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Coming Up: The Presidential Election in Kyrgyzstan

18/07/2009

Kyrgyzstan will hold a presidential election on 23 July, with incumbent Kurmanbek Bakiev facing a field of six challengers, among whom the strongest appears to be Almazbek Atambaev (leader of the Social Democratic Party, the only opposition party in parliament).

Since coming to power in 2005, the Bakiev regime has presided over what appears to be a growing convergence between politicians and criminal actors. Five MPs and a number of other political figures, many with alleged ties to organised crime, have been assassinated in the past four years. Official corruption is endemic.

At the same time, religious and social movements such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir have been flourishing despite official bans, and there is deep concern over political, economic, ethnic and religious tensions between the northern and southern parts of the country.

Recent developments have also given credence to the fear that militants fleeing Pakistan and Afghanistan will relocate to southern Kyrgyzstan.

I thought I’d point to some online sources for anyone wanting to read up on Kyrgyzstan in the run-up to the election.

1. Transitions Online discusses the recent designation of Kyrgyzstan as a ‘consolidated authoritarian regime’ by Freedom House. A concise summary demonstrates why the ‘Tulip Revolution’ was not revolutionary in any meaningful way.

2. For a longer analysis, an International Crisis Group report highlights the failings of the Bakiyev regime and the complex set of problems afflicting the country.

3. The Institute for War & Peace Reporting is a great resource for tracking events in Kyrgyzstan (and the rest of Central Asia). They recently provided a good run-down of the election candidates and reportage on the presence of militants in southern Kyrgyzstan. They state:
‘The suspicion among analysts is that the militants now in Kyrgyzstan are of Central Asian origin but have recently moved back from Afghanistan or Pakistan… In June, following reports that an armed group had appeared in the mountains of Tajikistan (see Chasing Phantoms in the Tajik Mountains, RCA No. 581, 24-Jun-09), Jakypbek Azizov, who heads the Kyrgyz interior ministry’s public security department, told a press conference that elite units from the ministry had been sent into Batken region as a result of developments in Afghanistan and the possibility that militants had infiltrated Kyrgyzstan’s immediate neighbours. Batken is a strip of land in the far southwest of Kyrgyzstan, sandwiched between Tajik and Uzbek territory, and was the scene of IMU incursions in past years.’
4. For an interesting take on events in Kyrgyzstan, including the election and political scene, check out the blog of analyst Tolkun Umaraliev. Recently, he also highlighted Kadyr Malikov’s warnings about militancy and extremism in the country. Umaraliev opines that Hizb-ut-Tahrir members ‘believe that state-appointed mufti and imams have betrayed Islam and taken the side of jahil government. In case militants from Pakistan and Afghanistan intrude into southern Kyrgyzstan, there is a high possibility that HT will join them’.

5. Anyone interested in the political aspects of national/regional/ethnic identities might want to look at a CACI paper by Erica Marat (pdf) from January 2008. A relevant excerpt:

‘Instead of generating nation-wide campaigns on ideological concepts, Bakiyev sought to emphasize the intensification of divisions between northern and southern political elites. The idea of such a
regional divide between elites that emphasizes the unequal distribution of power among northern and southern groups turned into a primary definition of today’s interpretation of the Kyrgyz nation. Bakiyev used such arguments of national division in order to legitimize his hold on power despite low public support and widespread corruption.’

6. Another valuable CACI paper analyses Islamic radical movements in Central Asia, including HT. You might also check out a More 4 report on HT in Kyrgyzstan, which perhaps unsurprisingly has been posted on the international HT media website.

7. The latest on bases in Kyrgyzstan – where the Russians are now endeavoring to open a CSTO base, with the US staying at Manas – comes via EurasiaNet.

8. ReliefWeb provides a wealth of information on the substantial humanitarian and development problems in Kyrgyzstan.

9. Finally, the leading websites for Central Asian news will no doubt be covering the election in detail over the next week or so. In addition to EurasiaNet and IWPR, check out RFE/RL and New Eurasia.