Kyrgyzstan's Adventures in Democracy

“In a region best known for aging strongmen whose serial re-elections resemble coronations, Kyrgyzstan once again charts an unusual political course. A whopping 83 candidates have registered to run in the Oct. 30 presidential election. The event will be watched with interest throughout Central Asia as yet another chapter of a wild democratic experiment that’s been convulsing Kyrgyzstan for the past six years. After two revolutions and a brief civil war, the country is still struggling to find its footing, both economically and politically,” says Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Fellow Philip Shishkin. “Two questions come to mind. Is democracy worth it? Or is the old autocratic system entrenched elsewhere in Central Asia better suited for the region’s economic development? Not surprisingly, Kyrgyzstan’s neighbors have mostly cast this rebellious land as an example of chaos and instability to be avoided at all costs.

“But it really might be too early to tell exactly what will become of Kyrgyzstan. There are some worrying signs: Kyrgyz nationalism is on the rise; corruption is rampant; and the parliament, now the source of most political power, has made some silly moves, such as censoring the media. Yet, Kyrgyzstan is also the freest place in Central Asia, and is attempting some genuine reforms. Its problems, of course, won’t go away with a single presidential election.”

Philip is based in Washington. To arrange an interview, contact the Asia Society communications department at 212-327-9271 or