Kyrgyzstan's upcoming elections could lead to serious unrest if President Askar Akaev tries to retain power by subverting the vote. Anything less than a free and fair democratic transfer of power would also damage the country's relationship with international financial institutions.
“Political Transition in Kyrgyzstan: Problems and Prospects”, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the impact of three impending elections (local, parliamentary and presidential) to be held over the next eighteen months. Taken together, these polls represent the decisive moment in the country's transition from Soviet rule.
"If Akaev tries to retain power, either directly or indirectly, in fraudulent elections, 2005 will mark the end of Central Asia's democratic experiments", says Robert Templer, Director of ICG's Asia Program. "However, if he leaves office and allows candidates to compete fairly, it will be a historic moment for Kyrgyzstan and the region".
The constitution prohibits Akaev from running again, but scenarios are under consideration for him to continue to dominate politics and ensure that members of his family and entourage maintain their extensive economic advantages. There are a number of tactics that he may use to avoid losing a presidential ballot, including legislating a referendum to prolong his term or diminishing the power of the presidency and promoting the parliament as the key institution.
Kyrgyz society and political life are relatively sophisticated for the region, and the general public, as well as significant portions of the elite, would strongly object to such moves. The ensuing confrontation could lead to dramatic upheaval and even violence. In addition, a fraudulent election would likely result in much less international assistance for Kyrgyzstan, aggravating the country's mounting debt problem.
The media, the electoral authorities, and all political parties and candidates must work together to ensure a fair and smooth democratic process. The international community needs to exert pressure on the Kyrgyz leadership to ensure that happens, and also provide technical assistance and expertise to the elections, as well as extra support for independent media and civil society.
"Over the next eighteen months, Kyrgyzstan will either reaffirm the choice it made in the early 1990s for economic reform and a liberal political agenda, or it will slip further back toward its more authoritarian neighbours," says David Lewis, the Director of ICG's Central Asia project. "People's expectations for democratic change are increasing rapidly, and they deserve a mature response from the political leadership".
International Crisis Group (ICG) reporting, August 12, 2004