POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT OF KYRGYZSTAN: STABILITY AND INSTABILITY

Ainura ELEBAEVA
Margarita PUKHOVA


Ainura Elebaeva, D.Sc. (Philos.), professor, director, Institute of Ethnology, International University of Kyrgyzstan (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan)

Margarita Pukhova, Ph.D. (Hist.), assistant professor, Institute of Integration of International Educational Programs, Kyrgyz National University (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan)


Political modernization that presupposes qualitative changes in the political system is part of a very hard road leading from a traditional to contemporary society. The attempts to embrace a new development model and to introduce the principles of democracy into the political system often cause instability, tension, loss of instruments through which society can be ruled while economic and political crises are going deeper and deeper. This is what is going on in the Central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan in particular. The regions patchy ethnic, religious and cultural composition as well as numerous regional groups present in it make it even harder to consolidate society and move it to democracy. This explains why all Central Asian countries are treating the problem of stability and of correlation between stability and democracy with a great deal of interest.

The academic community has already formulated several approaches to the stability and instability concepts. Stability is interpreted as an absence of civil wars and other forms of armed conflicts and the states ability to cope with them. It is also described as the political systems ability to preserve itself when the same government remains at the helm for a long period of time and demonstrates an ability to adapt to the changing conditions. Changes cannot destroy or shake a stable political system. The best solutions are always produced by formal and informal mechanisms of coordinating interests of groups and individuals. In some cases authoritarian instruments can also be used to achieve stability.

Stability is ensured by the following factors: constitutional order, legitimate political power and efficiently administered society, and relies on stable structures and institutions of power.1 Quite often stability is described as a political balance created through the efforts of political leaders and elites. Stable democratic rule is possible only if regional and clan groups voluntarily reach a consensus otherwise to achieve stability power has to suppress certain elements of the political system.

On the other hand, political instability is described as a political systems inability to administer the changes or cope with them. Specific manifestations of instability may vary and depend on certain circumstances: the balance/imbalance of political forces, presence or absence of conflicts, the degree to which the political regime is supported by the people, etc. The key features of political instability are: low level of economic development, unequal distribution of material wealth, the political elites limited political possibilities; domination of few parties, etc.2

Stability is always a temporal and relative feature. It is relative because what causes destabilization in one state may not produce the same effect in others.

Stability is a multisided concept that includes: preservation of the political system, civil peace and order, legitimate political power, and efficient administration. To identify the situation as stable or unstable we have to acquire exact information about the countrys social, political, and economic situation. One has to bear in mind that economy and politics are mutually connected and support one another.

State exerts huge influence on the nature and pace of economic processes. Economic reforms require political will of the state. In the transition period strong power can keep in check all contradictions and conflicts that threaten the states political and economic stability. In fact, political stability provides a firm foundation for an ability to deal successfully with social and economic problems. At the same time, economic success breeds more confidence in the countrys political power and its stability.

The above requires confirmation: here are specific facts of Kyrgyzstans political and economic development that have already passed through several stages of political reforms and stabilization.

The first stage (1991-1995)a period of political instability, rivalry among several potential leaders when several groups of influence were formed thus creating confrontation between the old and new elites, between the legislative and executive (presidential) powers, and of fierce election battles (typical of all election campaigns that followed). Patchy opposition proved unable to close ranks to launch a serious tactical campaign against the authorities.

The constitution of 1993 registered a new balance of political forces in the republic and the positions of the ruling elite (as well as democrats/communists confrontation). However, the elite failed to remove the factors that threatened political stability. In December 1993 a governmental crisis removed the cabinet of Premier Chyngyshev. A newly formed cabinet was headed by A. Zhumagulov.

In September 1994 the country was shaken by a parliamentary crisis: 143 deputies left the Zhogorku Kenesh, the parliament dissolved itself. On 20 October, 1994 the nationwide referendum approved of a two-chamber parliamentThe Legislative Assembly and the Assembly of Peoples Representatives.

On 5 February, 1995 the country elected local councils and the new two-chamber parliament, in December of the same year it, for the first time, elected its president out of several candidates. The elections created a new political context in which the president-oriented coalition found itself in the best possible position.

The second stage (1996-1999) was basically a movement away from fragmentation to centralization accompanied by mounting authoritarianism. The relations between the legislators and the executive (presidential) branch changed: the president considerably increased and widened his powers while the parliament lost a great deal of its. In other words, the balance of forces was tipped in favor of the president. In 1996 the constitution was amended to register the new alignment of political forces. The result can be described as an authoritative regime with democratic elements.

The presidents domination (all other elite and clan groups retained their prominent positions while the democratic institutions of civil society remained weakly developed) created a shaky balance or temporal stabilization. All branches of power were equally distanced from the president who ensured a balance between them. The president also ensured their smooth functioning and interaction yet this arrangement cannot provide stability in future.

In 1991-1999 popularity of executive power was shaky because the cabinets forced to maneuver among influential economic and clan groups followed one another at a fast pace. At the same time, the fact that the present leaders have remained in power for 10 years is a sign of certain stability.

The first stage of democratic changes was characterized not only by political but also by economic instability or, rather, a crisis. As soon as the country started moving toward the market (1990) it was hit by skyrocketing inflation and a dramatic decline in production that went on until late 1994. In 1992 the production of national income dropped by nearly 30 percent; consumer goods, by 32 percent; industrial production, by 27 percent; agriculture, by 24 percent, while budget deficit reached 11.8 percent.3 Growing unemployment and worsening social problems accompanied this decline. The share of those employed in industry dropped from 20.5 percent in 1989 to 15.4 percent in 1994. In 1992 the country had 1,756 registered unemployed while in late 1994 there were 12,614 of them. The number of unemployed continued to grow. In 1993 inflation of consumer prices reached its maximum of 1,308.7 percent. Wholesale prices were growing even faster. By early 1994 the minimum wage was 20 percent below the subsistence level.4

Stratification went ahead at a fast pace: in January 1994 the incomes of 10 percent of the richest part of the nation were 1.5 times higher than those of 10 percent of the poorest sections. By the end of 1994 that gap was ten times wider.5 In 1992-1996 high inflation rates devalued the nominal growth of per capita cash incomes therefore real incomes continued shrinking. Inflation should be bridled to reach economic stabilization as one of the cornerstones of national security.

The economic crisis de-industrialized the countryconsumer-oriented branches suffered more than other industries. Energy production, non-ferrous iron and steel industry suffered less thus increasing the share of the raw-material branches. The following factors led to the economic crisis: fewer orders from the CIS countries for industrial products the republic produced; skyrocketing prices on imported energy fuels, metal, timber, raw materials and inventory materials; obsolete production facilities, etc.

Gradual economic recovery began in 1996 when industry, whose share of GDP was 11 percent, showed a growth of 3.9 percent, mainly thanks to increased energy production. Industrial structure changed in favor of energy and food production, while the share of mechanical engineering and light industry dropped.6 In 1997 the GDP volume reached about 65 percent of the early 1990s level.

The production sector was plagued by investment deficit that made it hard or impossible to create technically advanced and competitive enterprises. Economic activity was limited to small handicraft enterprises and trading mediation.

Since 1998 foreign investments have been declining considerably: while in 1996, $348.4m were invested by foreigners in 1998 the figure of foreign investments was $136.3m; in 2001, $42.5m. The drop was caused, among other things, by abolition in 1997 of tax privileges for foreign investors. Large foreign debts made it impossible to invite sizable investments under state guarantees. The volume of private foreign investments was 7 percent of GDP.

Capital flight has been and remains the evil that badly affects the economic situation in the republic: it limits possibilities of money saving and creating new jobs, and deprives the state of the money badly needed to finance the social sphere.

In 2000-2001 the key macroeconomic figures improved: as compared with 2000, in 2001 the real volume of GDP increased by 5.3 percent; the growth mainly took place in agriculture, by 2.5 percent; in industry, by 1.4 percent; in trade, by 0.8 percent, and in construction, by 0.6 percent. Non-ferrous iron and steel industry, mechanical engineering and metal fabrication, timber, wood-pulp and paper, construction materials and light industries showed signs of a revival. At the same time, the volume of production decreased in the energy sphere, fuel, food, flour and cereals, compound feed, pharmaceutical, and printing industries. In 2001, 46 enterprises remained idle (8 percent of the total number); out of 286 key types of industrial products production of 151 items (52.8 percent) increased. The share of gross output of agricultural products and services in state farms was 1.7 percent of the total volume, in collective farms, 7.6 percent; peasant (farmer) farms, 44.3 percent, and households, 46.4 percent.7 The state owned 8.2 percent of enterprises, 5 percent of enterprises were communal property; 86.8 percent were privately owned. Privately owned enterprises with foreign investments comprised 12 percent (4.9 thou). A considerable share of them (86.8 percent) were small enterprises half of them being registered in Bishkek.

The economic crisis affected the social sphere as well: the key social indices especially those that determined the standard of living worsened (incomes, life expectancy and adult literacy rate). (These indices belong to the U.N. prepared Human Development Index.8) Social harmony and stability demanded that poverty, unemployment, and property inequality should be diminished while the resources should be equally distributed among people.

The National Development Strategy of Kyrgyz Republic for the Period of up to 2005, the Comprehensive Development Foundation of the Kyrgyz Republic for the Period of up to 2010, the program Araket, the Labor Market and Employment for 1998-2000 and for the Period of up to 2005 (Emgek) all formulated the tasks of raising the level of welfare in the republic. The World Bank is helping to realize the Network of Social Protection project designed to reform and develop this sphere. The regions have a monitoring system for poverty and unemployment, employment agencies, retraining centers, and nine societies designed to encourage employment (they are found in the cities of Bishkek, Mailuu-Suu, Osh, Talas, Suliukt and in the settlements of Min-Kush, Kadzhi-Say, Khaydarkan). They have already helped 1,100 people find work. In addition, a computer network of the employment service will contribute to a republican data bank for the labor market.

Small businesses are seen as an effective remedy against unemployment and poverty. The decision of the government On the Order of Funding the Unemployed Wishing to Go into Business by the Employment Agencies for 1996-1997 envisaged financial assistance to 1.5 to 2 thou. In 1996 the number of unemployed prepared to go into business was 1,789 people, or 2.38 percent of the officially registered unemployed.9

The Central Asian Small Businesses Fund (CASBF) set up by the Swiss and U.S. governments and international financial organizations distributes loans and grants to support small businesses. The foreign investors are not sure that their investments and loans will be returned: they are convinced that bureaucrats, endless visits of tax inspectors and bribes are interfering with the small business development. To keep bureaucrats and inspectors in check the republican Committee for State Property formed an expert council to investigate appeals and suggestions coming from the investors.10

In 1997, the republic acquired a Conception of a Pension Reform in the Kyrgyz Republic for the Period of up to 2000 and adopted a Law on State Social Pensions. However, the main social guarantees that come from the state and social spendings are proved inadequate to maintain public incomes on the subsistence level.

The situation on the employment market remained complicated and very unstable. Supply exceeds demand: there are 32 claims for one job on average. The youth (from 16 to 29) constitutes 35 percent of the jobless.11 In 1989-1999 the employment structure changed a lot: declining production activities cut down the number of employed in industry by more than 2.6 times. The number of those employed in agriculture increased by 1.7 timesthis is explained by the appearance of peasant farms.12 In cities employment decreased from 66.5 percent in 1989 to 42.2 percent in 1999a larger drop than in the countryside (67.3 and 64 percent, respectively). One has to bear in mind, that because of large families with many children there is an excess of workforce in the agrarian sector.13

By 2000 the number of the poor and badly provided dropped to a certain extent while the number of people with relatively high incomes increased considerably. According to 2001 figures, in Kyrgyzstan over 2m are living below the subsistence level and about the same number survive on the brink of it.14 Over half of the local population can be described as poor; 20 percent of people are destitute. The poorest groups are families with many children and pensioners: over 70 percent of the latter live below the subsistence level.15 According to the National Statistical Committee, the level of poverty has increased by 16 percent since 1996in towns, by 31 percent; in the countryside, by 12 percent (countryside being home to 65.2 percent of the republics population).16 In towns unemployment and an inflow of people from the countryside are increasing the number of the poor.

An unequal social and economic development of the North and the South (mountains and valleys) creates one of the gravest problems. The South where there are fewer towns is much poorer than the urbanized North. The population of the southern areas sticks to Muslim traditions and is more negative about the democratic changes. Successful reforms and stability demand a more flexible and dynamic social structure, more numerous middle class and its much greater social role. In fact, the numerical strength of the middle class in the republic has considerably decreased since the perestroika: in 1996 it comprised 6.8 percent of the total population. Since 1998 when stabilization programs were launched its number has been increasing: in 2000 its numerical strength was nearly twice as large as in 1996.17

To increase the number of people with average incomes (businessmen, engineers, civil servants, the military, lawyers, teachers, and others) the state should carry out a long-term policy that includes a set of measures (a reasonable system of taxes and investments, social programs, and greater funding of health protection, education, science, and culture).

The middle class is also formed through greater incomes: today, an average wage in the republic is $33 ($100 in Kazakhstan, $132 in Russia). The Conception of Reforming the System of Wages for 2003-2010 was adopted by a presidential decree with an aim of establishing and maintaining state guarantees of wages, extending the legal rights of workers, preventing ethnic and citizenship discrimination, etc. The document outlined obligations of the employers and their administrative, disciplinary and criminal responsibility for wage arrears. It also established coefficients to be applied in the mountains with harsh climatic conditions.

Stability and security are inseparable: to achieve stability the state should not only ensure its security in the military sphere, but also achieve economic security (including independence in foodstuff supply), diplomatic security, controlled migration, and prevention of conflicts and other negative phenomena.

Corruption, a household word in many countries, has affected Kyrgyzstan to a great extent. It interferes with economic reforms and democratization and undermines popular trust in state power. In Kyrgyzstan corruption penetrated all spheres of public life and the state structures because the country lacks adequate legislation and efficient public control, there is moral degradation of society, etc. Today, people are more and more insistently demanding that the state should start fighting corruption in earnest.

In 1998 the main Administration to Fight Economic Crime and Corruption was set up under a presidential decree at the Ministry of the Interior. In 2002 its officials investigate 2,013 economic and official crimes that inflicted a damage of 134,675 thou soms (som is the monetary unit of the Kyrgyz Republic) of which 119,190 thou soms were repaid (the figure is 1.7 times higher than in 2001). The administration detected 91 crimes in the fuel and energy complex: 12 cases of bribery; 70 crimes were detected in energy production. On the whole the already investigated crimes inflicted a damage of 1,500 thou soms, of which 439 thou were repaid. Fifty-one crimes were revealed in the financial and banking sphere, 37, in the customs and taxation structures (10 of them being bribery); there were 420 cases of violation of customs rules that made it possible to prevent illegal move of commodities to the sum of over 4,952 thou soms.18

Vice premier Dzhoomart Otorbaev had to admit: We have been fighting corruption for 11 years now with no success It seems that we are fighting the results rather than the causes.19 He added that the state should issue laws, create infrastructure for businesses and formulate the rules of the game. To defeat corruption the state should limit (or, better still, rule out) all contacts between businessmen and the state structures.

To a great extent corruption extends together with the shadow economic sector. Its share in Kyrgyzstan has reached 50 percent; it is very great in agriculture and the sphere of tourism and services.20 For example, an annual volume of the tourist market in Issyk-Kul is about $100m (or about 6 percent of GDP) while the region supplies merely 0.3 percent of the republics taxes. Tax avoidance negatively affects other economic sectors, health protection and education in the first place. In addition, the social sphere and economic indices are very responsive to financial violations in the state structures. For example, in 2001 nearly all ministries squandered huge sums. The Auditing Chamber registered a high level of illegal expenses, shortages, embezzlement and other financial offenses. For example, during nine months of 2001 the Finance Ministry misapplied about 630m soms (about $13m). The Social Fund was guilty of misapplication of 530m soms; the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, of 215m soms; the Ministry of Industry and Foreign Trade, of 18m soms.21

The share of incomes in GDP is steadily declining from 14.1 percent in 1998 to 12.2 percent in 2000. There is a trend toward a lower level of budget incomes (99.4 percent in 1997 and 81.3 percent in 2000). In 2000 the budget was deprived of part of the privatization income (42m soms) and dividends on the state-owned shares (14m soms).22

The still unresolved social and economic problems, the low living standards of a considerable part of the nation and other factors negatively affected the republics political development. The events in Aksy in March 2002, protest rallies in Bishkek, in settlements in the Dzhalal-Abad Region, and pickets on the Osh-Bishkek highway worsened the situation. The previously disunited and patchy opposition closed ranks: in October 2000 about 10 parties united into a bloc called Peoples Patriotic Movement.23 The opposition objected to the presidents wide powers and demanded that they should be redistributed in favor of the parliament.

The confrontation between the power and the opposition could end in a political crisis. To avoid it power first staked on harsh measures and then (after the Aksy events) moved to talks.24 The authorities agreed to serious concessions: some of the officials of the highest and middle level were brought to court and those who had organized the rallies were freed. At the same time, in its 8 November, 2002 statement the government described the rioters actions as illegal: they urged people to capture government buildings, block roads, confront the authorities with strict demands, etc. The government demanded from the local administrations and the law enforcement bodies to cut short these illegal actions.

On many occasions the highest authorities called on the opposition to enter into a civilized dialog and publicly admitted their own mistakes. The leaders of the irreconcilable political groups addressed the president as the constitutional guarantor with a request to ensure the constitution being observed everywhere in the country.

The measures that followed normalized the situation and led to a dialog between the power and the opposition. It became clear that time had come to give the republic a more democratic form of government and that the constitution should be amended to guarantee the balance of powers, their mutual control, and joint work based on law.

In September 2002 President Akaev convened a Constitutional Conference in which the opposition also participated to draw a new variant of the republics constitution. One of the key tasks was to create a mechanism of the separation of powers. The participants agreed on all major issues: power was redistributed among the parliament, the president, and the government. On 17 October, 2002 the president issued a decree On Nationwide Discussion of the Amendments to the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic Based on the Suggestions and Recommendations of the Constitutional Conference. The president set up an expert group out of the best jurists of the republic to study the amendments suggested by the people. The group created the final draft.

The new variant restores the balance of powers and coordinates their actions. The parliament received the following functions: endorsement of the cabinets structure; approval of the premier and the cabinet members; control over the cabinet, selection of the judges of all levels. The prime minister received more powers in forming the executive vertical; in administering the government and the local executive structures. The government became responsible to the parliament and the president. It also received the right of legislative initiative, of introducing amendments into the Law on the Republican Budget, into draft laws on taxation, on changing the states financial obligations, etc.

On 13 January, 2003 the president signed the draft Law on the New Variant of the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic and fixed the date (2 February, 2003) of the referendum. The decree On the Referendum (Nationwide Voting) in the Kyrgyz Republic invited the people to discuss the draft law on the new variant of the constitution and answer the question about Akaevs remaining in office till the end of his term (December 2005). The question demanded one of two possible answersyes or no.

At the same time, on 13 January, 2003 the Constitutional Conference decided to decline the final text on the ground that it differed greatly from the final document it had drawn. The leaders of 22 political parties and NGOs, public and political figures formulated an Address to the People of Kyrgyzstan, To All International Organizations (the EU and OSCE among them), to Heads and Parliaments of All Countries that said that the new variant submitted by the expert group would enhance the presidents power, deepen the conflict, cause instability, and stem the democratization process in the country.

The form of government should be chosen wisely, it should correspond to the political, social, and economic context to stabilize the country. Political stability greatly depends on the electoral system; the form of government depends on the choice between the parties and individual candidates: where there are strong and influential parties parliamentary rule is advisable. In their absence it is wiser to orientate to individual figures and to the majority electoral system.

The presidential form of government with the electoral system based on proportional representation is less stable because of possible conflicts between the president and the parliament. In fact, a great number of parties deprives the country of political stability. This was probably what guided the experts when they replaced the mixed electoral system that existed in the republic under the Election Code of 199925 with a majority system. Under Art 54 of the Constitution the deputies will be elected by majority vote out of several candidates. Candidates can be nominated by parties or be self-nominated. This means that individual candidates rather than parties will be elected.

On 3 February, 2003 Chairman of the Central Election Commission S. Imanbaev announced the results of the referendum on TV: 2,128,150 (86.38 percent of the voters) took part in the referendum. The new variant of the Constitution received support of 1,860,921 (75.5 percent); 1,938,457 (78.7 percent) confirmed the presidents powers up to December 2005.26

The results showed that people wanted stability.

Domination of the president and continued existence of numerous elites (class, regional, etc.) has created a situation that can be called a shaky balance. Stability calls for more efficient administration and strict observance of law and order.


1 See: A.S. Makarychev, Stabilnost i nestabilnost pri demokratii: metodologicheskie podkhody i otsenki, Politicheskie issledovania, No. 1, 1998, pp. 149-150.
2 See: Ibid., p. 152.
3 See: A. Akaev, O strategii sotsialno-ekonomicheskogo razvitia Kyrgyzskoi Respubliki i neotlozhnykh deystviakh, Bishkek, 1993, pp. 21-23.
4 See: Kyrgyzskaia Respublika. Otchet o chelovechskom razvitii, Bishkek, 1995, pp. 21-23.
5 See: Ibidem.
6 See: Natsionalniy statisticheskiy komitet Kyrgyzskoi Respubliki. Sotsialno-ekonomicheskoe razvitie Kyrgyzskoi Respubliki. 1992-1996, Bishkek, 1998, p. 14.
7 See: O sotsialno-ekonomicheskom polozhenii Kyrgyzskoi Respubliki, Slovo Kyrgyzstana, 31 January, 2002, pp. 7-8.
8 See: Natsionalniy statisticheskiy komitet Kyrgyzskoi Respubliki. Sotsialno-ekonomicheskoe razvitie Kyrgyzskoi Respubliki. 1992-1996, p. 20.
9 See: Natsionalniy otchet Kyrgyzskoi Respubliki po chelovecheskomu razvitiu za 1997, Bishkek, 1997, pp. 38-39.
10 See: Argumenty i fakty (Kyrgyzstan), No. 50, December 2002, p. 2.
11 See: Sotsialno-ekonomicheskoe polozhenie Kyrgyzskoi Respubliki. 1998, ianvar-iul, Bishkek, 1998, p. 126.
12 See: Natsionalniy statisticheskiy komitet Kyrgyzskoi Respubliki. Osnovnye itogi pervoi natsionalnoi perepisi naselenia Kyrgyzskoi Respubliki 1999 goda, Bishkek, 2000, p. 49.
13 See: Ibid., p. 48.
14 See: RIF, 8 February, 2002, p. 4.
15 See: Natsionalniy otchet po chelovecheskomu razvitiu. Demokraticheskoe upravlenie: novye podkhody k razvitiu Kyrgyzstana, Bishkek, 2001, p. 24.
16 See: Ibid., p. 25.
17 See: Ibid., p. 24.
18 See: Argumenty i fakty, No. 51, December 2002, p. 2.
19 See: Ibid., p. 4.
20 See: Argumenty i fakty, No. 50, December 2002, p. 4.
21 See: Komsomolskaia pravda (Kyrgyzstan), 2 November, 2001.
22 See: Ibidem.
23 Some 30-odd parties are registered with the republican Ministry of Justice while only six of them managed to overcome the 5 percent-barrier at the 2000 parliamentary elections. Their representatives shared among themselves 15 seats in the Legislative Assembly of the Zhogorku Kenesh. The majority of the parties are small, disorganized, while their programs are highly eclectic. The institutions of corporate representation and clans are their rivals on the political stage.
24 Early in 2002 the confrontation between the authorities and opposition locked in power struggle mounted. Unsanctioned rallies and pickets in the south of the republic were organized in protest of the arrest of deputy of the Legislative Assembly A. Beknazarov. On 17 March, 2002 several people were killed or wounded in the village of Aksy (Dzhalal-Abad Region) as a crowd tried to encircle a group of the riot police of the Dzhalal-Abad branch of the Ministry of the Interior.
25 At the parliamentary elections of 2000 75 percent of the deputies were elected under the majority system; the rest 25 percent, under the proportional representation system.
26 See: Slovo Kyrgyzstana, No. 13, 4 February, 2003.

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