Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

New Kyrgyz Political System "Stabler Than Neighbours"

Authoritarian systems increasingly unsustainable, Moscow analyst says.
By Timur Toktonaliev
  • Andrei Grozin, a Central Asia expert in Moscow. (Photo: Institute of Countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States)
    Andrei Grozin, a Central Asia expert in Moscow. (Photo: Institute of Countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States)

Political systems based on monopoly rule by one party and one leader with power concentrated in his hands are proving less and less suited to current realities, a Central Asia expert in Moscow says.

Andrei Grozin, head of the Central Asia department at the Institute for Countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, spoke to IWPR on a visit to Bishkek.

In the December 4 election to the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, the United Russia party of former president and current prime-minister Vladimir Putin performed unexpectedly poorly, getting just under 50 per cent of the vote, compared with its 64 per cent share in the 2007 polls. Although United Russia beat its challengers hands down, the loss of its two-thirds majority means it can no longer push through constitution changes unchallenged.

The vote ended in mass demonstrations in Moscow and smaller protests in other cities across the country. Participants complained of widespread ballot-rigging and demanded a rerun.

As it stands, the election result is going to force Russia’s leaders to give a greater say to the other parties represented in the Duma, and United Russia may have to seek working coalitions with others.

Yet it was precisely this kind of coalition-building that Russian president Dmitry Medvedev warned Kyrgyzstan about last year, when the country held a referendum introducing greater parliamentary democracy and a stronger role for political parties. Medvedev said parliamentary rule in Kyrgyzstan could lead to power being handed to extremist political forces.

IWPR asked Grozin whether Russia was now being forced to follow the same path towards pluralism.

Andrei Grozin: In form and substance, the next Russian Duma is going to look more like the current parliament of the Kyrgyz Republic than the previous one, in which United Russia took decisions unilaterally – including constitutional amendments – and paid heed to its opponents’ views only very rarely and very reluctantly.

Recent statements made by both the current Russian president and the prime minister, who is tipped to become the country’s next president, on the need to forge a broad coalition in the State Duma, suggest this is what is likely to happen.

Now that United Russia has a simple but not a constitutional majority, it is clear it will they will have to negotiate with the Communists, create a closer alliance with Just Russia, and try to reach an accommodation with the Liberal Democratic Party. This ongoing search for consensus will probably be as much of a feature of Duma politics as it is in Kyrgyzstan.

I say that without passing judgement, without saying it’s a good or a bad thing. Russia will have to emulate a lot of the things that are going on in the Jogorku Kenesh [Kyrgyz parliament], with of course some differences because of the specifics of its own system.

United Russia, as the governing party, continues to occupy a dominant position, so it will negotiate with other parties from a position of power. There aren’t dominant parties of that kind in the Jogorku Kenesh. We can see roughly five equal centres of power that have emerged there.

IWPR: Are you saying that whether they want to or not, former Soviet republics including Kyrgyzstan’s Central Asia neighbours are going to have to realise that the old ways of ruling are becoming obsolete?

Grozin:I think one can conclude that this is the case – not least because the Central Asian states face an increasing number of challenges related to security, economics and many other complex matters. Global geopolitical transformations are affecting all countries.

It looks as though the super-presidential mode of government which exists in four of the five Central Asia countries is not as effective as it was previously, during the transition from the Soviet political system to independence.

Maybe there were good reasons for building states with strong presidents at that time. But a lot of challenges and problems have emerged since then, and it’s likely there will be even more in future.

Vertical hierarchies in which there’s one person at the top taking all the decisions and ruling on all foreign and domestic policy matters are no longer effective. In many ways, the “Arab Spring” is a good example of this.

IWPR: What about the future of Kyrgyz-Russia relations under President Almazbek Atambaev, who called Russia a strategic partner during his inauguration ceremony on December 1?

Grozin: I don’t think Almazbek Atambaev should be described as pro-Russian, as some observers put it. It seems to me that he’s pretty flexible, and I’ve been watching him over a long period.

His remarks about the strategic partnership with Russia being a priority should be noted. But it’s apparent that given Kyrgyzstan’s domestic politics, developments within the elite, the president will defend the national interest, and only after that will he consider the views of partner states.

There will be more of an emphasis on Russia’s interests, as it’s obvious the president sees Moscow as Kyrgyzstan’s principal donor and sponsor in various sectors including security. But the interests of other traditional partners will also be considered, above all China and the United States.

IWPR: You have said Kyrgyzstan will not be affected by instability. Do you think, then, that Kyrgyzstan has exhausted its potential for conflict?

Grozin: In the short term, there probably isn’t going to be any source of conflict. I can’t guarantee 100 per cent that next spring there won’t be a fresh bout of turbulence. It’s commonly believed in Russia that something always happens in Kyrgyzstan in the springtime.

I was really talking about something else. Looking at the current situation in Kyrgyzstan, it appears to me that the present pluralist system of decision-making and consensus-seeking that takes various interests into account is more durable and conducive of stability than a vertical hierarchy is.

Some people may be troubled by all the backroom deals, hidden power struggles, and distribution of government seats and resources. These things can be seen as negative aspects.

But when one analyses it politically, this kind of system is more cohesive in the face of destructive pressures than a system where one person is responsible for everything.

In consequence, I believe that Kyrgyzstan has a greater chance of stability than neighbouring states that appear to be stronger, better developed and more powerful than it.

Timur Toktonaliev is IWPR editor in Kyrgyzstan.

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