Monday, February 20, 2006

Kyrgyz Confrontations

I've occasionally noted the chaos in Kyrgyzstan's post-revolution politics, and chaos is definitely the word, as the nation tries to cough up a stable system of government with both the President and Parliament convinced that they are the best representatives of the people. Todaym RFE-RL rounds up the latest developments and provides some analysis:
"Three broad issues emerge from the fireworks. The first is a profound disagreement over the appropriate form of government for Kyrgyzstan -- presidential, parliamentary, or some mix of the two. Most of the nations that arose after the breakup of the Soviet Union opted for presidential systems, with constitutions that vested expansive powers in the chief executive. While intended to ensure stability in time of transition, presidential systems have also facilitated authoritarianism. In Kyrgyzstan, where the top-heavy presidential system was seen as a contributing factor in the abuses of the Akaev era, a constitutional-reform referendum is slated for 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 2005). As the comments by Bakiev and Tekebaev indicate, the battle lines on this issue are already drawn.

"The second issue is what Kulov referred to as 'criminalization.' But high-profile contract killings and public displays of muscle by organized crime groups are only the tip of the iceberg. The real problem runs deeper: an entire parallel, informal power structure of backroom deals, secret schemes, and outright scams that maintains the prosperity of a tiny, well-connected elite and diminishes the prospects of the impoverished majority. The anger at Akaev that was evident in March 2005 was above all anger at a corrupt status quo. When speaker Tekebaev told parliament on 13 February that he feels 'bad that since the March [2005] revolution no changes have taken place in the mentality of officials,' he meant that this status quo has endured.

"The third issue involves the popular perception of the political class that is fated to play a crucial role in any attempt to reform Kyrgyzstan's system of government and remake its status quo. A political elite that goes beyond disagreement and plunges into discord runs the risk of undermining its own credibility. If the president accuses parliament of trying to seize power, if the speaker of parliament calls the president a "disgrace," and if the prime minister warns that criminals are taking over the state, ordinary Kyrgyz citizens anxious for positive change may well get tired of trying to figure out which of them is right, and decide that all of them are."

The situation may be even worse than it appears, as Nathan Hamm takes note of theories the country could become the next Afghanistan. I agree that is unlikely, and note that Afghanistan was torn apart as much by foreign powers as anything else. If the worst does happen, then thanks to Soviet-era national identity policies, any conflict in Kyrgyzstan is more likely to involve grassroots ethnic identification similar to what we saw in the Balkans, though probably without the centrally planned ethnic cleansing. Precisely for that reason, however, open civil warfare can probably be avoided as long as the fractures within the elite don't fall primarily along the lines of ethnicity.


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