Kyrgyzstan

Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
14
100
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 14.29 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 1.86 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
16 100 Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

header1 Score changes in 2021

  • National Democratic Governance rating declined from 1.50 to 1.25 due to the unprecedented collapse of the government and illegal grab of executive and parliamentary power by former prime minister Sadyr Japarov, who formed a new government with no electoral basis.
  • Electoral Process rating declined from 2.25 to 2.00 due to the postponement of local elections in March as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Central Election Commission’s extra-legal annulment of the results of the October parliamentary election.
  • Civil Society rating declined from 3.25 to 3.00 due to the increased presence and influence of illiberal, reactionary groups and their ability to marginalize pro-democracy voices during the post-parliamentary electoral crisis.

As a result, Kyrgyzstan’s Democracy Score declined from 1.96 to 1.93.

header2 Executive Summary

By Medet Tiulegenov

The year 2020 was tumultuous for Kyrgyzstan due to the COVID-19 pandemic, parliamentary elections rife with fraud, and the political upheaval that followed. These events, to a large extent, shaped the course of all that occurred during the year and set the environment in which the country’s democratic institutions would attempt to function. To a certain degree, the year’s turbulence encouraged further engagement from forces within civil society, whether formal or informal. However, these multifold crises also demonstrated the weaknesses of civil society and major state institutions, especially those tasked with protecting human rights and ensuring inclusive and transparent processes in the state’s decision-making—particularly during a period of political revolution.

The government’s lack of preparation to deal with the pandemic demonstrated the strengths (and limits) of a society that must mobilize and substitute for the failings of the state. In the spring, when lockdowns were first introduced in many parts of the country, and then notably in July, when the pandemic hit Kyrgyzstan most severely, volunteer groups and civil society organizations mobilized to help those in need, often partnering with state institutions.1 This experience of volunteering later helped new parties mobilize support among voters and spurred innovative forms of campaigning for the October 4 parliamentary elections. The state’s weakness and poor decision-making were also important catalysts for the increased activism of opposition parties, particularly under the unusual circumstances of COVID-19.

The increased level of activism in 2020 was also fueled by anticorruption protests that had started a year earlier after investigative reports by journalists revealed corruption schemes organized by Raiymbek Matraimov, former deputy chair of the State Customs Service.2 The government’s refusal to further investigate these findings drew widespread public criticism, which was only enflamed by the onset of the pandemic. Matters worsened for the ruling powers when Matraimov openly supported one of the pro-regime parties in the October 4 parliamentary elections.

While the conduct of the October elections was unsurprising in its widespread irregularities, including vote buying, the results nevertheless stunned many due to the large-scale failure of opposition parties to meet the 7-percent electoral threshold.3 The few parties that did surpass the threshold had connections to Matraimov and President Sooronbay Jeenbekov.4 Protests on October 5 in response to the elections and the allegations of vote buying turned into a popular movement against the electoral results, which crippled the legitimacy of government institutions. Yet, the opposition was unable to capitalize on this moment of popular dissatisfaction and gain sufficient support to shape the situation in their favor, largely due to their relative lack of unity and resources.

This situation created an unparalleled opportunity for Sadyr Japarov, a nationalist-populist politician, who on October 5, in a night of public unrest, was released from prison where he was serving an 11.5-year sentence for kidnapping.5 While a fractured opposition failed to agree on who should serve as the country’s next top official and caretaker of the government transition, Japarov herded a disarrayed parliament into appointing him prime minister. Japarov’s ascent was aided by the alleged use of blackmail, intimidation, and pressure from the crowds of protesters on the streets, many of whom seemingly had connections to organized crime groups.6 The political shuffle went one step further with the ouster of the sitting president, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, whose position should have been taken by the next politician in line, the speaker of the parliament. However, the same forces that swept Japarov into the premiership coerced the newly elected speaker, Kanatbek Isayev, into stepping down, thereby enabling Japarov to seize the moment and make claim to the position of “acting president.”7

Japarov’s stunning rise—from prisoner to president in just ten days—was accompanied by a takeover of important government positions and the pursuit of substantial constitutional reforms. Appointing loyal partners to head key law enforcement agencies was another expected move in this situation, enabling Japarov to control potential dissent within the political elite.8

Whereas the primary demand by the protests of October 5 was to review the results of the elections, which were later annulled by the Central Election Commission, changes to the constitution were rarely discussed. However, with Japarov’s rise to power, constitutional reform became a major issue on his agenda and, hence, on the agenda of the Supreme Council, the Kyrgyz parliament.9 Despite the requirement that, as a registered candidate for the presidential elections of January 10, 2021, Japarov would be obligated to relinquish his formal positions, his informal influence continued and pushed for constitutional changes.10

The key element of the draft constitutional changes, released in late November, was the transfer of powers back to the president, including the power to appoint and dismiss the cabinet, initiate draft laws, and other functions that were taken from the executive in the 2010 constitutional reform.11 These efforts to return Kyrgyzstan to a super-presidential system were viewed by many political and human rights observers as an attempt to monopolize formal power in the hands of a future president. As of the end of the year, a constitutional referendum was planned to occur simultaneously with the presidential elections in January and contain just one question about the choice of political system.

While garnering wide public support, Sadyr Japarov’s actions and claim to the presidency nonetheless lacked a legal basis, as well as legitimacy from the international community. This was a tentative moment for the government of Kyrgyzstan as it attempted to regain standing as a partner to many international actors. For the new government that emerged after October 5, the weeks and months following the political upheaval were largely unproductive in gaining support or assistance from abroad. After Jeenbekov stepped down, Russia froze its financial assistance, including a $100 million loan from the Eurasian Stabilization and Development Fund, which resumed weeks later.12 Despite his role as acting president, Japarov was nevertheless unable to attract envoys from major countries. International human rights organizations voiced their concerns over the legality of the political situation and constitutional reform process during the last three months of the year. Many donors, whose help Kyrgyzstan had relied upon, preferred to wait and see how the country would implement recommendations from the Venice Commission on the constitutional reforms. Former president Roza Otunbayeva noted that Kyrgyzstan’s budget was dependent as much as 20 percent on external aid, and there were serious risks that such aid would dwindle as a result of the way the constitutional reform process was organized.13

The country’s economy, severely weakened by the pandemic, experienced the greatest crisis in the last twenty-five years.14 The forecasted plunge in GDP was expected to reach -10 percent.15 Closed borders, decline in trade, diminishing investments, and depreciation of the national currency all affected the livelihoods of citizens in 2020. These negative impacts forced the government to initiate unpopular measures to reduce costs and find new tax revenues. The dynamics of change in the government after October 5 demonstrate an increasing trend toward populism that, coupled with the crippled economy, may present serious concerns for the political rights and civil liberties of the Kyrgyz population.

Given the possible changes to the political system, which would place more power in the hands of fewer leaders, there is increased risk to the freedom of the political opposition, independent media, and a vocal civil society. Yet, with the weakness of the state, including its repressive apparatus, significant reforms may prompt resistance that could lead to further political destabilization and, possibly, violence. With a damaged economy and the notable shift toward populism favored by some leaders after the political upheaval, the government may turn to relying on social scapegoating, thereby hindering a more inclusive political environment. Much of this outcome will be determined by the impending constitutional reform process and parliamentary elections of 2021.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 1.251 7.007
  • In 2020, the democratic quality of Kyrgyzstan’s national governance deteriorated severely as both the executive and legislative branches of power were seized without an electoral mandate by Sadyr Japarov. Though much of the year was dominated by the impact of COVID-19, the parliamentary elections on October 4 would mark a dramatic turning point in the nation’s governance. Amid disputes over the elections, most notably accusations of vote buying by members of parliament (MPs), the electoral results were met with fierce public protests and subsequently annulled by the Central Election Commission. Nevertheless, the parties accused of fraud and abuse of administrative resources during the elections maintained a majority in the parliament by arbitrarily extending their own mandates.
  • Although already under scrutiny for controversial draft laws limiting freedom of speech and association, the legislature’s bigger challenge came as a result of the annulled elections.1 The move by the Supreme Council—Kyrgyzstan’s 120-seat, unicameral parliament—to prolong its term indefinitely until constitutional changes were made was roundly viewed as illegal and illegitimate.2 Supporters of Sadyr Japarov,3 freed on October 5 along with many others from the prison where he was serving an 11.5-year sentence for kidnapping, were able to coerce the Supreme Council to appoint him prime minister, which prompted the resignation of President Sooronbay Jeenbekov. Though next in line for the presidency, the speaker of the parliament stepped aside, allowing Japarov to become “acting president.”4 This quick undoing of two elected institutions of government, over less than two weeks’ time, was widely thought to be the result of blackmail, coercion from Japarov’s supporters protesting in the streets, and, perhaps, the participation of organized crime.5
  • While the Supreme Council was doubtlessly strong-armed by newly emerging political forces, it was also a culprit in some of the irregular post-electoral processes. Electing a speaker who refused the role of acting president, approving a bill to suspend electoral legislation, and postponing elections were just some of the ways this parliament, with its unclear electoral mandate, had in short order perverted the country’s governing institutions.6
  • Early presidential elections, announced after Jeenbekov stepped down, were set for January 10, 2021. The start of the presidential campaign was marred by further complaints of abuse of administrative resources. For instance, school teachers were forced to collect signatures for Japarov, while the president used his newly acquired office to conduct meetings in the country’s regions that were perceived as electoral campaigning.7
  • The tumultuous political events that ensued after October 5 were driven not only by intimidation and threats but also by a variety of extralegal means, and the parliament became the conduit by which the much-criticized unconstitutional decisions were moved forward. One of the first calls was to postpone the upcoming parliamentary elections, which was then tied to a subsequent decision to hold a referendum on changes to the constitution. As noted by the Venice Commission, while it is not uncommon to see a parliament serve longer during a transition period, any postponement of elections should be limited in time and narrow in purpose.8 An initial plan to hold a full-fledged referendum coinciding with the presidential elections on January 10 was abandoned, even as attempts to amend the political system continued. Yet, on December 9, in the first reading of the bill, the Supreme Council approved the draft law to hold a referendum in a move that broke many procedural norms.9
  • The process of organizing the constitutional reform itself lacked inclusivity and proper deliberation.10 This was due not only to the hastiness of the process but also the composition of the constitutional assembly, which lacked representation of the country’s major political forces. Furthermore, the process was conducted by a parliament that had extended its term without a clear legal basis. The first draft of the new constitution, available for review at year’s end, raised serious concerns of backsliding on democratic norms established in the 2010 version. Those norms would be further undermined by the concentration of power in the hands of the president. Additionally, an Eldik Kurultai (People’s Assembly) was proposed that, according to its proponents, is intended to be a representative body but in fact could be manipulated and abused by a sitting president.11
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 2.002 7.007
  • Elections to both the Supreme Council and local councils were scheduled for 2020. However, the spring local council elections were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.1 Parliamentary elections, on the other hand, went ahead as planned on October 4 but were marred by allegations of vote buying and abuse of administrative resources, leading to public protests against the results. The Central Election Commission subsequently annulled the results without a clear legal basis.
  • In spite of the disputed electoral results and subsequent chain of events, the Central Election Commission (CEC) was actually technically well prepared for the polls. The CEC had improved its website (www.shailoo.gov.kg), which added new features intended to make voters more informed about their choices. This included information about the candidates’ proposed platforms, party programs, campaign funding, and more. Prior legislative amendments had improved conditions, making elections fairer for voter lists and gender quotas, in the case of member withdrawals from the parliament. Although a law was signed in the summer lowering the electoral threshold from 9 to 7 percent, this bar to participation remained an issue for the opposition prior to the elections.2
  • Beyond the CEC’s technical improvements, some electoral process issues remained, such as concerns about candidate registration as well as the pending issue of biometric registration and access to voting for hundreds of thousands of citizens.3 Despite the resultant protests and ensuing political upheaval, the electoral process per se was not determined to be significantly worse than in the 2015 parliamentary elections by international election observers. The OSCE observation mission’s final report did not find massive irregularities.4 Nationwide protests were sparked when it was declared that four parties associated with the ruling regime (Birimdik, Mekenim Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Butun Kyrgyzstan) had passed the 7 percent threshold.5 Vote buying and the use of administrative resources were widely believed to be the reasons for the electoral victories of these pro-regime parties.
  • The post-electoral process was marred by extralegal decision-making, including, most notably, the CEC’s decision to annul the results of the parliamentary elections.6 Though the political expedience of this move was obvious, it did not reflect norms that typically guide the commission’s electoral decisions.7
  • Following the protests and extension of the parliamentary mandate without a clear legal basis, MPs pushed forward a bill to change the country’s electoral laws, lowering the electoral threshold from 7 to 3 percent and reducing the registration fee for candidates from 5 million to 1 million soms (about $12,000).8 However, in light of the proposed constitutional amendments, the impact of these electoral changes may prove minimal.
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 3.003 7.007
  • In 2020, Kyrgyz civil society expressed itself through a variety of activities but also faced serious challenges in retaining ground. The presence and influence of illiberal, reactionary groups grew dramatically during the post-parliamentary election crisis, as did their ability to marginalize pro-democracy groups.
  • The year saw the continuation of anticorruption protests begun in 2019, which were triggered by investigative reporting from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Kloop, and OCCRP into smuggling schemes allegedly organized by the former deputy chair of Kyrgyzstan’s customs service, Raiymbek Matraimov.1 Other notable protests included the Reaktsiya (Reaction) movement, whose activists along with other civic groups protested the parliament’s hasty adoption of the law “On manipulation of information,” which opponents argued hampered freedom of speech.2
  • The year was also marked by the brutal suppression of the annual women’s demonstration on March 8. The peaceful rally, organized by local women’s groups, was attacked by unidentified traditionalists, while organizers of the event were taken into custody.3 This type of official response raised concerns that authorities had turned a blind eye to the attack, which led to another massive rally on March 10 against the police conduct.4 This was not the first time the women’s movement in Kyrgyzstan had faced obstacles from nonstate actors, but the 2020 event was unprecedented due to the suspected complicity of state authorities. After a series of judicial hearings on November 11, the Supreme Court ruled against the lower courts’ decisions that police actions to disrupt the women’s march were legal.5 Despite calls to investigate, those who disrupted the march, including the police, received no punishment.
  • Legislative initiatives aimed at diminishing civic space, notably the draft law “On manipulation of information,” envision stricter control over internet users and led to one of the largest rallies of the year.6 Another draft law was initiated early in the year that envisioned additional reporting requirements for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Opponents argued that it would create “additional confusing and bureaucratic obstacles” for NGOs, while proponents suggested it would make civil society more accountable and trusted by the wider soсiety.7
  • One important development in 2020 was the civic sector’s response to the country’s institutional weaknesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the state government unable to either formulate clear policies to slow the spread of the virus or provide needed public services, a number of civic groups and volunteers began to provide help and assistance in place of—or, in some cases, alongside—state authorities.8 Groups converted hotels and restaurants into medical centers, organized volunteers to deliver oxygen to patients, distributed food and medicine to those in need during the lockdown, and produced personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical personnel. The aftermath of the October protests also spurred civic engagement by citizens who organized people’s squads to prevent possible looting and public disturbances.9
  • The government’s attitude towards civil society was mixed. On the one hand, there were examples of beneficial partnerships, for instance, between civic groups and state medical institutions in response to the pandemic. On the other hand, the government’s lack of recognition and unhealthy competition with civil society was evident, examples including the state’s refusal to accept data collection solutions for needed supplies or the failure to include civil society actors in commissions overseeing spending on COVID-19 measures.10
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 2.002 7.007
  • The state of independent media in Kyrgyzstan remained fairly stable in 2020, with few changes to the legal framework as compared to previous years. However, restrictions during the spring lockdowns affected journalists who were denied access to decision makers in Bishkek and other localities.1 This severely limited the ability of journalists to address fake or misleading news and rumors by providing firsthand accounts and verified information.
  • At times, freedom of speech was abridged during the spring lockdowns, even online. In one case, a doctor who had posted a complaint about the lack of PPE and other medical supplies was forced to apologize publicly on video for allegedly disseminating “false information.”2
  • Journalists also risked their own personal safety during the year. In January, the editor of factcheck.kg was attacked by unknown individuals presumably in relation to his professional activities.3 There were also incidents of violence against journalists during the parliamentary elections,4 as well as threats and violence during the protests after the elections.5
  • The year also included a libel suit filed by Raiymbek Matraimov against Radio Azattyk, Kloop, 24.kg, and journalist Ali Toktakunov, who in 2019 had published a bombshell investigation into Matraimov’s corrupt dealings while serving as deputy chair of the State Customs Service.6
  • Blogger Elmira Sydymanova, accused of inciting inter-regional hatred, faced a prison sentence of up to six years.7 Charges against blogger Avtandi Jorobekov on another case of inciting hatred were dropped.8 These cases showed the increasing vulnerability of social media users to extreme charges for their own posts or even comments made on posts. Additionally, the harassment of bloggers and journalists through summonses to appear before law enforcement agencies for their posts and publications has become a frequent practice in Kyrgyzstan.
  • The draft law “On manipulation of information” was one of the greatest legislative threats to freedom of speech in 2020.9 Despite public criticism, it was quickly reviewed by the parliament and, only in the final stages, returned to the legislature by President Jeenbekov. The bill would have greatly increased the government’s power, enabling authorities to crack down even more severely on online dissent.
  • One unique feature of 2020 was the unprecedented rise of troll farms in Kyrgyzstan. Such ventures were notably utilized in Matraimov’s standoff with media outlets accusing him of corruption, as well as during the parliamentary election campaign. Some argue that this increased phenomenon played a role in Sadyr Japarov’s dramatic rise to power.10
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 1.752 7.007
  • Although 2020 was once again deemed the year for developing the country’s regions, as announced by the president, there were no notable policy initiatives in this regard. In general, national elites maintain control over local decision-making, while local governments struggle to put together sufficient funding to address local issues.
  • Local council elections, planned for the spring, were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among these were elections to 25 village councils and 5 city councils scheduled to take place on April 12.1
  • During the pandemic lockdown, there were issues related to the function of local governments in a number of localities throughout the country. In many places, local officers were vested with special authority to make decisions, and the alignment of their activities with the functions of local government was not always up to par.2
  • With the political upheaval surrounding the parliamentary elections and subsequent nationwide protests, appointed and elected municipal officials became targets for blame. Protestors and opposition figures criticized these officials for their alleged collaboration with the previous regime and for the replacement of new leaders. In some cases, the replacement procedures failed to follow the letter of the law, as in the case of the resigned Bishkek mayor whose replacement was selected in a legally dubious process and subject to political pressure.3
  • In the fall, Kyrgyz Jarany, a joint concept initiative with the OSCE aimed at “supporting social cohesion within the multi-ethnic society of Kyrgyzstan,” was developed by the State Agency for Local Governance and Interethnic Relations and was approved by the acting president.4 This ended a two-year gap in the program designed to address interethnic relations between local communities.
  • In October, the capital city Bishkek joined the Open Government Partnership.5 Kyrgyzstan had joined the OGP at the national level in 2017, while Bishkek became the first municipality in the country to join this initiative.
  • 1. “Жергиликтүү кеңештерге шайлоо жөнүндө мыйзамга өзгөртүүлөрдү киргизүүнү эске алуу менен 2020-2021-жылдарга пландалган шайлоолордун графиги [Schedule of elections for 2020-2021, taking into account the amendments to the law on elections to local councils],” Central Commission for Elections and Referendums, https://shailoo.gov.kg/kg/news/2864/
  • 2. “Почему велосипед становится транспортом номер один во время карантина [why a bike becomes a vehicle number one during the lockdown]”, Kloop, April 22, 2020 https://kloop.kg/blog/2020/04/22/pochemu-velosiped-stanovitsya-transpor… ; “ПОЛНОМОЧИЯ ОРГАНОВ МЕСТНОГО САМОУПРАВЛЕНИЯ (МСУ) в режиме чрезвычайной ситуации и чрезвычайного положения в Кыргызской Республике [POWERS OF LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT BODIES (LSG) in an emergency and state of emergency in the Kyrgyz Republic],” Development Policy Institute, April 9, 2020, http://dpi.kg/ru/press-room/news/full/1570.html
  • 3. “Japarov accepts understanding of Bishkek Major Aziz Surakmatov,” October 22, 2020, AKIpress, https://akipress.com/news:649983:Japarov_accepts_resignation_of_Bishkek…
  • 4. “В ГАМСУМО рассказали о Концепции развития гражданской идентичности «Кыргыз жараны» в КР [GAMSUMO spoke about the Concept of development of civic identity "Kyrgyz citizens" in the Kyrgyz Republic],” Kabar.kg, November 16, 2020, http://kabar.kg/news/v-gamsumo-rasskazali-o-kontceptcii-razvitiia-grazh…
  • 5. “Kyrgyz Republic Joins the Open Government Partnership,” The Open Government Partnership, November 21, 2017, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/news/kyrgyz-republic-joins-the-open-…
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 1.502 7.007
  • The judicial system remained intact in 2020 despite deliberations on constitutional reforms and related changes to the status of the judiciary. The overall performance of Kyrgyzstan’s justice system was no better than in prior years; in fact, notable decisions were made favoring political expedience during key moments during the turbulent year.
  • There were several important judicial decisions that show the extent to which the judiciary is driven by political considerations rather than by the rule of law. In October, the Supreme Court found acting president Japarov, head of security services Kamchybek Tashiev, and newly elected speaker of parliament Talant Mamytov not guilty on previous charges of attempted violent seizure of power.1 And questions remained concerning the uneven approach to other politicians previously charged on political grounds. As in the past, the Supreme Court reconsidered cases that had been pursued under the previous regime, ultimately canceling the decisions of lower courts against former prime minister Sapar Isakov, who had been charged with corruption under former president Jeenbekov.2
  • On October 24, the administrative court annulled the Central Election Commission’s decision about new parliamentary elections, and the ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court on October 30. On December 2, the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber ruled that the parliament’s decision to postpone parliamentary elections was constitutional.3
  • In a rare case where the Supreme Court took the side of civic activists, the court ruled on November 11 that the decision of police to detain organizers of the March 8 rally was unlawful, reversing the rulings of lower courts.4 Otherwise, as in previous years, the courts did little to guarantee justice for those not aligned with the ruling regime. Indeed, in 2020, a number of gender-based violence cases were not addressed in the courts.5
  • In the aftermath of the October 5 political upheaval, the Supreme Court hastily annulled the lower courts’ decisions regarding acting president Japarov, Kamchybek Tashiev, and Talant Mamytov.6 Even though it was believed that charges against Japarov, made in 2013, were politically motivated, this was another case where the justice system was seen as serving those who came to power by force.
  • Prison conditions were more widely discussed in Kyrgyzstan in 2020, particularly on two issues. First, the detainment of political prisoners who were not given bail in order to stand trial was a prominent issue. Second, on ascending to power after being released from prison, Japarov promised to release inmates serving sentences for minor crimes, and while acting president, he pardoned 230 prisoners.7
  • The newly proposed constitutional reforms would dramatically alter Kyrgyzstan’s separation of powers. If approved, the amendments would allow the president to appoint all judges, making an already subservient judicial institution even more dependent, and thereby diminishing any hope for institutional checks and balances.8
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 1.502 7.007
  • Kyrgyzstan entered 2020 amid a series of public protests triggered by the 2019 investigative reporting of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Kloop, and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) into corrupt schemes allegedly organized by Raiymbek Matraimov, former deputy chair of the State Customs Service.1 However, there was little reaction from the government regarding these findings.
  • At the Security Council’s January meeting, former president Jeenbekov noted that there were successes in fighting corruption, though he also reprimanded heads of law enforcement agencies for a lack of sufficient action in this area.2 This rhetorical attitude on the issue of corruption marks the overall policy stance of his presidency, including during 2020.
  • Some token attempts to address corruption were undertaken during the year. The secretariat of the Security Council drafted a strategy for fighting corruption,3 including increased examination of income declarations and expenditures by civil servants. Yet, the draft strategy had not been adopted by year’s end.
  • After the radical change of power in October, acting president Japarov announced that his key policy priority would be fighting corruption. In a speech to his newly established cabinet, Japarov argued that the current constitution is a major impediment to fighting corruption, and changing the constitution would make it easier to tackle the prevalence of bribery.4 However, this statement was accompanied by the common knowledge of his dealings with the aforementioned Raiymbek Matraimov, a major symbol of corruption in Kyrgyzstan. Although having been caught and detained by law enforcement, Matraimov was released the same day under condition that he would repay damages to the state in the amount of 2 billion soms ($25 million). Japarov announced that he had personally proposed the release, stating that it would otherwise be difficult to retrieve any of Matraimov’s financial assets.5
  • Actions against Matraimov were accompanied with declarations by the state’s Anti-Corruption Service about the corrupt schemes and details revealed in their investigation of the Customs Service.6 But so far, there have been no systematic efforts to address the issue of corruption within the service.
  • Despite the turbulent year, political upheaval, and continued attention paid to the bombshell Matraimov investigation, anticorruption efforts were handled similarly to previous governments. The state’s anticorruption work was mostly aimed at demonstrating progress by charging select high officials without addressing the root causes of the issue. For example, former prime minister Mukhammedkalyi Abylgaziev was summoned for questioning for his alleged involvement in a licensing scandal regarding the improper sale of radio frequencies.7

Author: Medet Tiulegenov, assistant professor at the Department of International and Comparative Politics of American University of Central Asia

  • 1. “История Айеркена Саймаити, отмывшего 700 млн долларов через Кыргызстан [ The story of Aierken Saimaiti, who laundered $ 700 million through Kyrgyzstan],” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, November 22, 2019, https://rus.azattyk.org/a/kyrgyzstan-azattyk-occrp-kloop-joint-investig…
  • 2. “Жээнбеков недоволен борьбой с коррупцией: СМИ публикуют множество материалов о коррупционных делах, прямо указывают на них [Jeenbekov is dissatisfied with the fight against corruption: the media publish a lot of materials about corruption cases, point directly to them],” Economist.kg, January 24, 2020, https://economist.kg/2020/01/24/Jeenbekov-nedovolen-borboj-s-korrupciej…
  • 3. “Жээнбеков: коррупционеры должны понести наказание, несмотря на должности [Jeenbekov: corrupt officials should be punished despite their positions],” Sputnik.kg, May 5, 2020, https://ru.sputnik.kg/politics/20200520/1048367811/kyrgyzstan-Jeenbekov…
  • 4. “Садыр Жапаров: Искоренить коррупцию, как оказалось, очень сложно [Sadyr Japarov: It turns out that it is very difficult to root out corruption],” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, October 30, 2020, https://rus.azattyk.org/a/30920605.html
  • 5. “Садыр Жапаров рассказал о переговорах с Матраимовым в день его задержания [Sadyr Japarov spoke about negotiations with Matraimov on the day of his arrest],” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, November 12, 2020, https://rus.azattyk.org/a/30944022.html
  • 6. Aijamal Jamankulova, “ГКНБ: Выявлено 40 человек из окружения Матраимова, которые могут быть причастны к коррупции на таможне [SCNS: 40 people were revealed surrounded by Matrimov, which can be tied to corruptions at customs],” Kloop.kg, October 9, 2020, https://kloop.kg/blog/2020/10/19/gknb-vyyavleno-40-chelovek-iz-okruzhen…
  • 7. Kubanychbek Joldoshev, “Мурдагы өкмөт башчыны айланган сур булут [A gray cloud surrounding the former prime minister],” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, November 13, 2020, https://www.azattyk.org/a/jyshtyk-abylgaziev-jemkorluk-kyljyev/30944616…

On Kyrgyzstan

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

See More
  • Global Freedom Score

    28 100 not free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    56 100 partly free