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IWPR Organized Panel On “Kyrgyzstan’s Post-election Crisis: Causes, Subtleties and Seeking Solutions”

On October 13, 2020, IWPR organized an online panel entitled “Kyrgyzstan’s Post-election Crisis: Causes, Subtleties and Seeking Solutions.”

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At the event, experts discussed the situation in the post-election Kyrgyzstan, the intricacies of legal processes, and neighboring countries’ attitudes.

The moderator – Timur Toktonaliev, IWPR’s Central Asia editor – greeted participants and gave the floor to Ermek Baisalov (Kyrgyzstan), editor of analytical materials at CABAR.asia. Baisalov spoke on the role of youth and civil society in the events of October 5-6 and the framework to achieve settlement of the situation.

“The youth, who protested the election results, has become the driving force and, unfortunately, the engine for the revolution,” Ermek Baisalov discussed reasons that prompted youth to take to the streets.

Ermek Baisalov

Referring to the constructive role of civil society, Baisalov brought up the role of volunteers who showed up at the rally on October 5 at the central Ala-Too Square. “They initially stated that they have no political leanings; their contributions reflect their neutrality and will to help. They did actually hand out water bottles, delivered meals, and helped the protesting crowd. And on the nights of October 6-11, Bishkek was patrolled by volunteer civil defense units that stood guard against robberies and looting. ”

The appearance of volunteer groups, self-defense units, civil assistance dates to the July events. When the coronavirus outbreak struck the country and the state, as in many other neighboring countries and the world, has been feckless, civil society has been forced to mobilize and form volunteer groups.

“Youth surely has a differentiated profile… We now observe certain politicization not only of youth but of Kyrgyz society in general. There is this small group of educated urban youth who participated in these elections and intended to institute lustration and various reforms. And on the other side, there is rural youth that shares completely different views, has different leaders, and sees the crisis management differently,” Baisalov said.

The floor was then given to Nargiza Muratalieva, Ph.D. in political sciences and editor of analytical materials at CABAR.asia. She discussed peculiar character and deep-seated causes of the October 2020 events in Kyrgyzstan.

“In my view, there was a certain urging to simplify interpretation of the events. For instance, some claimed the presence of external factors, fabled third forces, some reinforced conspiracy theories, etc. I believe that the events are attributable to deep-seated internal reasons,” Muratalieva said.

Nargiza Muratalieva

Muratalieva argues that legitimacy decline — when the people no longer voluntarily recognize the authorities’ power to bind — is a critical issue.  Weber distinguishes three sources of legitimacy – ideological, rational-legal, and charismatic. None of this applies to legitimate authority in Kyrgyzstan today. We cannot rely on charisma; it is not there. The law had not been effective, whilst society is extremely fragmented on the ideological side.

The leadership crisis merits a thorough study. In the first few days after the White House building had been intruded, opposition leaders were perplexed; they had no idea what to do next and where to go. This suggests that there are currently no alternative political leaders or a leader in Kyrgyzstan who would enjoy the support of at least over population’s half.

“The extremely unbalanced communication system between the government and people is detrimental to Kyrgyzstan. As the power holders cannot hear out the political demands, society literally has to convey their views on the streets, by means of protest”.

Fatima Yakupbaeva, a Kyrgyz lawyer and co-founder of the Precedent law firm, expounded legal aspects of the political crisis and a possible legal solution to the situation:

Fatima Yakupbaeva

“A legitimate legal institution right now is the President who was elected in 2017. Whether the people fond of him or not, notwithstanding countless appeals or threats for impeachment, the president is legitimate. The parliament is also legitimate; it was elected in 2015 and will continue to work until a new convocation is elected and mandates are handed over. Legitimacy is important, and we must act within the law, ”Yakupbaeva said.

As for risks and repercussions of flouting national law, Yakupbaeva said that the illegally elected prime minister might not be recognized by the international community and the neighbors. International law evidently prescribes that everything should be subject to national legislation. The latter has been violated during the elections of a prime minister.

“If the Supreme Court takes a position, it might cancel the CEC’s decision, and everything will return to normal. This scenario is a distinct possibility. ”

When asked about the legalization of the current status quo, the expert said the following:

“The deadline to announce new elections for CEC is November 6. The first deputy prime minister must become acting prime minister, whilst the cabinet shall work until reconstitution. Parliament must assemble and deliberate bills on the agenda, i.e. appointment of a prime minister, among other things. As of President, impeachment procedure can only be instituted in the event of the offense on his part, involving the Prosecutor General’s Office and Parliament. Given the current political situation, this is virtually unrealistic, given that he is affiliated with a parliamentary majority, ” Yakupbaeva said.

Political analyst Muslimbek Buriev articulated his view from the neighboring side. He discussed how the authorities, society, and the media in Tajikistan perceived the events:

“The independent media preserved neutrality in covering the events, refraining from emotional and ideological undertones, balancing the two sides. They mostly republished materials from Kyrgyz media,” Buriev said.

Muslimbek Buriev

Many Tajik politicians, party representatives, Buriev says, condemned the events. Many criticized the system per se, asserting that the Kyrgyz democratic system is wrong, and that’s the root of the problem. They also feared that this might adversely affect the Tajik people – many might take to the streets to protest the authorities.

“While the public shows some interest to the situation on the border with Kyrgyzstan, it is rather oblivious to the country’s domestic political situation. The state-owned media virtually did not cover the events. There have been literally two news stories in the past two weeks. One about a ban on rallies and the sale of alcohol, introduced by the Bishkek commandant’s office. The other is about how the National Security Committee asked the prisoners released amidst the unrest to return. Therefore, there was nothing on demonstrations and the reasons for unrest, ” Buriyev concluded.

The floor was then given to political analyst Aydar Amrebayev (Kazakhstan).

Aydar Amrebayev

Amrebayev asserted that there are several narratives [and positions] on the situation in Kyrgyzstan reinforced by the mass and social media, and academia. Positions range from approval and admiration (“Kyrgyz are good fellows, determined and fuel the change of power [in the country]) to somewhat arrogant neglect of the exercise of the vote assessing them as relentless spontaneous riots, using the masses in the name of narrow clan interests.

“The state-owned media clearly plays out on the events. They demonstrate the unrest on the Ala-Too square, whilst insinuating “do you want the same in Kazakhstan?”. Well, and sure enough, the people say “No, we don’t want it. Give us stability, even if it means the notorious succession of power – as long as it’s responsible and preserves these institutions, integrity of the state, unity of the people, business climate, etc.” – Aydar Amrebayev says.

He also made a great point on the business interests of Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are states with intertwined interests. Kazakh business risks a lot, helping to exploit Kyrgyz deposits and contributing to Kyrgyz economy, “This creates an environment of insecurity and anxiety because, to put it mildly, you are in a continuous ‘rollercoaster’, wherein money loves silence.”

From the foreign policy side, Kyrgyzstan, as a partner, in some respects sends a disturbing sign. Will you be a responsible member of the Eurasian Union, fulfill the relevant agreements, or will it turn you in a completely different direction? Are you able to participate as a consolidated member in the Chinese initiative? And many other concerns. Will there be a coordination council of the heads of Central Asian states? It was supposed to take place in Bishkek at that time. But what is the plan considering the circumstances? The process cannot be terminated. “We are in a very confrontational environment with all these challenges and risks,” Amrebayev concluded.

The final report was delivered by Nazima Davletova, an independent researcher from Uzbekistan. She discussed how neighboring Uzbekistan covered the events in Kyrgyzstan.

Nazima Davletova

According to Davletova, the Uzbek media chronologically covered the events, refraining from expert analysis, subjective or critical assessment of the situation. There was little coverage of the situation, and the reaction was consistent with that.

State-owned media bypassed the situation in Kyrgyzstan and evaded covering it. The only thing conveyed was the publication of a joint statement of the Central Asian countries on the Uzbek Foreign Ministry’s website. This is also something new because if we compare with Karimov (and we have no one to compare with except him), we used to just keep silent in such events. And now we have become involved and the Foreign Ministry, in general, reacts to the events in the USA, in Brazil, and even more so in Kyrgyzstan. “As an expert, I was pleased not solely by the fact that the Central Asian countries diplomatically expressed their concern, but rather by the fact that they did it jointly,” Davletova said.

What concerns the reaction of Uzbek authorities, Davletova argued that they were swept in: a protest law was proposed shortly after rallies struck streets of Belarus. This draft law had been deliberated on, but it is yet to be adopted. The lawmakers updated the legislation, incorporating such concepts as a march, picket, flash mob, whilst also slightly tightening the regulations. The draft law will be further discussed. Following the events in Kyrgyzstan, the Uzbek legislative chamber proposed a draft law on a state of emergency. The state of emergency has been deliberated on during the coronavirus pandemic, but I must say that this bill encompasses many items.

Concluding her speech, Davletova said that the Uzbek authorities are practically not in danger now, because they feel confident, even more confident than before. “The pandemic has revealed many problems, including corruption, lawlessness on the side of government officials, and the lack of real reforms. The public’s capacity to protest, nevertheless, remains very low, and I think the authorities are fully aware of that,” Davletova concluded.    

The presentations were followed by a Q&A session, where political scientist Askar Nursha from Kazakhstan made observations. The event moderator Timur Toktonaliev closed the expert meeting by thanking all participants for their contributions to the discussion.

Watch the full video of the expert online meeting:

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