambarata 1 hydroelectric power plant which will dam the Naryn River, which flows west into Uzbekistan. The Russian government is financing the project, making Russia the key investor in supplying electricty throughout the region.  Uzbekistan relies on water flowing from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan for irrigation of cotton. The Uzbeks are also concerned that the Tajik Rogun dam project and Kambarata will cut them off from irrigation waters.  In return for water, the Uzbeks provide both Tajikistan and Kyrygyzstan with natural gas. The Uzbek government has cut gas supplies to both countries in the past. Uzbekistan  President Karimov recently warned of a possible serious confrontation over water resources.