Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Kyrgyzstan’s political rights rating declined from 5 to 6, its civil liberties rating from 4 to 5, and its status from Partly Free to Not Free due to a flawed presidential election, the concentration of power in the executive branch, and new legal restrictions on freedom of religion.
President Kurmanbek Bakiyev secured a new term in a flawed presidential election in July, retaining power amid a continuing deterioration of basic freedoms and a disturbing string of violent incidents targeting journalists and politicians. A new law restricted freedom of religion during the year, and former officials faced what appeared to be politically motivated criminal prosecutions.
Shortly after Kyrgyzstan gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Askar Akayev, a respected physicist, was elected president. He easily won reelection in 1995, and constitutional amendments the following year substantially increased the powers of the presidency. International observers noted serious irregularities in the 2000 parliamentary and presidential elections, which yielded another term for Akayev.
Long-standing frustrations in the economically depressed and politically marginalized south culminated in public protests in 2002. Six protesters were killed when police fired into a crowd in the village of Aksy. Four former regional prosecutors and police officials were sentenced to prison in December in connection with the shootings, and additional convictions came five years later, but opposition critics continued to argue that senior officials who authorized the use of force were never brought to justice.
After flawed February 2005 parliamentary elections, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across the country to protest irregularities and ultimately call for Akayev’s resignation. On March 24, protesters and opposition supporters stormed the presidential headquarters in Bishkek. Akayev fled abroad and later resigned.
In the July 2005 presidential poll, former prime minister and opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev captured 89 percent of the vote. His victory was regarded as nearly inevitable after he and Feliks Kulov, his most serious rival, formed a political alliance in May: Kulov withdrew his presidential candidacy in exchange for the post of prime minister. Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) nevertheless concluded that the election “marked tangible progress … towards meeting OSCE commitments.”
The Bakiyev-Kulov alliance held until early 2007, when Kulov joined the opposition. In April, opposition groups organized demonstrations in Bishkek calling for constitutional reform and Bakiyev’s resignation. However, after demonstrators allegedly attacked police, the authorities violently dispersed the protests, dealing the opposition a significant blow.
In October 2007, referendum voters approved a new constitution that expanded the parliament from 75 to 90 seats and introduced party-slate balloting. The hastily called referendum drew criticism from civil society groups, which pointed to the government’s use of administrative resources to ensure a favorable outcome.
Bakiyev dissolved the parliament the day after the referendum, and a progovernment party called Ak Zhol was quickly formed to contest elections in December. The disputed balloting, dubbed a “missed opportunity” by OSCE observers and held under new legislation, produced a parliament dominated by Ak Zhol and devoid of opposition representation. Amendments pushed through the new legislature later that month widened the executive’s authority, and a government formed in the final days of 2007 was stacked with Bakiyev loyalists.
The president consolidated his power in 2008, sidelining the country’s remaining well-known opposition figures. Kulov’s departure from politics in May, when Bakiyev appointed him as head of an energy development project, reflected the broader disappearance of a viable political opposition.
In March 2009, Medet Sadyrkulov, Bakiyev’s former chief of staff, was found dead in a burned-out car near Bishkek. Opposition representatives charged that Sadyrkulov, who had left the government earlier in the year, was assassinated because he was planning to join the opposition. His relatives asked for an additional investigation in May after initial inquiries failed to clarify the circumstances of his death.
Bakiyev won another five-year term in the July presidential election, taking 75 percent of the vote. OSCE observers concluded that the poll failed to meet international standards, citing evidence of fraud, intimidation of opposition supporters, and the misuse of administrative resources, among other problems.
Kyrgyzstan continued to balance strategic and economic relations with Russia and the United States in 2009. In February, after receiving $2 billion in loan guarantees from Russia, the Kyrgyz government threatened to evict the U.S. military from a base at Manas airport. It then agreed in June to let U.S. forces remain in exchange for significantly higher rent payments.
Kyrgyzstan is not an electoral democracy. The 2005 presidential election drew praise for making substantial progress over previous elections, but international observers found serious flaws in the 2007 parliamentary and 2009 presidential elections.