Ainura Elebaeva, D.Sc. (Philos.), professor, director of the Research Institute of Ethnology, International University of Kyrgyzstan (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan)
The stormy events of 24 March, 2005 were caused by a gradually mounting political crisis, rather than a sporadic outburst of popular discontent. It all started in 2000 when President Askar Akaev was elected to his third term, which the republic’s Constitutional Court preferred to count as his second term. The illegal nature of his presidency led to an ongoing political confrontation, the ebbs and flows of which were determined by what was going on in politics.
International developments added tension to the already tense domestic situation. In the fall of 2000, at the very beginning of the third term, an invasion of international terrorists from the Batken Region (in the country’s south) triggered a political crisis. The clashes showed that the armed forces of the Kyrgyz Republic were badly trained and unable to maintain their combat proficiency. The parliamentary discussions which followed caused a political confrontation between the head of state and the deputies who accused the president of violating the Constitution and abusing his powers regarding use of the army. The agreement permitting the United States to deploy its air force base at the Manas Airport following the 9/11 events in New York caused another storm in the Zhogorku Kenesh (parliament). The Kyrgyz-Chinese protocol on transferring the disputed Uzengu Kush territory to China ended in another large-scale political demarche: accused of betraying the country’s interests, the head of state barely escaped impeachment. The administration retaliated by arresting parliamentary deputy A. Beknazarov. This started another political crisis complete with gunfire at a peaceful demonstration in support of the arrested deputy in the Aksy District in the south, which cost the demonstrators five lives. Kurmanbek Bakiev and his cabinet had to resign.
In 2002, political confrontation caused by the demands to liberate the arrested deputy and carry parliamentary by-elections reached its peak and caused another bout of popular unrest. People were obviously prepared to march on Bishkek to restore justice; demands for the president’s resignation were voiced for the first time. The presidential administration worked hard to pacify the nation by convening the Constitutional Assembly, which eventually achieved a precarious political compromise.
It was overturned when President Akaev published his own draft constitution to be put forward at the 3 February, 2003 referendum; it was designed to cement his personal grip on power. Political passions were rekindled.
The March 2005 events were triggered by numerous violations of the voting and vote counting procedures at the parliamentary election of 27 February: voters’ signatures were faked; vote counting abounded in falsifications; unwelcome candidates were subjected to financial and administrative pressure; and the state tapped all its resources to ensure the victory of its loyal supporters and top people’s relatives. This caused popular discontent and violent protests. Spontaneous rallies shook the country’s south (Dzhalal-Abad and Osh); then the wave reached the north and pounded the capital. To stay ahead of the mounting popular restlessness, the president sped up legitimization of the newly elected parliament: on 22 March, the election results were officially confirmed. The next day, the first session of the parliament opened while special forces from the Ministry of Internal Affairs mercilessly dispersed a rally of youth, including student, and other public organizations outside. Two days later, on 24 March, the mob took the Government House by storm, a fact the opposition hastened to exploit in its interests.
Despite two diametrically opposite opinions about the events of 24 March—either a popular revolution or a coup—one thing was clear: the country had entered a new development stage. The people showed that they would no longer put up with being treated like slaves. At the same time, the popular revolution was nothing more than an outer manifestation of an already accomplished regime change. All that actually happened was one political elite squeezed out another. The political forces and their leaders removed from the commanding posts by the old regime rode the wave of popular discontent to take their revenge. The state institutions proved too weak, therefore those who for different reasons found themselves outside Akaev’s ruling elite regained their former positions.
In the post-March period, the scale of corruption (which, under Akaev, had been the country’s scourge and one of the causes of the March events) increased despite the new rulers’ intention to create an anti-corruption system. The market laws were no longer effective in the country. Kyrgyzstan is one of the world’s most corrupt countries: in 2005, it occupied 130th place on a list of 159 countries; in 2003 and 2004, it was in 118th and 125th place, respectively.
The new president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, assumed control over the most profitable economic branches to achieve, according to him, more efficient use of the country’s strategic resources. This was taken as a signal to redistribute property on a nationwide scale. On 31 December, 2005, in his New Year address to the nation, the head of state assured the people that the old order of things would never return. In the absence of law and order in the sociopolitical and socioeconomic spheres, the people find it hard to share his optimism. In fact, the hasty and ill-advised steps of the new leaders started another round of popular unrest. The nation discovered that President Bakiev was not qualified enough to rule the country and was not up to the tasks it faced. It turned out that instead of bringing fresh blood into the government, he merely rotated the members of the Akaev political elite. Popular disenchantment was imminent.
In 2005, the crime level rose even higher than before: there were 24 criminal groups and four criminal communities plundering the country. On top of this, 2005 was a year of political assassinations: after the March events, three parliamentary deputies—Zh. Surabaldiev, E. Baiamanov, and T. Akmatbaev (all of them indirectly involved in criminal activities)—were killed one after another. Economy and business suffered immensely from the widespread crime: disillusioned local and foreign investors are fleeing abroad with their money.
The government, however, tried to raise the wages of those employed in the budget sector: the salaries of teachers and doctors were increased by 15 percent; of the law enforcement bodies by 50 percent; pensions were increased by 10-15 percent; and other social benefits were also raised. Inflation reduced these efforts to naught: the price of some foodstuffs grew by 50 to 100 percent. No wonder larger numbers of people began leaving the country: according to the National Committee for Statistics, 25,500 people migrated to Russia alone (9,449 more than in 2004).
In the nine post-revolutionary months, the republic found itself twice on the brink of another political crisis. At first, R. Akmatbaev, a criminal leader and brother of murdered deputy T. Akmatbaev, picketed the central square and parliament building for several days and openly threatened the premier. By staging an alternative picket in defense of the premier, democratic NGOs and political parties forced the president to interfere. He met the picketers and persuaded them to leave the square until the end of the investigation procedure. Complete rehabilitation of the above-mentioned criminal leader and his renewed public threats at press conferences targeted at Premier Felix Kulov caused another crisis. On top of this, he ran for parliament to win his dead brother’s seat.
After the hasty presidential election of 10 July, the newly elected head of state Bakiev all of a sudden blocked the planned constitutional and political reform and suggested that the referendum on the future form of government in the Kyrgyz Republic should be postponed until the end of 2006. In November he published his own draft of constitutional reform, which had nothing in common with the draft discussed at and approved by the Constitutional Assembly. The president insisted on minor changes: the majority-proportional system for parliamentary elections, unification of the Constitutional and Supreme courts, and annulment of death penalty.
Permanent political instability in the country threatens its territorial integrity and unity, yet the new leaders have not come out with a clear political strategy for leaving the systemic political crisis behind. Instead, they have already betrayed their antidemocratic intentions; it was with their help that certain criminals came to the political scene. The nation is disappointed; it no longer believes that the new government can (and wants to) bring law and order to the country. Anarchy is mounting; the world is becoming more and more disillusioned with the Tulip Revolution.
Experts’ forecasts of the country’s future breed no optimism either: it is sliding toward complete instability, the process being aggravated by the squabbles between the president and the parliament and between the president and the prime minister. The country is dangerously close to permanent instability, conflicts, and coups; it might even split into the south and the north. This will spell the end of the integrity and sovereignty of the Kyrgyz Republic.
The 2005 events demonstrated that a regime change is not an end in itself: to remedy social evils the country needs new leaders resolved to stick to policies which will radically improve the political, economic, and social situation. Such people will prove worthy of the nation’s confidence. Regrettably, the credit of confidence in Kurmanbek Bakiev and his Cabinet has all but run out.