Shishkin: Kyrgyzstan's Presidential Election a 'Wild Democratic Experiment'

Supporters of the Kyrgyz Byutun party protest against the results of the Parliamentary elections in Bishkek on October 18, 2010. (Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP/Getty Images)

After a year of political turbulence, ethnic violence and the ousting of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Kyrgyzstan is creating a new model of government. A whopping 83 candidates have registered to run in the October 30 presidential election, although many are expected to drop out. 

The candidates are now required to collect at least 30,000 signatures, pay an electoral deposit of more than $2,000 and pass a televised Kyrgyz language test by September 25 in order to be considered contenders. 

This will be the first presidential election since the deadly April 2010 uprising — when a coup overthrew the president — but this time, with a new purpose. Kyrgyzstan announced last year it would attempt to forge Central Asia’s first parliamentary democracy, in the hopes of calming political turmoil.

"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," said Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Fellow Philip Shishkin. 

This shifting of power to the parliament comes after nearly two decades of authoritarian rule that ended with Bakiyev's overthrow. Unfortunately for those hoping the polls will bring political and economic stability, Shishkin said, the country's problems “won’t go away with a single presidential election.” 

While noting that Kyrgyzstan is the freest place in Central Asia, Shishkin cautioned that worrying signs still abound: "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."

For many a larger concern is the ethnic, economic, and political divides that may limit the progress of the country’s post-election stabilization. Shishkin poses two questions:

“Is democracy worth it? Or is the old autocratic system entrenched elsewhere in Central Asia better suited for the region’s economic development?” 

Share your answers below. 

Philip Shishkin is based in Washington. Follow him on Twitter and read/watch more of his commentary on Central Asia.