KYRGYZ LEADER EDGES TOWARDS REFORM  Economic realities may prod Kurmanbek 
Bakiev away from autocratic impulses towards reform.  By Timur Toktonaliev in 

platform for arguments that Kazakstan is not ready to chair European grouping.  
By Sanat Urnaliev in Almaty

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Economic realities may prod Kurmanbek Bakiev away from autocratic impulses 
towards reform.

By Timur Toktonaliev in Bishkek

As Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiev prepares to announce a series of 
long-awaited reforms, analysts are divided over whether his intentions are 
genuine or driven by necessity. 

On October 20, Bakiev is widely expected to announce sweeping changes intended 
to make the decision-making process more democratic and consultative.

Government agencies will be streamlined, some presidential powers transferred 
to the cabinet and changes made to law enforcement, the judiciary and the 
military. Two new consultative bodies will be created – the Presidential 
Conference, a platform for interest groups like business, industry and 
agriculture, and the Supreme Kurultay, an assembly representative of regional, 
religious and ethnic communities.

The changes come in a year in which Kyrgyzstan has suffered badly from the 
effects of global downturn. According to the national statistics agency, the 
economy grew by only 0.3 per cent year-on-year in the first six months of 2009, 
compared with 7.5 per cent in the same period last year. Industrial production 
fell by nearly 19 per cent, in part because of a slump in exports.

Analysts say Bakiev’s efforts at political change seem to stem from a 
realisation that in order to drive the economic reforms seen as essential to 
recovery, the president will have to soften his own powers and introduce a 
wider range of voices into decision-making. Some also point to Kyrgyzstan’s 
dependency on financial aid from the West, which is commonly linked to 
achieving democratic progress.

Analyst Mars Sariev believes that authoritarian states are intrinsically 
unstable as they are resented by their populations, and only become sustainable 
if those in power have the resources to defuse or quell opposition.

“In order to do that, very large resources are needed such as oil, gas or 
mineral riches,” he said. “That is how authoritarian regimes in Uzbekistan, 
Turkmenistan and Kazakstan sustain themselves.

“Kyrgyzstan does not have any of that [mineral wealth], and its only [funding] 
source is the West – Europe and America. Unless it follows a democratic course, 
it won’t be able to access these sources, and we will face economic collapse by 
next spring.”

Bakiev’s past record does not suggest he is a natural reformer. 

He was first elected president in July 2005 following popular unrest in March 
that year, in which the then president Askar Akaev was ousted. Bakiev quickly 
promised constitutional reforms and an end to the clan-based style of politics 
seen as having tarnished the previous administration.

Analysts such as Sariev argue that Bakiev was also the product of this system 
before becoming a revolutionary. Under Akaev, he held a number of high-ranking 
government jobs including that of prime minister, from which he resigned in 
2002 after six protestors were shot dead by police during unrest in the 
southern Aksy district. 

There was therefore little chance that Bakiev would embrace democracy 
wholeheartedly, say analysts. His first term appeared to confirm this theory, 
as Bakiev was accused by his fellow-revolutionaries of concentrating power in 
the hands of his immediate circle and curtailing parliament’s powers in favour 
of his own. 

Aziza Abdirasulova, who heads the human rights group Kylym Shamy, believes 
Bakiev’s first term in office represented a step backwards for Kyrgyz democracy.

Citing the 2007 referendum for a new constitution which strengthened Bakiev’s 
powers, Abdirasulova said, “He started a constitutional reform, but not the one 
demanded by the public and the revolution.” 

Bakiev’s critics point to a series of negative developments such as a law 
restricting public meetings and another which ended attempts to transform state 
TV into a public broadcaster.

“The situation around press freedom in Kyrgyzstan has worsened. Today there 
isn’t even one TV station that provides objective reporting,” said Abdirasulova.

Bakiev won a second term in office in July this year, amid opposition claims 
that the poll was flawed by numerous violations. His main rival, Almazbek 
Atambaev, representing the main opposition coalition, came a distant second 
with just eight per cent of the vote.

The leader of the opposition Ata Meken party, Omurbek Tekebaev, doubts whether 
Bakiev can make the shift towards reform at this stage.

“He’s unable to change and he is going to further strengthen his own personal 
authority and the power of a narrow circle of people,” he predicted.

Begaly Nargozuev, a Bakiev supporter and member of the ruling Ak Jol party, 
disagrees wholeheartedly, insisting that there has been more democracy under 
this administration than there ever was in Akaev’s day.

“All the promises that Bakiev made during the revolution have been fulfilled,” 
said Nargozuev. “It’s just that the public perception of this varies – some 
people like it, others don’t.”

Among the pledges the president had delivered on, he gave as examples, “The 
Akaev family clan has been destroyed, and constitutional reform has been 
carried out, so that parliament is based on the political party system.”

Narguzoev said Bakiev deserved to be where he was.

“He’s a good president because he’s made his way up the ladder from engineer to 
prime minister. He was elected leader because of his professionalism and his 
efforts to unite and develop the country and its citizens.”

Nargozuev dismissed criticisms made by opposition and rights activists. “They 
aspire to democratic ideals that have been established in countries over 200 or 
300 years. Kyrgyzstan became independent only 18 years ago, and it would be 
difficult to develop a democracy over that period, although we need to try to 
reach that goal.”

Others believe that whatever his motivation, Bakiev is serious about enacting 

Political scientist Marat Kazakpaev says that since Bakiev is only allowed two 
five-year terms in office, so this is his last chance to create a positive 

“In these five years, he must implement what he intended,” he said. “If he 
doesn’t put it into action, then it will be his fault and he will go down in 
history as a bad president.”

Leading opposition politician Azimbek Beknazarov agreed that the legacy issue 
was important if Bakiev were to leave politics one day.

“Even now, it isn’t too late to change his mind, and to think about how he can 
avoid people’s anger when he’s no longer president,” he said.

Timur Toktonaliev is an IWPR-trained contributor in Kyrgyzstan.


Human rights meeting becomes platform for arguments that Kazakstan is not ready 
to chair European grouping.

By Sanat Urnaliev in Almaty

A major human rights gathering held this week by the Organisation for Security 
and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, reflected two diametrically opposed views of 
the state of civil rights and media freedom in Kazakstan. 

Human rights activists from Kazakstan took on the government at an event 
convened by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, 
took place in the Polish capital Warsaw between September 28 and October 9. 

The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting brought together hundreds of 
government representatives, experts and human rights defenders to review 
progress made by OSCE member states in carrying out their commitments to human 
rights, democracy and the rule of law. 

Kazakstan’s democratic record has been under particular scrutiny in 2009 
because next year, it takes over the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE. 

While officials painted a picture of overall progress, their adversaries 
pointed to areas of concern such as a law restricting internet use, repressive 
legislation on religion, court cases against opposition newspapers, and the 
detention of participants in peaceful protests. 

The debate around the recent imprisonment of leading human rights defender 
Yevgeny Zhovtis and newspaper editor Ramazan Yesergepov was particularly 

Zhovtis, who heads the Kazakstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, was 
sentenced to four years in a low-security prison on September 3. He was 
convicted of dangerous driving following a road accident in July which resulted 
in a fatality. (for more on the concerns over this case, see Kazakstan: Jailing 
of Rights Activist Condemned, RCA No. 588, 10-Sep-09.) 

Yesergepov, of the opposition weekly Alma-Ata Info, received a three-year 
prison sentence on August 8 on a criminal charge of “gathering information 
containing state secrets”. 

Rozlana Taukina, head of the Journalists in Danger foundation in Kazakstan, 
called on the foreign ministers of OSCE members to reconsider the chairmanship 
“until political prisoners are released”, the weekly Vremya reported on October 

Other speakers included the head of the media support group Adil Soz, Tamara 
Kaleeva, who pointed out that two years ago, Kazakstan promised to abolish 
libel as a criminal offence, but nothing had been done since. 

Irina Mednikova, representing the non-government Youth Information Service, 
told the meeting that the authorities were blocking a number of foreign 
websites and local online media outlets. 

Control of the internet became more restrictive following amendments to the 
media law approved by parliament in June. The changes mean the internet is 
governed by the same rules that already apply to print and broadcast media, 
forbidding foreign nationals from using the web for electioneering or calling 
on workers to strike, and allowing the authorities to block access to websites 
based abroad if their content is deemed to contravene national laws. 

Another concern in the area of media was the recent court case against leading 
opposition weekly Respublika. In September, a court ordered the newspaper to 
pay around 400.000 US dollars in libel damages to the state-controlled bank 

In January, a court instructed another opposition newspaper, Tasjargan, to 
issue a retraction and pay around 25,000 dollars to a member of parliament for 
slandering him in an article about rising food prices. 

As lawyer Sergey Utkin told IWPR, “Another couple of months, and there will be 
no newspapers critical of the authorities left in Kazakstan.” 

In an interview to IWPR, Vyacheslav Abramov, director of the Almaty-based 
journalism centre Media.Net, who attended the OSCE meeting, added his voice to 
those who question Kazakstan’s democratic record. 

“The fact that next year the OSCE chairmanship will be taken over by a country 
that has demonstrably violated the organisation’s principles is, in our view, a 
direct challenge to the OSCE and its fundamental values,” he Abramov said. 

Viktor Kovtunovsky, a political analyst and head of the Civil Society 
foundation, expressed similar view to IWPR. 

“Our country is gradually going down the road of winding down reforms,” he 
said. “In the early days of independence, we had free elections, a free press 
and freedom of expression. Now all that has been taken away from the citizens 
of Kazakstan.” 

Other critical speeches were made by Ainur Kurmanov, leader of the Talmas 
movement, which defends the interests of small investors who have lost their 
money in the recent economic crisis, as well as the unemployed; and by a 
representative of Hare Krishna community, which is involved in a long-running 
battle with the Kazak authorities over property and buildings. 

Yermuhamet Yertysbaev, President Nursultan Nazarbaev's adviser on political 
affairs, defended the government’s record at the meeting and in a subsequent 
interview for IWPR. He said the mood among most delegates at the human rights 
meeting was that Kazakstan should take over the OSCE chair. 

At the OSCE meeting, he said in the interview, “I talked about the real 
situation of freedom of expression and media in Kazakstan. The Europeans were 
naturally impressed. I reminded them that 18 years ago, we had only ten 
national newspapers and magazines and around 20 TV and radio stations, whereas 
today there are 2,973 media outlets registered in Kazakstan. That’s been 
possible only because freedom of expression and creativity are guaranteed in 
the constitution.” 

Yertysbaev said the very fact that criticism was being aired reflected the 
pluralism of opinion allowed in Kazakstan. 

“The presence of a large number of Kazak NGOs which expressed strong and 
sometimes unpleasant criticism of authorities is proof that there is a real 
political pluralism in Kazakstan,” he said. “We must be tolerant of such 
criticism. When we take over the chairmanship in 2010, we will certainly take 
certain criticisms on board and make improvements.” 

In other remarks quoted by the Vremya newspaper, Yertysbaev suggested that 
tensions between journalists and officialdom resulting in high-profile libel 
cases were not the result of illiberal policies, but rather the fault of 
over-zealous officials, on the one hand, and journalists who behaved 
unprofessionally, on the other. 

“The relationship between government institutions, businesses, citizens and 
free media isn’t ideal and never will be,” he said. “Unfortunately, there will 
be always people representing government who would like to control, if not 
restrict, the press.” 

As for the case of Yevgeny Zhovtis, Yertysbaev said it was inadvisable to 
discuss the matter for legal reasons, given that an appeal hearing is scheduled 
for October 20. 

Sanat Urnaliev is an independent journalist in Kazakstan. 

This article was produced under IWPR’s Building Central Asian Human Rights 
Protection & Education Through the Media programme, funded by the European 
Commission. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR 
and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.

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