Kyrgyzstan was the first Central Asian country to hold a presidential election after independence. Parliamentary and presidential elections are held every five years. Parliamentary elections were held in 2015. The next one is in 2020. The last presidential election was in 2011. The next one is in 2016. The voting age is 18.

Corruption and buying votes, as well as ballot box stuffing, are common during elections. According to the U.S. Department of State: “The 120-seat parliament is selected through a national “party list” system. The system makes it difficult for minority candidates to be elected. Activists and human rights defenders reported ethnic Uzbeks were underrepresented in all areas of the government...In the 2011 presidential election, Almazbek Atambayev, then serving as prime minister, received 63 percent of the vote. Independent observers considered the election generally transparent and competitive, despite some irregularities. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kyrgyzstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

Local and international observers judged the country’s most recent presidential election in 2011 to have been open and transparent but not without problems and accusations of fraud. Although not widespread, observers reported instances of fraud, including ballot stuffing, manipulation of polling station and precinct results, and problems with voter lists, but in general, observers concluded such irregularities did not change the outcome of the election. Local elections in cities and oblasts occurred during the year without serious incident. A law passed in late 2013 designated city councils responsible for electing mayors of Osh and Bishkek. The city councils elected new mayors for both cities on January 15. *\

Voters have option of voting against all candidates. If the majority voters in a particular district do so then a second round of voting is held. The government has used horses, trucks and helicopters to help voters get to the polls. Elections are arranged by the Central Election Commission.

A new electoral code signed in 2004 is characterized by international authorities as an improvement over the previous law but still failing to meet international standards. The Central Election Commission approves candidates, conducts elections, and certifies election results. International monitors have identified substantial irregularities in the presidential election of 2000, referenda in 1998 and 2003, and the parliamentary elections of early 2005 (in which only six opposition candidates gained seats). The prospects of opposition parties were hurt by the abolition in 2003 of party list seats in parliament and by election code changes in 2004. International and domestic monitors declared the special presidential election of July 2005 basically fair; turnout was estimated at 58 percent. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

Politics in Kyrgyzstan

Politics in an all the Central Asian states has been described as secretive and clannish. In Kyrgyzstan, politics is often shaped by clan and regional interests, with many divisions along north-south lines. In the legislature in the early 2000s, the south had 48 seats and the north had 57. The north maintained a majority even though more people live in the south. President Akayev was from the north. Many of those active in his ouster in 2005 were from the south.

The political process in Kyrgyzstan is not very mature and organized. Sometimes politicians can’t control crowds that act in their name. Sometimes a losing candidate will tell his supporters not to protest the defeat but they will anyway.

David Mikosz, an analyst with the Bishkek office of the Washington-based election assistance agency, IFES, told the Washington Post: “There’s no history of loyal opposition here. It’s always been those in power versus those fighting to take power. It would be good to go through the exercise of having two strong candidates competing in the realm of ideas and then establishing the idea of a loyal opposition.”

Political power is closely linked to wealth, both locally and on a national scale. Numerous groups appeared early 1990s but no organized party system; government has denied registration to some parties; some neocommunist parties active.[Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Civil Unrest in Kyrgyzstan

According to the OSAC: “Overall, 2014 was considerably more stable than previous years. However, Kyrgyzstan is volatile and has a history of civil unrest and ethnic violence. It also has the propensity for small, local, violent and/or nonviolent events to occur spontaneously with the potential to spread rapidly into wide-scale, violent demonstrations and general disorder. Instances of civil unrest in 2014 took place in Barskoon village, Issyk Kul province, near the entrance to the Kumtor Gold Mine. Hundreds of well-organized protesters gathered and blocked the road to Kumtor, stopping all traffic on the southern road in Issyk Kul. [Source: “Kyrgyzstan 2015 Crime and Safety Report,” Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State ]

There were no large-scale inter-ethnic clashes, like what was seen in June 2010 in Osh city. However, the potential for ethnic clashes remains, especially in the south. The government has not investigated the events of 2010. There is a longstanding dispute between Kyrgyz border guards and Uzbek citizens that sometimes results in skirmishes on the border of the Sokh enclave in Batken province, which has resulted in a few deaths and causalities.

Chyngyz Kambarov wrote in Voices from Central Asia: “As B. Jusubaliev notes, 900 political demonstrations occurred in Kyrgyzstan during 2013. Police forces concentrate in maintaining street order during political demonstrations and this ongoing turmoil distracts them from focusing on combating crime and ensuring the security of peaceful people. Police forces are in difficulties also because of a lack of personnel. [Source: Chyngyz Kambarov PhD, Lieutenant Colonel of Police of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Voices from Central Asia, No. 20, January 2015 /=]

“Dealing with demonstrators potentially brings police into conflict with extremist groups. In October 2008, Hizb-ut-Tahrir made an attempt to seize state power in Nookat province, one of the most religious provinces in south Kyrgyzstan. Extremists organized a demonstration against the local government on the last day of holy Ramadan, complaining that they have tried to limit the holiday celebration to the local stadium, and away from local government compounds. Organized criminal groups take advantage of instability and the weakness of state power too. After the first coup in 2005, some of them used the chaos and absence of police in the streets to cause havoc in Bishkek. People were afraid to go outside and begged law enforcement agencies to step in to take control of the city and ensure security.” /=\

See History

Organized Crime and Politics in Kyrgyzstan

According to the United Nations: “In Kyrgyzstan, over time these groups have managed to establish a presence in state structures, including winning seats in parliament and posts in other government bodies. Kyrgyz organized crime is in rapid evolution, reflecting the ongoing political, economic and social changes affecting the country. One important feature is the previously cited north-south divide that runs right through the Kyrgyz socio-political landscape. [Source: “Opiate Flows Through Northern Afghanistan and Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, May 2012 |*|]

Chyngyz Kambarov wrote in Voices from Central Asia: “Organized crime in Kyrgyzstan does not limit itself to traditional crimes, but has actively penetrated into business and politics. It has spread and inculcated a criminal ideology and a cult of criminality among various layers of society, and particularly among the youth. In high schools, students gather and pay “kickbacks” to criminal ringleaders, who in their turn pass it on to higher criminal leaders. There is a criminal leader in almost every high school called the smotryashii, who monitors income from racketeering among high-school students. Criminal ideology gets spread among the youth through social networks, and on the Internet, where criminal leaders are praised for their supposed good deeds. Being part of a criminal group certainly ensures better financial status, which is one of the main reasons for joining. The lack of sports’ financing and support for sportsmen by the government also causes many young sportsmen to join criminal groups where their physical abilities are used for criminal purposes. Many organized crime groups support themselves financially through drug trafficking, but some have used those funds to build mosques in hope that all sins will be forgiven by Allah.” [Source: Chyngyz Kambarov PhD, Lieutenant Colonel of Police of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Voices from Central Asia, No. 20, January 2015 /=]

Some politicians use criminal groups for political purposes. “A case in point occurred during the anti-government political demonstrations in Bishkek in the spring of 2007, when government individuals brought in criminal elements from other parts of the country’s south, basically to use them against opposition members during the demonstration in order to frighten them. Other similar examples occurred in the Issyk-Kul region in May 2013, when the opposition used local criminal elements to organize and support political demonstrations against the government. /=\

Saltanat Berdikeeva wrote in China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: According to some sources, certain individuals with ties to the drug trade in the south were able to get “immunity and influence by being elected to parliament.” A murder of a deputy of parliament, Bayaman Erkinbaev, in September 2005 was linked to a “dispute with Kyrgyz mafia groups” and he allegedly had a criminal past.A study of these and other events point to the increasing assertiveness of criminal elements in the country, while the central government is fragile and ineffective, particularly in far flung provinces and rural areas. The ability of criminal elements to gain access to power is at least partly facilitated by the support they get from the local populations as they distribute goods, “build roads and mosques and provide electricity” to poor and neglected areas. [Source: Saltanat Berdikeeva, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 2 (2009) p. 75-100, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies]

Political Parties in Kyrgyzstan

Political Parties and Leaders: 1) Ar-namys (Dignity) Party led by Feliks Kulov; 2) Ata-jurt (Homeland) led by Kamchybek Tashiev, Akhmat Keldibekov, Sadyr Japarov; 3) Ata-meken (Fatherland) led by Omurbek Tekebaev; 4) Butun Kyrgyzstan (All Kyrgyzstan) led by Adakhan Madumarov; 5) Respublika led by Omurbek Babanov; 6) Social-democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (Sdpk) led by Almazbek Atambae. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Political Pressure Groups and Leaders: 1) Adilet (Justice) Legal Clinic led by Cholpon Jakupova; 2) Citizens Against Corruption led by Tolekan Ismailova; 3) Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society led by Dinara Oshurakhunova; 4) Kylym Shamy (Torch of the Century) led by Aziza Abdirasulova; ) Precedent Partnership Group led by Nurbek Toktakunov; 5) Societal Analysis Public Association led by Rita Karasartova; 6) Union of True Muslims led by Nurlan Motuev. =

In the 1990s, numerous political parties with a variety of agendas developed, but few had broad national followings. An exception was the Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan, an opponent of free-market economic reform, which in the parliamentary elections of 2000 gained 28 percent of the vote. In general, opposition parties retained a high level of activity but were unable to form a united front against the Akayev regime; in the 1990s and early 2000s, opposition parties formed several unstable coalitions. A major opposition bloc, For People's Power, was established in 2004. The abolition in 2003 of party list voting for parliament and the abolition of runoff elections hampered the election efforts of opposition parties. The resignation of President Akayev brought a fundamental realignment of parties, but the north- south divide remained a critical distinction among factions in 2006. In April 2006, the Union of Democratic Forces united seven parties and 11 nongovernmental organizations in a coalition that became a leading voice for reform. Among other opposition parties in 2006 were Ar-Namys, Asaba, Ata-Meken, the Pro-Reform Movement, and the Social Democratic Party. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

In the early 2000s, the old Soviet-era Communist Party was still powerful and dominated the the Kyrgyzstan bureaucracy. The main opposition party was the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan (DDK) led by Kulov. In 2000 parliamentary elections, Communists won 26.4 percent of the vote, followed by the pro-government Union of Democratic Forces, with 16.3 percent of the vote, and the Democratic Party of Women, with 13 percent. The opposition is tolerated but closely monitored and reigned in when deemed necessary.

The 2000 election was marred by the exclusion of most opposition parties. Only 11 of the 27 political parties in Kyrgyzstan were allowed to compete. Many candidates were not allowed to compete due to minor technicalities. There were also some irregularities. At some polling stations voters were allowed to vote twice.

Political Parties in Kyrgyzstan in the 1990s

The period immediately preceding and following independence saw a proliferation of political groups of various sizes and platforms. Although President Akayev emerged from the strongest of those groups, in the early 1990s no organized party system developed either around Akayev or in opposition to him. As of 1996, there were fifteen political parties active within Kyrgyzstan. The parties with the most support are the "Bei Becharalar" Party with thirty-two thousand members, the Communist Party with twenty-five thousand members, the Party of Protection of Industrial, Agricultural Employees and Low Revenue Families with fifteen thousand members, and the Democratic Party "Erkin Kyrgyzstan" with nearly thirteen thousand members. Other parties include the Social Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Women, the Democratic Party of Economic Unity, and the Agrarian Labor Party. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *, Source: everyculture.com]

The Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan (CPK), which was the only legal political party during the Soviet years, was abolished in 1991 in the aftermath of the failed coup against the Gorbachev government of the Soviet Union. A successor, the Kyrgyzstan Communist Party, was allowed to register in September 1992. It elected two deputies to the lower house of parliament in 1995. In that party, significant oppositionists include past republic leader Absamat Masaliyev, a former first secretary of the CPK. The 1995 election also gave a deputy's mandate to T. Usubaliyev, who had been head of the CPK and leader of the republic between 1964 and 1982. Another party with many former communist officials is the Republican People's Party. Two other, smaller neocommunist parties are the Social Democrats of Kyrgyzstan, which gained three seats in the upper house and eight seats in the lower house of the 1995 parliament, and the People's Party of Kyrgyzstan, which holds three seats in the lower house. *

All of the other parties in existence in 1995 began as unsanctioned civic movements. The first is Ashar (Help), which was founded in 1989 as a movement to take over unused land for housing; Ashar took one seat in the upper house in the 1995 elections. A fluctuating number of parties and groups are joined under the umbrella of the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan (DDK); the most influential is Erkin Kyrgyzstan (Freedom for Kyrgyzstan), which in late 1992 split into two parties, one retaining the name Erkin Kyrgyzstan, and the other called Ata-meken (Fatherland). In the 1995 elections, Erkin Kyrgyzstan took one seat and Ata-meken two seats in the upper house. In the spring of 1995, the head of Erkin Kyrgyzstan was indicted for embezzling funds from the university of which he is a rector; it is unclear whether or not this accusation was politically motivated. *

Another democratically inclined party, Asaba (Banner) also took one seat in the upper house. Registration was denied to another group, the Freedom Party, because its platform includes the creation of an Uygur autonomous district extending into the Chinese Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, which the Chinese government opposes. The Union of Germans took one seat in the lower house, and a Russian nationalist group, Concord, also took one seat. *

For all their proliferation, parties have not yet played a large part in independent Kyrgyzstan. In the mid-1990s, early enthusiasm for the democratic parties faded as the republic's economy grew worse and party officials were implicated in the republic's proliferating political corruption. The communist successor parties, on the other hand, appeared to gain influence in this period. In the absence of elections, and with President Akayev belonging to no party, it is difficult to predict the future significance of any of these parties. *

Islamic Parties in Kyrgyzstan

There are strong radical Islamist sentiments in southern Kyrgyzstan, particularly in the Fergana Valley, but the Islamic movement does not seem to be organized politically. Islamist were not players in the movement that ousted Akayev.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir, or the Party of Liberations, is the most widespread radical Islamic group in Central Asia and also has a strong base in Europe and elsewhere. Believed to have hundreds of thousands of followers, it wants to create utopian Muslim society called a caliphate that it hopes will take root in Central Asia and then spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa too. Uzbek authorities accuse the group of inspiring attacks in Tashkent and Bukhara that killed more than 50 people.

Among Hizb ut-Tahrir's goals are founding utopian communities, establishing strict Islamic law that requires segregation between men and women, and requiring a return to the gold standard. The group calls for jihad against Israel and non-believers even though it insists it is non-violent. Hizb ut-Tahrir is the group most directly focused on the push for a new caliphate.

Many Western analysts accept Hizb-ut-Tahrir's claim that it is non-violent. The group claims it can establish a Islamic state in three stages: 1) educates Muslims about its ideology; 2) spread these views into the government; and 3) topple secular regimes from the inside. In Uzbekistan the group is believed to have achieved the first stage and won many followers by focusing on poverty and corruption.

Islamic groups have traditionally been more active in Uzbekistan than in Kyrgyzstan. Many of the Islamists in Kyrgyzstan are thought be Uzbeks. They have traditionally been very secretive.

The imam at the Central Mosque in Bishkek told AP he was opposed to creating an Islamic state in Kyrgyzstan. He said that he not seen members of radical Islamic groups carrying out propaganda or recruiting new members in his mosque but added: “Maybe they do it secretly.” He also said there are “many of them” in parts of southern Kyrgyzstan.

Political Violence in Kyrgyzstan

Political violence has occurred in Kyrgyzstan. According to the United Nations: “Following the 2005 Tulip revolution and lasting until 2009, a number of criminal bosses were assassinated in Kyrgyzstan. This violence -of the kind generally associated with Latin American drug markets- was not a classic turf war between rival gangs. It appears rather to have been a takeover orchestrated at the highest political levels whereby criminal networks gradually came under the control of high-ranking officials. See Drugs. [Source: “Opiate Flows Through Northern Afghanistan and Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, May 2012]

In 2005, the BBC reported: “Gunmen in Kyrgyzstan have killed an MP who was a driving force behind the protests in March which led to the overthrow of President Askar Akayev. Bayaman Erkinbayev was shot in the neck and chest as he arrived by car at his home in the capital, Bishkek. Mr Erkinbayev, 38, was a wealthy businessman in southern Kyrgyzstan, where the anti-Akayev protests began. He is the second parliamentary deputy to be killed since the popular uprising earlier this year. [Source: BBC, September 22, 2005 ]

“The country has seen continuing political instability since then. According to a BBC correspondent in the region, Mr Erkinbayev was a former wrestler who owned a number of shops and hotels around the southern town of Osh. He was widely rumoured to be associated with the criminal world, our correspondent says. In recent months, Mr Erkinbayev had been involved in a murky and sometimes violent dispute over control of a lucrative regional market, one of the largest in the unstable Ferghana Valley region around Osh.

“In April, he escaped what he termed an attempt on his life, when he was shot and wounded in the face in Bishkek. It is unclear whether the motivation for that attack was political - at the time, he had announced plans to run for president - or linked to his business interests. In June, security guards in Osh opened fire on hundreds of protesters demonstrating against Mr Erkinbayev, whom they said has a heavy influence on small businesses in the region.

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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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