Government type: republic. The government of Kyrgyzstan has been described as liberal-minded authoritarianism. The old Soviet-era Communist Party apparatus and bureaucracy remains in place. People don’t fear the government nor do they respect it. Democracy comes and goes. Leaders have been ousted in People Power style demonstrations. The bureaucracy is widely regarded as corrupt.

Kyrgyzstan is a unitary presidential republic that began the post-Soviet era as the least authoritarian of the five Central Asian states. The constitution, which calls for three separate branches of government, has been amended several times to change the structure of the legislative branch. Beginning in the late 1990s, the regime of the thrice-elected President Oskar Akayev increasingly bypassed democratic processes, despite increasing protests. Constitutional changes concentrated power in the presidency, to the detriment of the legislative branch, and made removal of the president more difficult. The parliament has blocked some presidential proposals, but it has not been an effective check on executive power. The judicial branch is effectively under the control of the executive branch. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

In his election platform of mid-2005, provisional president Kurmanbek Bakiyev promised government reform to curb the power of the presidency, but Bakiyev’s new government included mainly established politicians. In 2006 opposition groups increasingly accused Bakiyev of taking all the executive power that Akayev had exercised before his overthrow. Significant regional political power centers continued to exist in 2006, with a pronounced split between northern and southern provinces. In many cases, political loyalties still are defined by clan rather than party. In 2006 organized criminals reportedly achieved increased access to political leaders, contravening Bakiyev’s promised political cleanup and sparking new street demonstrations. A new constitution was approved in November 2006 after large-scale protests forced Bakiyev to grant increased power to the legislative branch. **

Kyrgyzstan recognizes August 31, 1991, the date on which Kyrgyzstan declared its separation from the Soviet Union, as its official day of independence. The original constitution was adopted on May 5, 1993. A new one was adopted on June 27, 2010, and became effective on July 2, 2010.

Names, Symbols and Flag of Kyrgyzstan

Formal Name: Kyrgyz Republic. Short Form: Kyrgyzstan. Term for Citizens: Kyrgyzstani(s). Kyrgyz technically refers to the Kyrgyz ethnic group although it can also refer to Kyrgyzstan citizens, which are officially called Kyrgyzstanis although the term is not that widely used — at least in the Western press anyway.

Flag: The flag of Kyrgyzstan has a red field with a yellow sun in the center, whose rays represent the 40 Kyrgyz tribes; in the center of the sun is a red ring crossed by two sets of three lines, a stylized representation of a "tunduk" - the crown of a traditional Kyrgyz yurt. The image at the center is what you see when you look up at the hole in a middle of a yurt. On the obverse side the rays run counterclockwise, on the reverse, clockwise; red symbolizes bravery and valor, the sun evinces peace and wealth.[Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

National anthem: name: "Kyrgyz Respublikasynyn Mamlekettik Gimni" (National Anthem of the Kyrgyz Republic) with lyrics by Djamil Sadykov and music by Eshmambet Kuluev, Nasyr Davlesov and Kalyi Moldobasanov It was adopted in 1992. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

National symbol: gyrfalcon; national colors: red, yellow.

Development of Kyrgyzstan Government in the 1990s

As independence has progressed, politics have grown increasingly tangled in Kyrgyzstan. President Akayev, who took office amid a chain of events that lent credence to an idealistic promise of democratic reform and stability, has proven more able to formulate goals than to carry them out. Although a constitution was ratified in 1993, many terms of that document have not yet gone into force. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In March 1990, while still part of the Soviet Union, the republic elected a 350-member Jogorku Kenesh (parliament), which remained in power until it dissolved itself in September 1994. This body was elected under the rules prescribed by the perestroika policy of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, which mandated that at least 80 percent of legislative seats be contested even though communists likely would win most seats. In the case of Kyrgyzstan, five seats went to the initial opposition movement, the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan (DDK). *

Over time it has become apparent that President Akayev prefers dealing with administrators subordinate to him rather than with legislators. The initial harmony between Akayev and the parliament began to sour in 1993. A number of specific points of contention arose, most of them related to growing legislative resistance to what was widely viewed to be government corruption and mismanagement. Throughout 1993 the parliament sought aggressively to extend control over the executive branch. The allotment of development concessions for two of the republic's largest gold deposits was a particular rallying point. The chief representative of Cameco, Boris Birshtein, was a Swiss citizen who had been named in a number of financial scandals in Russia and elsewhere in the CIS. When it was discovered that the Kyrgyzstani negotiating team that had sealed the Cameco transaction had financial interests in the deal, the agreement nearly was cancelled entirely. In December 1993, public protest about this gold concession brought down the government of Prime Minister Tursunbek Chyngyshev and badly damaged Akayev's popularity and credibility. *

Chyngyshev was replaced by Apas Jumagulov, who had been prime minister during the late Soviet period. Jumagulov was reappointed in March 1995 and again in March 1996. Akayev was not publicly accused of being involved in the gold scandals, but numerous rumors have mentioned corruption and influence-peddling in the Akayev family, especially in the entourage of his wife. As these rumors circulated more widely, President Akayev held a public referendum of approval for his presidency in January 1994. Most impartial observers regarded the 96 percent approval that Akayev claimed after the referendum as a political fiction. *

Women and Minorities in the Kyrgyzstan Government

According to the U.S. Department of State: “There were no legal restrictions on the participation of women in politics. The election code requires the names of male and female candidates be intermixed on party lists and that no more than 70 percent of candidates on a party list can be of the same gender. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kyrgyzstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

Women held the positions of finance minister, health-care minister, prosecutor general, as well as one of the vice prime ministerial posts under the parliamentary coalition formed in April. A woman held the position of vice speaker of parliament, and altogether 25 women representing five political parties occupied seats in the parliament. The Democratic Party of Women took 13 percent of the vote in 2000 election. *\

By law, women must be represented in all branches of government and not constitute less that 30 percent of state bodies and local authorities. The law does not specify the level of the positions at which they must be represented. On April 29, the head of the Parliamentary Social Policy Committee, Damira Niyazaliyeva, asserted the government was in violation of laws on gender balance. For example, only one woman was serving as an ambassador. *\

National minorities, who made up 35 percent of the population, remained underrepresented in both elected and appointed government positions, particularly Russians and Uzbeks, the two largest ethnic minority groups. Of the 120 members of parliament, 14 belonged to a national minority. The law requires that at least 15 percent of candidates on party lists be members of ethnic minorities. *\

Local Government in Kyrgyzstan

Local government is in the hands of the local councils called “keneshes”. Each province is headed by a governor (“akim”) who is appointed by the president. District administrators are appointed by the central government. Rural communities are governed by directly elected mayors and councils. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

Kyrgyzstan is divided into seven provinces and the municipality of Bishkek, the capital. Provinces are divided into a total of 40 districts. The districts in turn are divided into rural communities, each comprising up to 20 small settlements. Administrative divisions: 7 provinces (oblustar, singular - oblus, or “dubans”) and 2 cities (shaarlar, singular - shaar); Batken Oblusu, Bishkek Shaary, Chuy Oblusu (Bishkek), Jalal-Abad Oblusu, Naryn Oblusu, Osh Oblusu, Osh Shaary*, Talas Oblusu,Issyk-Kul Oblusu (Karakol). Administrative divisions have the same names as their administrative centers (exceptions have the administrative center name following in parentheses). [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007, CIA World Factbook =]

Jalal-Abad was formed out of Osh Province in 1991, largely to disperse the political strength of the south that had become centered in Osh. Each province has a local legislature, but real power is wielded by the province governor (until 1996 called the akim ), who is a presidential appointee. In some cases, the akim became a powerful spokesman for regional interests, running the district with considerable autonomy. Particularly notable in this regard was Jumagul Saadanbekov, the akim of Ysyk-Köl Province. The government reorganization of early 1996 widened the governors' responsibilities for tax collection, pensions, and a variety of other economic and social functions. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Akayev has had difficulty establishing control over the two southern provinces. Several southern politicians (the most important of whom was Sheraly Sydykov, scion of an old Osh family that enjoyed great prominence in the Soviet era) have taken the lead in national opposition against Akayev. Sydykov headed the parliamentary corruption commission in 1994, and he headed the influential banking and ethics committees of the parliament elected in 1995. *

When the akim of Osh resigned to run for the new parliament, Akayev appointed as his replacement Janysh Rustambekov, an Akayev protégé who had been state secretary. Rustambekov, the first northerner to head this southern province and a highly controversial appointment, was considered to be a direct surrogate of Akayev in improving control over the south. Rustambekov, who has fired large numbers of local administrators, is opposed chiefly by Osh Province Council head Bekamat Osmonov, who is one of the most skilled and influential politicians in the south. Osmonov, who also was a deputy in the lower house of the new legislature, emerged as a powerful critic of Akayev and a possible presidential rival if Akayev could not prevent the next election. *

Taxes and Budget in Kyrgyzstan

Budget: revenues: $2.036 billion; expenditures: $2.214 billion (2014 est.). Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-): -2.3 percent of GDP (2014 est.), country comparison to the world: 92. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Taxes and other revenues: 26.6 percent of GDP (2014 est.), country comparison to the world: 109. After Kyrgyzstan experienced high annual deficits through 1995, tax reforms and public expenditure restrictions reduced but did not eliminate annual deficits beginning in 1997. Several factors inhibit budget-balancing progress: state revenue is low as a percentage of gross domestic product, external debt remains high, and in 2004 social and welfare expenditures still were more than 50 percent of the budget. In 2004 revenues totaled US$431.3 million, and expenditures were US$445.4 million, incurring a deficit of US$14.1 million. In 2005 revenues increased to US$516.3 billion, but expenditures increased to US$539.9 million, increasing the deficit to US$23.6 million. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

The balance of payments in 1992 was a deficit US$147.5 million. Drastic tax revenue shrinkage caused revenue crisis and reduced government spending in 1994. A widespread tax reform program took place 1995, focusing on enforcement and new land and excise taxes.

Fiscal Year: Calendar year.

Welfare and Social Security in Kyrgyzstan

The need to reform revenue collection and allocation systems has delayed a planned revision of the state unemployment insurance system. Unemployment benefits are paid for 26 weeks at the minimum wage level. Workers are eligible for state-funded pensions at age 62 for men and age 57 for women; minimum eligibility ages were scheduled to increase in 2007. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

Disabled workers receive the pension amount with a supplement. The state, which controls almost all pension funds in Kyrgyzstan, has been chronically late in pension payments. As a step in a long-term pension reform program, some private pension funds began to appear in 2003. The first stage of a pension reform was to go into effect in January 2007, including an optional supplementary fund, a 10 percent increase in pension amounts, and expanded coverage. The pension reform was scheduled for completion in 2010. The minimum pension was 12 percent of the average wage, an amount that has been inadequate to support a majority of recipients. **

Child allowances are paid for children up to the age of eighteen, and a lump sum payment is made on the birth of a child. In 1991 child allowances consumed 6.7 percent of GDP; since that time, targeting of benefits has been a major concern in this category to reduce spending but cover vulnerable groups. The first alteration of eligibility standards occurred in 1993. Cash for this category is provided by direct transfers from the state budget combined with Pension Fund contributions. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Besides pensions and family allowances, Kyrgyzstani citizens also receive maternity benefits and sick pay covered by the Social Insurance Fund, which is managed by the Federation of Independent Labor Unions and the individual unions; it receives money only from its 14 percent share of payroll taxes, not from the state budget or individual contributions. All public and private employees are eligible for sick leave, with payments depending on length of service. The maternity allowance is a single payment equal to two months' minimum wage. World Bank experts consider the sick and maternity benefits excessive in relation to the state of the economy and the state budget. *

The first program to offer social assistance was the National Program to Overcome Poverty. Its goal is to eliminate extreme poverty by developing entrepreneurship, particularly among women. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are central to the implementation of the program. Under this program, the Kyrgyz government has set up employment promotion companies. Their programs include infrastructure development, social assistance, public education, vocational training for youth and women, and assistance for rural migrants in urban areas. [Source:]

Development of Welfare and Social Security in Kyrgyzstan in the 1990s

Like the other former Soviet republics, Kyrgyzstan inherited a social welfare system that allocated benefits very broadly without targeting needy groups in society. In this system, nearly half of society received some sort of benefit, and many benefit payments were excessive. By necessity, the post-Soviet government has sought to make substantial reductions in state social protection payments, emphasizing identification of the most vulnerable members of society. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In 1991, the last year of the Soviet Union, the payment of pensions, child allowances, and other forms of support amounted to 18 percent of the Kyrgyz Republic's gross domestic product (GDP). At that point, about 600,000 pensioners and 1.6 million children received some form of payment. Eligibility requirements were extremely liberal, defined mainly by age and work history rather than by social position or contributions to a pension fund. This generous system failed to eliminate poverty, however; according to a 1989 Soviet survey, 35 percent of the population fell below the official income line for "poorly supplied" members of society. Thus poverty, which became an increasingly urgent problem during the economic decline of the transition period of the early 1990s, already was rooted firmly in Kyrgyzstan when independence was achieved. *

The Akayev government addressed the overpayment problem by reducing categorical subsidies and government price controls; by indexing benefits only partially as inflation raised the cost of living; and by targeting benefits to the most needy parts of society. Under the new program, child allowances went only to people with incomes below a fixed level, and bread price compensation went only to groups such as pensioners who lacked earning power. By 1993 such measures had cut government welfare expenses by more than half, from 57 percent of the state budget to 25 percent. *

Nevertheless, the percentage of citizens below the poverty line grew rapidly in the early 1990s as the population felt the impact of the government's economic stabilization program (see Economic Reform). In addition, the Soviet system delegated delivery of many social services, including health, to state enterprises, which in the post-Soviet era no longer had the means to guarantee services to employees (or, in many cases, even to continue employing them). The state's Pension Fund (a government agency with the relatively independent status of a state committee) went into debt in 1994 because workers who retired early or worked only for a short period remained eligible for pensions and the poor financial state of enterprises made revenue collection difficult. The pension system is supported by payroll taxes of 33 percent on industries and 26 percent on collective and state farms. Besides retirement pensions, disability and survivors' benefits also are paid. Of the amount collected, 14 percent goes to the labor unions' Social Insurance Fund and the remainder to the Pension Fund. The standard pension eligibility age is sixty for men and fifty-five for women, but in 1992 an estimated 156,000 people were receiving benefits at earlier ages. In 1994 the minimum pension amount was raised to forty-five som per month, the latest in a long series of adjustments that did not nearly keep pace with inflation's impact on the real value of the pension. *

New pension legislation prepared in 1994 made enterprises responsible for the costs of early retirement; established a five-year minimum for pension eligibility; clearly separated the categories of work pensions from social assistance payments; abolished supplementary pension payments for recipients needing additional support; eliminated the possibility of receiving a pension while continuing to work (the position of an estimated 49,000 workers in 1992); and provided for long-term linkage of contributions made to pensions later received. *

In assessing the future of social assistance in Kyrgyzstan, experts predicted that economic restructuring through the 1990s will increase the number of citizens requiring assistance from the state system. To meet such needs, thorough reform of the system — aimed mainly at tightening eligibility standards — will be necessary. It is also expected that Kyrgyzstan will require other methods of social assistance to provide for individuals who do not fall into existing categories, or for whom inflation erodes excessively the value of payments now received. The officially and unofficially unemployed (together estimated at 300,000 at the end of 1994) are an especially vulnerable group because of the unlikelihood of workers being reabsorbed rapidly into the country's faltering economy. (Unemployment benefits are paid for twenty-six weeks to those who register, but the number of "non-participants" is much greater than the number of registered unemployed.)

Is Kyrgyzstan a Narco-State?

B. Rose Huber of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School wrote: “Kyrgyzstan serves a powerful role in the Eurasian drug trade by playing the "mule" that carts heroin and other opiates between Afghanistan and Russia. Many researchers theorize that this lucrative industry has taken root in Kyrgyzstan – a country with few natural resources and industries – with significant support and leeway from its government, making it a "narco-state."” [Source: Alexander Kupatadze and B. Rose Huber, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton, March 17, 2014; "Kyrgyzstan – A virtual narco-state?" International Journal of Drug Policy, January 31, 2014 |::|]

According to Sensi Seeds: The “trafficking of narcotics has become so endemic that there is little economic activity outside of it, and widespread police and political corruption sustains and supports the trade. It is thought that approximately 20 percent of all Afghani-produced heroin is transported through Kyrgyzstan, which is now being dubbed a narco-state by some due to its dependence on the trade.[Source: Sesheta, September 16, 2014, Sensi Seeds -]

Researcher Alexander Kupatadze at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School writes in the International Journal of Drug Policy that government and crime are more likely to become intertwined when resource-stripped countries such as Kyrgyzstan have little economic activity outside of the drug trade. Based on more than 70 personal interviews with government officials and underworld figures in Kyrgyzstan, argues that when organized crime becomes an unofficial national industry, state officials may be less likely to enforce drug policies because doing so would eliminate the livelihoods of corrupt government officials. |::|

"The less resources a country has, the less motivated the government appears to be enforcing drug policies. In fact, 'no policy' is the policy," said Kupatadze, a visiting research scholar at the Wilson School's Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance. "In a country like Kyrgyzstan, drug trafficking has completely changed the nature of organized crime." |::|

Rose wrote: “Because of its geopolitical location, insecure borders and extensive corruption, Kyrgyzstan has become a tunnel through which drugs produced in Afghanistan — the world's dominant opium producer — are transported to Russia, which is among the world's largest consumers of illicit drugs. These factors, coupled with Kyrgyzstan's total lack of natural resources and industry, has turned the country into a robust conduit for drug smuggling. An estimated 20 percent of opium and heroin produced in Afghanistan makes its way through Kyrgyzstan to Russia. However, there are no data regarding how much income the drug trade generates for Kyrgyzstan, nor how much of that might be kept locally or laundered abroad. |::|

“Analysts have therefore argued about whether Kyrgyzstan is a narco-state with drug lords, politicians and police working in tandem. Others say the state's radical-Islamic gangs and organizations dominate the country's drug trade. Nonetheless, there has been a lack of complete and accurate information about the scale and value of trade, the groups involved and the role of drugs-related money in politics, Kupatadze wrote. |::|

“Kupatadze said it is believed by many that Kyrgyzstan most resembled the status of a narco-state while under Bakiyev's rule, which lasted from 2005 to 2010 when he was ousted by protestors. Under Bakiyev's leadership, the criminalization of the state reached its peak, and close relatives to Bakiyev were involved in the drug trade. "The criminalization of the state penetrated so deeply during this time that corrupt interests undermined formal law enforcement institutions," Kupatadze said. "In Kyrgyzstan, there are near monopolists in the market who rarely interfere in each other's area of influence. This is reinforced by the corrupt interest of politicians and law enforcement officials." |::|

Impact of Drugs on Kyrgyzstan Society, Police and Government

B. Rose Huber of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School wrote: The interviews by Kupatadze “revealed that law enforcement officials consider the drug trade the most significant threat to national security. Overall, law enforcement officials would argue that most of the drug smuggling is disorganized. The officers did speak of petty drugs smuggling by way of camels and trucks. But everyone else – former police officers, experts studying drugs trade and nongovernmental organizations – agree that most of the smuggling is carried out by organized groups including criminal gangs protected by police. One official revealed details about a drug-trafficking hub in southern Kyrgyzstan where heroin is stashed in a mosque, and anyone can take the drugs to do business. If the drugs are not sold or returned by the would-be seller, his relatives are killed, the official said, although Kupatadze could not corroborate this claim with other sources. [Source: Alexander Kupatadze and B. Rose Huber, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton, March 17, 2014; "Kyrgyzstan – A virtual narco-state?" International Journal of Drug Policy, January 31, 2014 |::|]

“Interviews with drug users revealed that they, too, believe that drug money has changed the landscape of Kyrgyzstan. The traditional code of professional criminals – the leaders of the Soviet and post-Soviet underworlds – outlaw the involvement in the drug trade. However, traditional rules have been changing over the past decade as the organized crime groups move toward commercialization, Kupatadze writes. In one interview, an inmate said, "Now, it's all about the money," and reported that even the most unexperienced drug traffickers – with no gang affiliation – are welcome in the "upper echelons of the criminal world" so long as they pay the appropriate fees. |::|

“When it comes to police involvement, many drug users spoke openly about the "werewolves in epaulettes," a term often used to describe criminalized policemen. Kupatadze provides several cases of policemen caught with a large quantity of drugs. In 2011, the quantity of heroin confiscated from four security officers was larger than the entire amount of heroin seized in all of Kyrgyzstan in that same year. "In summary, drug money has corrupted politics as well as the traditional underworld," Kupatadze said. "Given the lack of other licit or illicit resources, drugs money has become one of they key sources of corruption and plays an important role in elections. This has lead to the criminalization of the state that reached its peak under [former] president [Kurmanbek] Bakiyev." |::|

“In terms of drug policy, Kupatadze doesn't think the government is interested in enforcing policies. His impression is that if the drugs don't travel through Kyrgyzstan, they will travel elsewhere, legitimizing acceptance or co-opting in Kyrgyzstan because the drug trade cannot be brought to a complete halt. And while there isn't accurate data in terms of how much drug money is injected into the local economy, he said it is visually obvious. "You can see the evidence when you travel to the country. You can see constructions of private lavish houses and expensive cars in regions that lack any industry or other sources of income," said Kupatadze. "Clearly, if you cut drug trade, then one of the key – and in some regions, one of the only – sources for peoples' livelihoods will disappear." |::|

“Puzzlingly, while organized crime is on the rise in Kyrgyzstan, Kupatadze said it hasn't had an impact on crime-related violence. "Drug-related violence is unusually low in Kyrgyzstan compared to Honduras or El-Salvador, its Central American counterparts that lie on cocaine transit routes from Latin America to the United States," Kupatadze said.” |::|

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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