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The State of Democracy in Kyrgyzstan

By Toni Michel

Shortly before Kyrgyzstan’s Presidential elections in October 2017, the prominent American analyst Ian Bremmer interviewed President Almazbek Atambayev in a long article for TIME Magazine and introduced Kyrgyzstan as a “genuine democracy in a part of the world that doesn’t have any.” Atambayev himself got plenty of praise as well: he came to power six years ago, “inheriting a country with weak institutions dominated by kleptocrats. It still doesn’t have many resources, but it now has plenty of committed democrats, among them Atambayev. In fact, he’s preparing to step down after a single term as president, as laid out in the country’s constitution.”

It is doubtlessly true that Kyrgyzstan is by far the most democratic and pluralistic country in Central Asia and even the wider region. This is owed to a number of factors, among them the extraordinary diversity of the country (“Kyrgyz” literally means “40 peoples”), its mountainous geography, traditionally weak central state and lack of resources – all of which impede the emergence of a single and potentially autocratic power center.

With Kyrgyzstan having its own preconditions and peculiarities in its development, it is insufficient to look at the country’s autocratic neighbors for comparison when assessing Kyrgyz democracy. Focusing on this regional context will inevitably obscure a number of very important trends under Atambayev’s tenure as President that threaten Kyrgyzstan’s democratic progress: in fact, there is a distinct risk of democratic rollback in Kyrgyzstan.

Read the full article in FerganaNews.