Nations in Transit
Population: 5.3 million
GNI/capita, PPP: US $2,150
Source: The data above were provided by The World Bank, World Development Indicators 2010.
*Starting with the 2005 edition, Freedom House introduced separate analysis and ratings for national democratic governance and local democratic governance, to provide readers with more detailed and nuanced analysis of these two important subjects.
NOTE: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year.
In March 2005, President Askar Akayev was forced from office by opposition supporters protesting alleged electoral fraud and large-scale corruption. Opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev became president after Akayev’s ousting, but he failed to meet public expectations, quickly succumbing to corruption himself and increasingly resorting to authoritarian suppression of competing political forces.
A new constitution adopted in 2007 lacked checks and balances, enabling President Bakiyev to appoint the government and judges and to secure a majority for his Ak Zhol party in the parliament. The violent dispersal of opposition demonstrations in April of that year, and the ongoing persecution of independent journalists further marred public perceptions of the Bakiyev regime, as did the president’s apparent unwillingness or inability to curb corruption in government and the business sector. These developments were strongly reminiscent of the crucial mistakes that had led to Akayev’s downfall. Driven by short-term goals to centralize his power, and failing to design viable economic and political policies, President Bakiyev showed signs of becoming an even more authoritarian and corrupt leader than his predecessor.
President Bakiyev scheduled a presidential election for July 2009, months before the constitutionally defined election date. According to official results, he won 76 percent of the vote, while his main opponent, Almazbek Atambayev, earned a mere 8 percent. Following his reelection, President Bakiyev continued to sideline political opponents and silence critical media outlets. He also increased his personal control over the country’s military and security structures. The country saw a wave of violence against journalists and opposition leaders, as well as regional interethnic tensions, yet central and local authorities did little to address the unrest.
National Democratic Governance. Governance in Kyrgyzstan became more authoritarian in 2009. After his reelection in July, President Bakiyev decreased the number of ministries and state agencies in order to centralize his own control over the government. The president also extended personal control over military structures and allowed the army to intervene in domestic affairs. A number of political assassinations and assaults on journalists demonstrated regime supporters’ willingness to use violence to quiet their opponents. In light of President Bakiyev’s efforts to consolidate control over the government and security structures, as well as his suppression of the opposition and civil society, Kyrgyzstan’s national democratic governance rating worsens from 6.50 to 6.75.
Electoral Process. The July presidential election revealed the president’s readiness to manipulate the electoral system to enhance his own power. He was credited with 76 percent of the vote and immediately sought to suppress any opposition protests challenging the official results. Because of the president’s move to hold elections earlier than allowed by the constitution, and the widespread falsification of the vote, Kyrgyzstan’s rating for electoral process worsens from 6.00 to 6.25.
Civil Society. Far fewer nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were willing to participate in public life in 2009 compared with 2008, and local mass media often refused to publish statements by civil society activists. Following the presidential election in July, virtually no NGO has openly attempted to contest the results. Indeed, several opposition leaders and civil society activists fled Kyrgyzstan prior to the elections. The Bakiyev government also strengthened state control over religious institutions during the year. With Kyrgyz NGO leaders unable to engage in policy debates, Kyrgyzstan’s civil society rating worsens from 4.75 to 5.00.
Independent Media. A series of violent attacks against journalists created an atmosphere of fear among local reporters in 2009. Most online and print media published fewer articles featuring criticism of government policy, effectively reducing opportunities for NGOs to speak out. In addition, the government introduced a bill during the summer that would categorize the Internet as a form of mass media, extending existing controls on traditional media to online outlets. Due to the wave of attacks on journalists and the government’s moves to impose greater restrictions on the Internet, Kyrgyzstan’s independent media rating worsens from 6.25 to 6.50.
Local Democratic Governance. Ak Zhol, the ruling party, dominated local governmental structures, allowing central authorities to exert extensive control over all levels of government. Local officials proved unable to resolve interethnic conflicts during the year without the intervention of the central government. Kyrgyzstan’s rating for local democratic governance remains at 6.50.
Judicial Framework and Independence. In 2009 the government considered a number of legal changes that would limit civic freedoms. For example, officials proposed legalizing capital punishment, arguing that it would demonstrate the “Kyrgyz” way of dealing with criminals and religious extremist groups. Because of this proposal and an array of existing harsh practices, Kyrgyzstan’s rating for judicial framework and independence remains at 6.00.
Corruption. Corruption continued to plague all state institutions in 2009. The president created a new agency that would control all foreign financial inflows and national strategic enterprises, including foreign aid and credits. Maksim Bakiyev, the president’s son, was named to head the agency. Given this indication of unchecked nepotism and increasing opportunities for graft, Kyrgyzstan’s corruption rating worsens from 6.25 to 6.50.
Outlook for 2010. In 2009, President Bakiyev demonstrated that he had gathered enough power to unilaterally implement substantial changes to the state structure and political system. He altered the cabinet and ministerial organization and called for an early presidential election. He also showed little desire to collaborate with civil society groups or opposition representatives in the parliament. The opposition in turn was unable to challenge the regime, as was clear when Atambayev lost the presidential race to President Bakiyev by a wide margin that went largely uncontested. However, it is unclear how long the president’s grip on power will hold, as his increasingly personalized rule has likely narrowed his institutional and political base of support.
By the end of the year, Kyrgyzstan’s human rights and democracy situation had worsened, coming to resemble the grave situations in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Nearly all prominent opposition leaders have been effectively silenced through arrests or public shaming. Following an unprecedented number of physical attacks against journalists in 2009, local mass media and civil society are likely to be less critical of the government. Acts of violence have apparently become the president’s chosen method of dealing with opponents, creating a volatile atmosphere. Several NGO leaders, journalists, and politicians who have fled President Bakiyev’s Kyrgyzstan remain unable to return to the country. Given developments over the past year, prospects for an improvement in the country’s governance are dismal.
Kyrgyzstan’s government became more authoritarian in 2009. After winning the early presidential election in July, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev promised to reform the government to eliminate corruption and promote more efficient decision-making. As part of this effort, he brought the National Security Service (SNB) as well as the Interior, Defense, and Foreign Affairs Ministries under his control. After dismissing the cabinet in October, President Bakiyev appointed Daniyar Usenov, who previously served as chief of his presidential staff and in several other high posts, as the new prime minister. The president’s son, Maksim Bakiyev was promoted to lead a new Central Agency on Development, Investment, and Innovation, which would control all foreign financial inflows, including aid and credits. The agency was also set to oversee the country’s major national hydroelectric and gold companies.
Other components of the governmental overhaul reduced the number of ministries and government committees on the grounds that this would increase efficiency and purge incompetent officials. The reorganization further consolidated the president’s control and allowed both him and his allies to benefit politically and financially from the redistribution of government posts. Although Prime Minister Usenov tried to show a willingness to collaborate with the opposition, the effort was negligible in its effects.
The year was marked by an increased number of assassinations and violent attacks against political figures, and crackdowns on the freedoms of civil society groups and independent media outlets. On March 13, Medet Sadyrkulov, a former presidential aide who had recently defected to the opposition, died in an automobile accident that was allegedly orchestrated by the regime. Sadyrkulov had been a high-ranking official in the president’s government, serving as head of the presidential staff and principal negotiator. He left his position in January 2009, expressing regret for helping to solidify President Bakiyev’s rule by overseeing the 2007 parliamentary elections.
A month after Sadyrkulov’s death, Ak Zhol lawmaker Sanjarbek Kadyraliyev was shot dead outside his home in Bishkek. He was the fifth member of parliament to be killed in Kyrgyzstan since President Bakiyev took power in March 2005. The motive behind Kadyraliyev’s murder remains unclear.
On December 9, Bolot Januzakov, who had served as secretary of the Kyrgyz Security Council under former president Askar Akayev, was severely beaten. Also that day, Aleksandr Knyazev, a professor at the Kyrgyz-Slavic University and director of the Bishkek branch of the Commonwealth of Independent States Institute, was attacked by unknown assailants. Knyazev is a well-known critic of the current regime’s foreign policy. In addition to physical attacks, opposition figures faced criminal charges. Former foreign minister Alikbek Jekshenkulov, and former defense minister Ismail Isakov were both arrested on allegations of corruption.
Media workers faced a wave of attacks during the year. Syrgak Abdyldayev, a journalist and member of the Ata Meken opposition party, was stabbed outside his newsroom in March. Almaz Tashiyev, a social affairs reporter and critic of the government, was allegedly attacked and killed by police officers in July. Aleksandr Evgrafov, a correspondent for BaltInfo, was beaten, forced into a car, and warned not to “write ‘bad things’ against Kyrgyzstan” by two men wearing Kyrgyz police uniforms in December. Also that month, Gennady Pavlyuk, a journalist and political dissident who was about to launch an online newspaper with opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev, was pushed from a sixth-floor window in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and subsequently died of his injuries.
The political role of the security services has increased tremendously in the past year. Various law enforcement agencies, such as the financial police and the prosecutor general’s office, are more frequently intervening in the lives of civilians. Since the 2008 appointment of Zhanysh Bakiyev, the president’s brother, as head of the State Protection Service (SGO), the budget of the service has doubled and the salaries of its employees has increased. And in early 2009, the president signed legislation that allowing him to use the army in domestic affairs for the first time since independence in 1991.
The presidential election of July 2009 marked a new low point in Kyrgyzstan’s democratic record. Both preelection campaigning and election-day procedures fell far short of international standards for electoral democracy. President Bakiyev apparently sought early reelection to avoid facing voters in even worse circumstances in 2010, as the country suffered from deteriorating economic conditions and continuing energy shortages, and the government’s popularity plummeted. In the run-up to the election, the president used a variety of tactics to sideline his opponents, such as dispatching security forces to raid opposition parties’ offices. In the meantime, he continued to receive positive coverage from the mass media. Opposition leaders also complained that the regime regularly disrupted their preelection activities by employing hecklers or ordering local authorities to ban their rallies. Local law enforcement officials curtailed the opposition’s daily operations in rural areas.
Bakiyev was credited with 76 percent of the vote, while the main opposition candidate, Almazbek Atambayev of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), received only 8 percent—much less than expected. The authorities immediately sought to suppress any opposition protests challenging the official results, with security forces beating and arresting members of the SDP.
When the early presidential election was first announced, opposition forces saw a fresh opportunity to challenge the regime. Many opposition members appeared resigned to the fact that President Bakiyev would win, but some hoped to pressure the president into canceling his candidacy prior to the vote. However, as the poll approached, the opposition’s hopes for ousting President Bakiyev faded. A series of violent attacks, lawsuits, and assassinations allegedly carried out by regime supporters indicated the president’s determination to retain his grip on power. Opposition leaders were unable to gather large crowds, even for their regional party meetings. Meanwhile, the president managed to strengthen his personal leverage over the parliament, the Central Election Commission (CEC), and the security forces.
The opposition’s difficulties were compounded by internal problems, as it had become increasingly fragmented and inconsistent in its declared policy goals. Opposition forces initially intended to nominate a single presidential candidate to concentrate their financial resources and popular support, and to help minimize falsification of the election. The candidacy of Ata Meken party leader Omurbek Tekebayev, who had been considered the most likely contender, was allegedly sacrificed to preserve opposition unity. Similarly, former defense minister Ismail Isakov, an independent, withdrew from the registration process after announcing his bid. Nevertheless, Atambayev was challenged by his counterparts in other opposition parties. Most significantly, Temir Sariyev, head of the Ak Shumkar party, also decided to run for the presidency. This split the opposition vote, and Sariyev ultimately placed third with 6.7 percent.
Many would-be candidates were unable to secure a place on the ballot. A total of 22 nominees took the initial steps to register, but only six were finally approved by the CEC. Several withdrew in the middle of the process, while others were disqualified for failing a Kyrgyz-language test, not collecting enough signatures, or not proving that they had paid the required deposit. In any case, none of the challengers in the race represented serious threats to the incumbent. Instead, they regarded their candidacies as a mechanism to expand their popularity across the country and help improve their chances in future elections.
Members of the pro-presidential Ak Zhol party were united under the umbrella of the state and appeared uninterested in pursuing genuine change. During the campaign, the president regularly emphasized the importance of economic growth and national security. The government produced countless dubiously positive reports concerning the state of the national economy. Meanwhile, Ak Zhol lawmakers were ordered to gather support in their home districts, and party officials brought food and butchered livestock for villagers to persuade them to vote for President Bakiyev.
Opposition observers and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported numerous incidents of electoral fraud. In its postelection report, the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) stated that “the 23 July 2009 presidential election in the Kyrgyz Republic failed to meet key OSCE commitments for democratic elections, in particular the commitment to guarantee equal suffrage, to ensure that votes are reported honestly and that political campaigning is conducted in a fair and free atmosphere as well as to maintain a clear separation between party and state.” According to various exit polls, the incumbent led by a significant margin, and Atambayev received most of his support in the north of the country. The president’s estimated backing ranged from 60 to 70 percent, while Atambayev was expected to gain about 12 percent of the vote. Local observers had rated Atambayev as a stronger candidate than those numbers indicated, but his uninspiring electoral campaign established President Bakiyev as the most likely winner even in the view of opposition supporters.
Few opposition members admitted later that they had failed to produce a coherent message that would prove popular among the electorate. During the campaign, the opposition focused on President Bakiyev’s status as a corrupt and undemocratic leader, as well as ethnocentric calls for patriotism. Aside from a few posters in public places, Atambayev and Sariyev did not communicate any sense of the policies they intended to introduce if elected. The programs and reforms suggested by the opposition failed to provide concrete strategies for reducing state corruption or furthering the country’s democratization process.
A series of violent attacks against journalists and the assassination of regime opponents quieted civil society activists in 2009. Compared with the early 2000s—the peak of Kyrgyz civil society activity—far fewer nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are willing to participate in public life, while mass media often refuse to publish statements by civil society figures. According to the NGO activists themselves, most of civil society’s achievements have been written off by the regime since 2005. Virtually no NGO has openly attempted to contest the results of the highly flawed presidential election in July. Civil society leaders expressed their concerns about the elections only in individual interviews with international newspapers.
The president showed little desire to collaborate with civil society groups or representatives of the opposition in parliament, and all major print and online news outlets experienced pressure from the government not to publish critical reviews of President Bakiyev’s policies. A sense of fear is pervasive among those who criticize the government. Several opposition leaders fled Kyrgyzstan prior to the July election. The authorities threaten regime opponents both directly and indirectly; relatives of opposition members are often threatened with administrative and criminal charges.
Several NGO leaders were pressured by law enforcement officials in 2009. For instance, Dinara Oshurahunova, head of the Coalition of NGOs for Democracy and Civil Society, experienced difficulties upon returning to Kyrgyzstan from a trip to South Africa in September. Customs authorities thoroughly checked her documents and informed her that she was under the watch of the SNB. Human rights activist Aziza Abdirasulova was interrogated by police in Moscow in October after a bullet was found in her bag. She was en route back to Kyrgyzstan from Warsaw, where she had attended the OSCE’s Human Dimension meeting, and said she believed the bullet was planted on her as a provocation. No criminal charges were filed against Abdirasulova, and the activist chose not to report the incident to Kyrgyz police as she did not trust their professionalism.
The number of foreign human rights activists denied entry to Kyrgyzstan spiked during the year. On December 2, customs agents stopped Tajikistan’s Nigina Bakhriyeva upon her arrival at Bishkek’s Manas airport from Dushanbe. Her case raised widespread concern among Kyrgyzstan’s human rights activists and NGOs as they saw a direct link between the ban against Bakhriyeva and her human rights training of Kyrgyz lawyers in September. Additionally, two Russian activists from the human rights group Memorial were similarly denied access to Kyrgyzstan.
Civil society organizations and political opposition groups were not allowed to stage demonstrations in 2009. On July 25, leaders of NGOs, including Citizens Against Corruption, convened in a peaceful march to support Iranian demonstrations following that country’s flawed presidential election and to protest the election in Kyrgyzstan two days earlier. Though participants were not challenging the president’s legitimacy directly, Bishkek police quickly terminated the march and arrested eight activists.
In August, authorities broke up a demonstration by Ittipak, a Uighur diaspora group, and detained both the group’s leader and his deputy. Ittipak was calling for an independent investigation into the July riots in China’s Xinjiang province, and demonstrators displayed posters accusing Beijing of implementing cruel policies against the Uighur population in that area. According to the Kyrgyz authorities, approximately 500 people participated in the event in Bishkek. However, the exact reasons for the arrests were unknown, as the government made no official statements.
President Bakiyev further restricted religious freedom in the country in 2009. In January, the president adopted a law that raised the number of members required for religious organizations to receive legal registration from 10 to 200. The Spiritual Administration of Muslims (SAM) and the Russian Orthodox Church, which condemn the rapid spread of other strains of Christianity and Islam within the country, supported the law.
Despite Kyrgyzstan’s official secularism, President Bakiyev has been actively calling for a greater engagement by the SAM in the spiritual lives of Kyrgyz citizens. Politicians concerned with the spread of extremism criticize the SAM for failing to oversee the functioning of all mosques, the spiritual education of local imams, interpretations of the Koran, and the circulation of extremist literature among the population. The SAM regularly checks religious schools and allocates quotas for the pilgrimage to Mecca.
President Bakiyev used religion as part of his presidential reelection campaign. He endorsed the idea of building a large mosque in Bishkek, while the government designed special uniforms for SAM leaders that combined “native” Kyrgyz and Islamic features. The new costumes for imams will be decorated with traditional embroidery depicting the Kaaba in Mecca, while the SAM’s top leadership will be dressed in gowns with more complex ornamental motifs. SAM leaders will be required to wear the uniform during their daily activities.
Ak Zhol has also promoted patriotism and obedience among the masses in recent years. In 2009, the party decided to make singing the national anthem mandatory for Kyrgyz citizens during national holidays. Participants will be obliged to sing while standing with one hand placed on the chest.
The wave of attacks against journalists in 2009—all carried out by unknown assailants—was indicative of President Bakiyev’s attempts to curb freedom of speech in the country. The extreme violence of the crimes was apparently intended to send a message. Syrgak Abdyldayev, for example, was stabbed over a dozen times and beaten with stones wrapped in towels until his arms, shoulders, and ribs were broken. Kyrgyz authorities concluded that the assault was an assassination attempt. Local experts believe, however, that the attack on the reporter, who has little political ambition and is not among the most popular in the country, was an attempt by the regime to intimidate local media. Gennady Pavlyuk, a journalist who was pushed from the sixth-floor window in Almaty, was planning to launch a newspaper together with Omurbek Tekebayev, the leader of Ata Meken. According to Tekebayev, Pavlyuk was “likely lured to a neighboring country to distort evidence,” and local experts attest to the president’s direct involvement in Pavlyuk’s killing.
Before and after the presidential election, Kyrgyz mass media outlets avoided criticizing the regime or endorsing the opposition. One journalist from an online news agency commented, “Most reporters are paid to publish pro-regime material, and this is the price of their safety.” In its official reaction to the violence, Ata Meken said, “Attacks against journalists and even assassinations are practiced more frequently now in our country, endangering not only the security of journalists but also freedom of speech in general.” Violence against journalists served as a warning to other political activists in the country; Tekebayev argues that all opposition members must now be accompanied by bodyguards to ensure their own safety.
The Internet is currently the media venue that is most free from government interference, but the government has indicated its desire to obtain greater control over cyberspace. During the summer of 2009, the Ministry of Culture began developing a new bill that would place the Internet under the category of mass media. Under the legislation, Kyrgyz Web sites would potentially need to obtain a government license in order to function, placing content and the frequency of updates and broadcasts under the close oversight of the government. If a Web site failed to update its content at least once every three months, its license could be withdrawn. Furthermore, the government would have the right to prosecute Internet outlets if they divulge state secrets or commercially classified information, damage national dignity, or abuse journalistic rights. The government likely lacks the necessary funds to thoroughly control the Internet, but the new bill offers another opportunity to prosecute opponents of the regime or politically critical civic organizations. As with other mass media bills, no journalists or Internet experts were invited to take part in the parliament’s consideration of the draft measure.
Russian mass media enjoy a high penetration of Kyrgyzstan’s media market. The Kyrgyz public can view Moscow’s foreign and domestic news reports as well as a wide range of entertainment programs. As a result, the Kyrgyz audience is heavily exposed to the Russian government’s interpretation of international developments. Russian-language programming from China Central Television (CCTV) represents one potential challenge to Russia’s media influence. While the CCTV channel is currently only available in Bishkek for those lacking cable or satellite service, the Chinese government is preparing to invest in digital receivers for the southern regions of Kyrgyzstan. While CCTV might reduce the near monopoly of the Russian media in Kyrgyzstan, it will need to adapt its programs for Kyrgyz and Central Asian audiences to gain widespread popularity.
Developing local democratic governance in Kyrgyzstan has been a priority of the central government since the mid-1990s. For example, the National Poverty Eradication Strategy promoted decentralization of governance by providing more economic and political independence to cities and villages. However, after local government elections in 2008, earlier efforts to create viable local governments were largely overturned. While forming Ak Zhol in 2007, the president had recruited many incumbent local officials into the party, giving it a distinct advantage in the 2008 polls.
In 2009, local bodies had little impact in governing the country. Kyrgyz media rarely reported news related to local government unless it provided an opportunity to praise the central government or Ak Zhol, as with the inauguration of infrastructural improvements.
The central government continues to restrict local authorities from independently addressing social tensions. Local governments, especially in ethnically diverse villages, are often forced to build relations with their communities in accordance with directives from the central government. Inadequate and delayed responses to the mass skirmish between Kyrgyz, Russian, and Kurdish ethnic groups in Petrovka (northern Kyrgyzstan) in April revealed the weakness of local institutions. The conflict began when a 21-year-old ethnic Kurd allegedly raped a four-year-old Russian girl. For weeks, the police delayed investigation of the crime, and local authorities avoided intervening. With no response from the local or central authorities, a group of Kyrgyz and Russian villagers ransacked over a hundred houses belonging to ethnic Kurds, and demanded that the Kurds leave the village. Local and central government officials accepted no accountability or responsibility for the violence; the president blamed opposition forces for sparking the conflict, while local authorities supported forcing Kurdish families from the village to restore peace. Instead of responding to the people’s needs, the local government allied itself with the Interior Ministry by helping it prosecute opposition leaders.
The violence in Petrovka was not the first incident of interethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan. Similar attacks have been carried out against Dungan, Chinese, Uighur, Uzbek, Russian, and other ethnic communities since the early 1990s. Local communities have exploited interethnic rivalries to advance their own aims by accusing other groups of criminal activity, including land extortion. The inability of local authorities to make decisions without direction from the central government prevents them from resolving such tensions.
Discussions on judicial reform in 2009 centered on a debate over the legalization of the death penalty. Former president Akayev had instituted a moratorium on executions in the early 1990s, and capital punishment was constitutionally prohibited in 2007. In September 2009, however, Security Council secretary Adakhan Madumarov and SNB chairman Murat Sutalinov proposed legalizing public executions, which would entail a rejection of the standards promoted by international organizations like the OSCE.
Proponents of reinstating capital punishment argued that Kyrgyzstan was unable to financially support its current prison population. According to Justice Minister Nurlan Tursunkulov, each inmate costs the government US$4.60 per day. The state is spending roughly US$33,640 annually to sustain the lives of 200 current inmates who would face the death penalty if it were legalized. Other proponents of the bill cited opinion polls that indicated high public approval for the death penalty, and referred to the fact that the death penalty remains legal in much of the United States.
Local experts rushed to condemn the proposal to legalize capital punishment. They argued that it was aimed at opposition leaders, high-profile criminals, and religious extremists, and was designed in part to show that defying the regime could have serious consequences. In a separate move, the Security Council recently recommended that law enforcement agencies widen their list of religious extremist groups to include the conservative Islamic missionary group Tablighi Jamaat, along with the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Members of banned religious extremist groups are prosecuted for possessing or distributing related materials.
The discussions surrounding the potential reinstatement of the death penalty, like an earlier 2007 debate on a proposal to legalize polygamy, represented a departure from democratic norms and standards and revealed the weakness of the NGO community, which traditionally spoke out in opposition to such initiatives. Although polygamy was never formally legalized by the parliament, the discussion set a precedent for politicians to reopen previously closed debates. It can also be seen as part of a broader trend in Kyrgyz politics in which leaders advocate following the “Kyrgyz” way in opposition to Western-backed reforms.
Prison conditions have not improved in recent years, and the rights of prisoners have continued to deteriorate. The October 2006 killing of parliament member Tynychbek Akmatbayev during a prison revolt was indicative of the dire state of the prison system. He was visiting a Bishkek prison to calm rioters, but the prison guards were unable to protect him from hostile inmates.
Corruption remained endemic to both public and private institutions in Kyrgyzstan in 2009. Public officials commonly benefit from participation in acts of both large-scale and petty corruption. Kyrgyzstan was ranked 162 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
In 2009, President Bakiyev launched a new anticorruption strategy designed to fight graft in government, education, health care, business, and law enforcement. The strategy outlines the detrimental effect such pervasive corruption has on the country’s economic development, and stresses that corruption is both illegal and morally deplorable. Finally, it highlights the importance of collaboration with both local civil society groups and the international community in fighting corruption. The strategy’s Web site offers a hotline for anyone who encounters corruption.
However, the Bakiyev regime likely developed the strategy to appease international monitors rather than to fundamentally root out domestic corruption. The plan does not specify implementation mechanisms or institutions to be involved in preventing corruption. Aside from defining general areas where corruption is most pervasive, the strategy fails to show, for example, which particular agencies within the law enforcement sector need the most attention.
The leadership appears concerned first and foremost with maximizing its own wealth, and this aim is central to the president’s foreign policy activities. By deciding to expel the United States military from the Manas airport in February and then reversing his decision in June, Bakiyev was able to secure higher fees from the United States government for use of the air base. The Kyrgyz government did not disclose how the increased fees would be spent, suggesting that the leadership itself would be the biggest beneficiary of the new funds. Business elites in Bishkek are genuinely interested in keeping the U.S. base in place, as they benefit economically from its presence. The range of services provided to the U.S. facility include cargo transportation, food supplies, and gas sales. Although it is difficult to determine how much the revenues stemming from the base strengthen the regime, it is safe to say that they represent an important resource, along with other enterprises such as illegal hydropower and gold exports.
Pervasive corruption in the hydroelectricity sector was among the factors that led to a severe energy crisis beginning in 2008. After years of mismanagement and illegal dealings by top political officials, the population faced daily power outages and water shortages from October 2008 to April 2009. Although there was no major technical damage to generating facilities, the illegal sale of electricity continued throughout the crisis. Electricity was set to remain scarce in the winter of 2009–2010, and the government’s plans for the construction of new hydropower plants have lacked transparency. In February 2009, President Bakiyev received US$500 million of a total of US$2 billion from Russia that was intended for the construction of the Kambarata-1 hydropower plant. However, it is not clear how the plant will be built in light of the low water levels in the Toktogul reservoir. Electricity shortages have led to a decline in business activity, inflation in food prices, and frustration among the general population.
In 2009, the government created the Central Agency on Development, Investment, and Innovation, which was set to be headed by President Bakiyev’s son Maksim. Resources ranging from U.S. and Russian aid payments to profits from national hydroelectric and gold companies would consequently fall under his oversight. This would give him a commanding position in the economy, making it virtually impossible to do business in Kyrgyzstan without coordinating with the regime. The new agency also provides Maksim Bakiyev with the power to closely monitor local opposition leaders’ business dealings and local NGOs’ external financing.
 Daniyar Karimov, “Kurmanbek Bakiyev: Takogo masshtabnogo sokraschenija armii chinovnikov v Kyrgyzstane esche ne bylo,” [Kurmanbek Bakiyev: There Has Never Been Such a Large Decrease in Government Officials in Kyrgyzstan], www.24.kg, October 20, 2009.
 Ethan Wilensky-Lanford, “Critic of Kyrgyzstan Leader Is Believed Dead in a Suspicious Car Crash,” New York Times, March 13, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/14/world/asia/14kstan.html?_r=1.
 Human Rights Watch, “Background of Events in Kyrgyzstan,” news release, April 7, 2010, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/04/07/backgound-events-kyrgyzstan.
 OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Kyrgyz Republic Presidential Election, 23 July 2009: OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Final Report (Warsaw: OSCE ODIHR, October 22, 2009), http://www.osce.org/documents/odihr/2009/10/40901_en.pdf.
 “TsIK: V Kyrgyzstane, po predvaritel’nym dannym, progolosovalo bole 2,2 mln chelovek (78.92%),” [CEC: According to Preliminary Data, Over 2.2 Million People (78.92%) Voted in Kyrgyzstan], AKIpress, July 23, 2009, http://kg.akipress.org/news:105521.
 “Aktsija protesta ujgurskoj obschiny v Bishkeke zavershilas’ zaderzhaniem lidera ‘Ittipaka,’” [Protest Action by Uighur Society in Bishkek Ended with Arrest of “Ittipak” Leader], AKIpress, August 10, 2009.
 “Duhovnoe upravlenie musul’man Kyrgyzstana utverdilo edinuju formu dlja svjaschennosluzhitelej,” [Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Kyrgyzstan Confirmed Uniform for Clergy Members], www.24.kg, April 8, 2009.
 “Kyrgyzstan: Grazhdan obyazali pet’ gimn vo vremya ego ofitsial’nogo ispolneniya,” [Kyrgyzstan: Citizens Are Required to Sing Anthem While It Is Officially Played], Ferghana. ru, October 1, 2009.
 “V Bishkeke soversheno pokushenie na ubijstvo politobozrevatelja gazety ‘Reporter’ S.Abdyldayeva,” [Political Reporter of ‘Reporter’ Newspaper S. Abdyldayev Survived Assassination Attempt in Bishkek], AKIpress, March 4, 2009.
 “V Kazakhstane s tyazheloi travmoi gospitalizirovan izvestny kirgizsky zhurnalist,” [Well- Known Kyrgyz Journalist Hospitalized with Serious Injuries in Kazakhstan], Ferghana.ru, December 18, 2009, http://www.ferghana.ru/news.php?id=13662.
 Clifford J. Levy, “Kyrgyz President Blamed in Homicide,” New York Times, December 23, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/23/world/asia/23kyrgyz.html.
 Interview with Kyrgyz reporter, Bishkek, February 2009.
 “Oppozitsija Kyrgyzstana schitaet napadenie na zhurnalista Syrgaka Abdyldaeva ugrozoj svobode slova i davleniem na pressu,” [Kyrgyzstan’s Opposition Considers Attack against Syrgak Abdyldayev to be a Threat to Freedom of Speech and Pressure on the Press], www.24.kg, March 4, 2009.
 “Kyrgyzstan: V Bishkeke nachinaet veschanie russkoyazychnyj kanal Tsentral’nogo televideniya Kitaya,” [Kyrgyzstan: Russian-Language Channel of Chinese Central Television Begins Broadcasting in Bishkek], Ferghana.ru, September 25, 2009.
 “Sekretar’ Sovbeza i glava GKNB vyskazyvajutsya za vvedenie smertnoi kazni,” [Head of Security Council and Chairman of the State Committee for National Security Propose Introduction of Capital Punishment], AKIpress, September 23, 2009.
 Edil Baisalov, former Kyrgyz NGO leader currently residing in Sweden, November 2009.
 “Glava Gosagentstva po religii obespokoen deyatel’nost’yu v Kyrgyzstane religioznogo techeniya ‘Tablig zhamaaty,’” [Head of State Commission on Religion Is Concerned about Activity of Religious Movement ‘Tablig Zhamaaty’ in Kyrgyzstan], AKIpress, September 23, 2009.
 Natsionalnaya strategiya bor’by s korruptsiei v Kyrgyzskoi Respublike [National Strategy on the Fight against Corruption in the Kyrgyz Republic], http://www.stopcorruption.kg/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=9... (accessed October 18, 2009).