Wednesday, 21 September 2005


Published in Analytical Articles

By Kunduz Jenkins (9/21/2005 issue of the CACI Analyst)

BACKGROUND: Recently, ex-president Askar Akaev and his supporters have given a number of interviews and statements in the mass media and in public appearances, arguing that the March Revolution regressed the country with an accompanying huge rollback in its development. They also claim that the country achieved impressive results in implementing democratic and economic reforms under the rule of the former president. Yet actual facts demonstrate the opposite.
BACKGROUND: Recently, ex-president Askar Akaev and his supporters have given a number of interviews and statements in the mass media and in public appearances, arguing that the March Revolution regressed the country with an accompanying huge rollback in its development. They also claim that the country achieved impressive results in implementing democratic and economic reforms under the rule of the former president. Yet actual facts demonstrate the opposite. In the early years of his presidency, Askar Akaev made efforts in turning Kyrgyzstan toward a democratic and independent country with a market economy by developing a new constitution and parliament, introducing liberal investment and monetary legislation, launching privatization as well as promoting Kyrgyzstan’s membership into the WTO. But those good intentions were negated by Akaev’s misperception of democracy and the rule of law, by replacing state interests with his own personal interests and those of his family, and by allowing corruption to become pervasive in many areas and sectors of the country’s economy. Surrounded by associates and demagogues and fenced off from the people, Akaev lost the sense of reality by ignoring the country’s and people’s needs. According to data from the National Statistics Committee, the average monthly wage in Kyrgyzstan as of January 2005 was 54.9 USD, which was next to last place among all of the NIS countries. Since 1993, Kyrgyzstan received almost US$3 billion in foreign investments as loans, long-term credits and grants from international and financial institutions such as the IMF, The World Bank and other sources. Despite this significant financial aid, the average Kyrgyz citizens’ well-being did not really improve. Two thirds of the population sunk beneath the poverty line. As a result, an enormous disparity between the rich and poor caused a significant growth in social inequity as well as a high rate of unemployment. The collapse of Akaev’s regime through the “tulip revolution” was a natural process and potentially a window of opportunity in Kyrgyzstan’s democratic development. Since the new government came to power after the March 24 revolution, there has been hope that the newly elected President would be able to form a fresh dynamic government based solely on the country’s strategic interests and needs, which could gain the trust and support of the nation, unlike the previous regime. Indeed, some positive results have been achieved. The first, and probably most important, result attained was the creation of a political tandem of two leaders from the opposition, President Kurmanbek Bakiev and Prime Minister Felix Kulov. The two political rivals decided to work together as a team which most definitely helped to relax the country’s internal tension and avoided possible violent conflicts. This key alliance has been formed based upon a realistic evaluation of the current situation in Kyrgyzstan and was undoubtedly a momentous step in reaching stability and security in the country.

IMPLICATIONS: Unquestionably, the spring reformation resulted in additional economic issues due to a long period of instability which occurred right before the revolution. Currently, the country’s external debt has reached a critical point of $1.92 billion dollars which exceeds almost five times the Republic’s annual income from taxation. According IMF experts, almost 50% of the GDP consists of the shadow economy. IMF experts say Kyrgyzstan’s economy is currently in a deep economic crisis and requires immediate revival measures, otherwise the only source of survival for the population may be illegal activities such as narcotics production and smuggling. It is very crucial for the country to adopt urgent economic programs in order to revive the economy and to avoid an economic disaster which could lead to new civil conflicts in the region. After the revolution, the new government did immediately begin work on major issues. President Bakiev and Prime Minister Kulov determined the most essential problems which needed to be solved in the near future, such as stabilizing the country’s economy and battling poverty. In early September, when Kulov was officially appointed as a Prime Minister, he created an anti-crisis program to be implemented by the Cabinet of Ministers during the next few years. This program consists of several gradual steps such as unemployment reduction, taxes, budget and customs reforms, reduction of the shadow economy as well as small business and enterprise development. Moreover, according to acting Vice-Premier Daniyar Usenov, the new government intends to create favorable conditions for Kyrgyzstan’s future stability. “For the last 15 years we became smarter and based on the country’s previous experience we will be building a new Kyrgyzstan”. He also emphasized that there should be an agreement between the government and citizens: the new government must identify its commitments before the nation, develop deadlines and set priorities and if the government doesn’t keep its promises to the people, it should resign. Apparently, these improved economic policies set by the new administration will be shaping the country’s perspectives and direction for the next several years. Nevertheless, there have been some setbacks as well. The new president and his administration have been criticized for not taking more radical and extreme steps in implementing new democratic and economic reforms. Almost seven months have passed since the March 24 revolution and nothing seems to have changed in terms of critical pressing concerns in the country – corruption still permeates all spheres of society along with widespread poverty and social inequality. Many ordinary people are unsatisfied with the situation and do not feel they are getting what they were hoping for from the revolution and the new government. It is obvious that the main missing element in the new government’s policies is its delay in implementing urgent social and economic reforms. The President and his team do not seem cognizant of the depth of the economic crisis which the country is experiencing, and seem unable or unwilling to identify vital priorities that are to be addressed by the government immediately. Clearly, a major concern for the new government would have to be corruption, which literally undermines the entire economic structure and society. Unless the new administration undertakes most aggressive efforts in battling corruption, the President’s promises will remain empty.

CONCLUSIONS: Once called the “island of democracy” and the most liberal republic in Central Asia, due to the ousted government, Kyrgyzstan faced increasing criticism for human rights violations, an authoritarian regime and widespread corruption. Kyrgyzstan has received another chance to try to build the island of democracy that it was formerly known as, a chance which was forfeited by the former government. Indeed, the change of power itself does not automatically indicate that the country’s problems will be solved immediately or at all. That said, there now seems to be greater hope and a stronger sense of optimism for an increased level of prosperity for a larger number of the population which should result in greater stability for the country. There is no doubt that the Kyrgyz revolution liberated the nation by overthrowing the family-clan regime of Askar Akaev and his supporters. Now the country’s test is to prove that the new administration will not repeat the mistakes made by the former regime, and it may already be running out of time.

AUTHOR’S BIO: Kunduz Jenkins is an MIPP graduate of The School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University, and was a visiting research fellow with the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute. Mrs. Jenkins formally worked with the UN in New York and the U.S.-Russia Business Council in Washington, DC. Currently she is researching Central Asian countries’ economic and political challenges during transition.

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