In October 2010, the first democratic election in Central Asia was held in Kyrgyzstan. The country became independent with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Though democracy was envisioned, the country was scarred with corruption, bribery and violence under the presidencies of Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev, with economic strife and ethnic conflict coming to a head.
However, commentators around the world have marked the October election to be in great contrast to previous elections. Said to be free and pluralistic, the Kyrgyz people actively demonstrated the want as well as the need for a parliamentary democracy, through their participation of the October election. Unlike the previous years, it exhibits the newly elected parliament to form a government that represents the will of the people, all of the people and a new constitution that allows a parliamentary system that would allow power to be decentralised and shared among different political parties.
The months in the lead up to the election exposed the ethnic conflict in the country and furthermore the failure to uphold accountability for what can only be described as mass genocide of the Uzbeks by the Kyrgyz, in the southern city of Osh. Official figures are that over 400 were killed in the week long conflict in June, the Uzbeks being persecuted in vast numbers. One reported story in The Guardian is of Kyrgyz men that broke into the home of Zarifa, an ethnic Uzbek, and after asking her a couple of questions and ‘‘her confirming she was an ethnic Uzbek, they stripped her, raped her and cut off her fingers. After that they killed her and her small son, throwing their bodies into the street. They then moved on to the next house.’’ The UN humanitarian office spokeswoman, Elisabeth Byrs, said an estimated 300,000 people had been driven from their homes but remained inside Kyrgyzstan, and there were about 100,000 refugees in neighbouring Uzbekistan.
Indeed, after the turbulent clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks earlier this year, it looks as though a calmer era is to prevail. Just four months after the horrific violence in June, parliamentary democracy attained under relative peace has become apparent, no doubt largely due to the hard work of President Roza Otunbayeva. With the turnout of voters overall at 57%, a great proportion of voters were from the south in Osh itself, an estimated 66% voted in this city alone.
As of December 15th a new coalition government was formed of three of the five parties that secured the majority of seats in parliament in the October election. The coalition consists of the Ata Zhurt party (28 seats), the Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (26 seats) and Respublika (23 seats). However, remnants of the authoritarian rule are clearly visible with the addition of the Ata Zhurt party, who gained the most seats. The very pro nationalist party, consisting of many former members of the old regime, who supported the previously ousted President Bakiyev, still claim that no other ethnic group in Kyrgyzstan could expect to be deemed equal to the Kyrgyz. Following the violence in June, the Kyrgyz were seen to be barbaric in their treatment of the Uzbeks and so the Ata Zhurt undoubtedly gave a morale boost, for its supporters. The Social Democrats, contrastingly, pose a new take on politics as they worked hard to reform the constitution, stripping the president of powers and favouring a parliamentary democracy. Almazbek Atambayev, leader of the Social Democrats, has been proposed as prime minister, who now has greater powers than the President.
Though the election and consequent coalition most certainly highlighted the ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan, there is now hope of change. The new constitution, through allowing power to be decentralised and shared among different political parties, could certainly pave the way for change in the country for more government transparency, equality and ethnic representation throughout. The next few months are critical in seeing how the political change is reflected in society and for the hopes of many to be actualised.