IMPLICATIONS: The absence of a stable succession system has major negative implications for Central Asia and for Kyrgyzstan in particular. Firstly, uncertainty over the issue of political succession undermines the economic environment in Kyrgyzstan, as according to the IMF the republic was the only member of the CIS to experience negative economic growth in 2002. The major issue at stake is redistribution of the economic wealth acquired through the process of privatization in the 1990s. There is anecdotal evidence that many businesses have tended to move to the shadow economy, while those among the current circle of cronies try to rip off as much profit as possible. Secondly, the focus on behind-the-scenes deals between the major clans, and the exclusion of the political opposition from the bargaining process, tends to result in the radicalization of the opposition. Kyrgyzstan’s most experienced politician – former Vice-President Felix Kulov – was imprisoned for seven years on dubious charges following a questionable trial; meanwhile the former opposition leader in the parliament, Daniar Usenov, was prosecuted on unconvincing criminal charges, which constitutionally barred him from standing in parliamentary or presidential elections. Many opposition groups, especially those that were associated with the “Movement for the Resignation of President Akayev” became more radicalized and ready for confrontation, as was demonstrated in the Aksy tragedy of March 2002 (when the police killed six opposition protesters in southern Kyrgyzstan). The political situation may deteriorate even further, and if such deterioration continues unchecked it could lead to a military confrontation with numerous casualties. Thirdly, military and law-enforcement agencies have tended to move into mainstream politics and play increasingly active roles in the political life of the republic. According to a survey study by the Litsa newspaper in summer 2003, military and political leaders with links to the National Security Service and Police represent almost a quarter of the top 20 politicians. These institutions are seen as the only political forces capable of stabilizing the country in an environment of political confrontation where political parties cannot achieve compromise. Former Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliyev, and General Bolot Januzakov, chairman of the National Security Service, and others have been considered as potential presidential candidates in case of emergency and political instability. The danger is, however, that once the military come to power, there would be no guarantee of them agreeing to share power with civilians, nor that they would go ahead with political liberalization and democratization.
CONCLUSIONS: In order to ensure a smooth succession in Kyrgyzstan, there is a need for a series of institutional and political changes and cooperation between the incumbent president and the opposition. There are no straightforward formulas for ‘exit’ strategies, but at least several steps appear to be quite obvious. The broadening of the bargaining process in order to produce a political compromise is one example. Another element could be political decentralization and some reduction of presidential powers, through the delegation of certain decision-making and bargaining powers to the Jogorku Kenesh (Parliament of Kyrgyzstan). Another important step would be some form of amnesty for past privatization and business activities of the 1990s, plus amnesty for capital returning from overseas accounts. There is not a single public official or opposition figure who could not be brought down by corruption allegations arising from the shady legal environment and wild rush of capitalism of the 1990s. Further steps may be necessary in order to ensure a viable succession mechanism, which in turn would set a positive precedent in the region.
AUTHORS BIO: Rafis Abazov, PhD, is a visiting scholar at the Harriman Institute at the Columbia University in the city of New York. He is an author of The Formation of Post-Soviet International Politics in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan (1999), the Freedom House report on Kyrgyzstan (2002 and 2003) and author of the forthcoming Historical Dictionary of Kyrgyzstan (2003).