Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Things Boiling Over in Kyrgyzstan

The foreign editions of the Wall street Journal have two articles on the growing revolt in Kyrgyzstan. Here and Here.
The two rounds of Kyrgyzstani elections took place on Feb. 27 and March 13. During the polls, President Akayev packed the parliament with cronies and relatives, including his son and daughter. Observers from the U.S. and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe called the elections flawed. As in Ukraine, the opposition demanded a rerun and, as in Georgia, called for the president's immediate resignation.

According to his entourage, Mr. Akayev is considering changing the Kyrgyz Constitution and running for a third term in October, something most Kyrgyz oppose. Mr. Akayev, who has been in power since 1991, is reportedly tired and not really interested in remaining in office. But he is being egged on to stay by his influential wife and other family members, who enriched themselves during his rule. As a result, his once-sterling reputation of a democrat, philosopher and writer has shrunk like Dorian Gray's picture. (...)

Kyrgyzstan today is a quintessence of everything that is wrong with post-communist Central Asian regimes. It did not have a "velvet revolution." Instead Mr. Akayev took over when the Soviet Union collapsed, but the elite remained Soviet in essence. Even the opposition leaders come from this elite, instead of being dissident figures like Lech Walensa and Vaclav Havel. But that has not stopped them from championing popular discontent with the ruling family's corruption, and demanding more democracy than Mr. Akayev is willing to grant. (...)

Lurking in the background ready to exploit the situation are radical Islamic groups. In Kyrgyzstan, and especially in Uzbekistan, a clandestine group called Hizb ut-Tahrir al Islami, or the Party of Islamic Liberation, is recruiting supporters by the thousand. Two prominent Kyrgyz politicians rank among its supporters. Hizb's goal is the creation of a worldwide Califate, a military dictatorship based on Shari'a law, and dedicated to waging a jihad against the West. (...)

Kyrgyzstan is on the brink. In 1992, ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz were at each other's throats in Osh, with the death toll reaching 2,000. Moreover, the split between North and South in Kyrgyzstan is significant, like the chasm between East and West in Ukraine, or the split between the northern and southern clans in Tajikistan.

This one could go either way. It is important that the US and Europe keep pressure on the Kyrgyz President to step down when his second term is up, as is required by the Kyrgyz constitution, and to hold a fair and supervised election. It looks like both a carrot and stick are needed, with the West aiding the government when it acts in a democratic direction and opposing it when it acts in an authoritarian one. I think that this story will keep popping up in the news for quite some time.


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