Essay: Nations in Transit 2007: Pause and Pushback for Democratization | Freedom House

Essay: Nations in Transit 2007: Pause and Pushback for Democratization

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Nations in Transit 2007 marks the 11th edition of Freedom House's comprehensive, comparative study of post-Communist transitions from Central Europe to Eurasia. Focused on 29 countries and the internationally-administered province of Kosovo, Nations in Transit 2007 covers a 12-month period, from January 1 to December 31, 2006, and provides comparative ratings and in-depth analysis of electoral process, civil society, independent media, national and local governance, judicial framework and independence, and corruption. The report evaluates democratic performance in a wide range of states, encompassing democracies of European Union (EU) member states to dictatorships in Central Asia.

In 2006, reform fatigue, increasing polarization of politics and societies, and pressure to reduce political pluralism were the main trends across the countries examined in the study.

On the whole, democratic performance slipped in the Nations in Transit (NIT) region, with only modest gains evident. Thirteen countries worsened and only six improved their democracy scores.  Even the strongest-performing country subgroup of Central Europe continued a three-year trend of stagnation or decline since gaining EU membership in 2004. And while some improvements were noted in the Balkan region (particularly new EU members Romania and Bulgaria), overall the countries of the region improved very little in 2006.  In the former Soviet Union, countries such as Ukraine and Moldova spent more time on political infighting than institutionalizing reform while the Russian authorities continued to systematically dismantle independent institutions.  Georgia continued to pursue slow but notable reforms and was the only country of the three in the Caucasus to register gains. Central Asian countries further succumbed to authoritarian tendencies, maintaining their status at the bottom end of the NIT index.

Reform Fatigue in Central Europe

Central Europe's new EU member states, which have been reform leaders since the collapse of communism, experienced reform fatigue and political polarization that contributed to a slowdown in the democratic reform process. The region is showing signs of a crisis of confidence in democratic institutions.  For example, national governments in the Visegrad countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) allowed political triumphalism and oneupmanship to overwhelm practical strategies for addressing critical governmental challenges.  Political leaders placed short-term political gains ahead of meaningful reform and a deepening of the democratic consensus.   

A growing sense that the political playing field is titled toward political elites, who in very crude monetary terms have benefited handsomely in the new market economies, and away from ordinary citizens is contributing to creeping alienation between the state and society.

A key common complaint in these countries is the lack of real progress in fighting corruption. According to NIT analysis, only Latvia and Poland have improved their anti-corruption performance in the past three years, and this only modestly. All the other new members of the EU have remained the same or worsened, and overall corruption subcategory scores for the countries are significantly worse than other subcategories. Most countries now have in place the basic legislation to fight corruption:  conflict-of-interest laws, witness protection programs, freedom of information acts (FOIA), and some level of campaign financing regulation, as well as some type of authoritative body to investigate and prosecute corruption cases, are more or less present in the CEE countries.  Yet implementation of these tools in many cases remains weak.

Moreover, in certain instances governments have sought to roll back anti-corruption efforts either to the benefit of those in the executive or the party in power. In Slovakia during 2006, the newly-elected government's campaign to abolish the Special Court and Special Attorney's Office (two offices that have become effective tools in the campaign against corruption and organized crime) was a blow to what had been a rather successful record in investigating organized crime. In Slovenia, efforts to dismantle the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption were undertaken by the parliament, and only strong public opinion kept the commission open. According to NIT analysts, the establishment of the Romanian anti-corruption framework was allowed by parliament with the understanding that its independent powers could be quietly stripped away upon becoming a new EU member. The unprecedented monitoring regime set up for Bulgaria and Romania as new members suggests that this is less likely to happen, but it points to a larger dilemma of self monitoring within the EU.

Independent media also confronted challenges in Central Europe in 2006. Nowhere else in the EU were governmental attempts to curb press freedom as blatant as in Poland. At the beginning of the year, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski set the tone when he stated that there was "no free media" in Poland as all were party to a supposed secret understanding among politicians, businesspeople, former secret police, and Mafia. His government then proposed formation of a National Media Monitoring Institute to uncover journalists who had cooperated with Communist secret services before 1989 in what Poland analyst Andrzej Krajewski described as "'wild lustration' of media professionals". The Polish government purged public television's top leadership for what some viewed as based on political criteria. In another indication of the changed media environment in Poland, 90,000 copies of the monthly Sukces had a page containing satire about the president removed after publication at the request of the owner, who was apparently worried enough to retract the page after receiving a letter from the Office of the President.

Another key component of the fight against corruption is a vibrant and independent judicial system. A multi-year trend shows that some progress has been made throughout the new EU region, but overall judicial reform has been slow, with low salaries, large backloads, and low public confidence in the professionalism of judicial officials representing obstacles to the further consolidation of reforms. Only in Hungary have public opinion polls found the judiciary listed as one of the most trusted public institution, whereas in Lithuania it is publicly perceived as one of the least trusted institutions. Re-emerging tensions between judicial and executive branches for independence have also taken energies away from reform.  The victory of the Polish courts in maintaining judicial independence from any increasingly overbearing executive suggested that at least Poland's institutions, if not the political environment, had reached some level of maturity. The high profile spat between the chairwoman of the Supreme Court and the president in the Czech Republic confirmed judicial independence, but came at the price of little progress on implementing the judicial reform package passed back in October 2005.

These findings suggest that governments and advocates in Central Europe cannot rest on reform laurels earned in the 1990s, and that the effort to deepen reforms still further will be an increasingly difficult task.

Southeastern Europe: A Mixed Picture

In the Balkans, NIT 2007 reflects a region of opportunities—some missed—and challenges. Slight improvements in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) were welcomed even as state-building challenges continued to dominate political life in Montenegro and Kosovo.  Despite EU track of accession for Croatia and Stabilization and Association (SAA) for Macedonia and Albania, the reform process in these countries did not make significant advances.

In Serbia, after years of delay a constitution was finally enacted in November 2006. The referendum process was somewhat flawed and portions of the content caused both domestic NGOs and the Council of Europe some concern, but the passing of a new constitution still represented a step forward in building a modern and democratic state. Conversely, little progress was made in Bosnia-Herzegovina to get beyond the political impasse over reform of the post-Dayton governing structures. Most strikingly, the goal of a joint ministry of interior seemed farther away at the end of 2006 then at its beginning. 

Montenegro, which became an independent state in 2006, managed to do little else to further develop democratic state institutions; rather NIT recorded a worsening of its overall democracy score. The referendum and subsequent declaration of statehood in June took place without incident and with most focused on a shared objective. The remainder of the year demonstrated little progress in tackling institutional reforms such as transformation of state television into a public broadcaster or changes to a conflict-of-interest law that would demonstrate seriousness in prosecuting corruption.

Political dialogue in Kosovo was dominated by the status issue.  Some progress was made in building up basic institutions including the creation of ministries of interior and justice. At the same time, the administration missed the opportunity to demonstrate progress on a number of key pieces of legislation on decentralization and elections that might have assisted it ultimately in building confidence in its ability to govern a post-status Kosovo.  Few in civil society or media challenged this focus, effectively leaving Kosovo focused solely on the status question.

The Europe-bound track that Croatia, Macedonia, and Albania selected several years ago also showed signs of slowing during 2006. All three exhibited stagnation or slight worsening of their democracy scores.  In Albania, the weakness of institutions was demonstrated as the center-right government elected in December 2005 made numerous attempts to consolidate power around the prime minister at the expense of other branches. This included the delay of an election law and displays of political polarization to the point that many questioned the ability of Albania to hold meaningful local government elections at the beginning of 2007. Macedonia meanwhile passed numerous pieces of legislation as part of its Ohrid and EU process agreements; yet it did little during 2006 to test the implementation of the complex legislation.  Even in front runner Croatia, the realities of increasingly sensationalized media and government meddling in the appointment of the new head of HINA, the state news agency, suggested that institutions remained more politicized than professional.

The Commonwealth of Independent States: Little Good News

Most countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) continued their path towards authoritarianism at the bottom of the NIT index.  In the Western CIS states, the strain of being sandwiched between the EU and Russia at a time of renewed tensions revealed itself in two clear ways: either slow-moving reforms were further sidetracked by contentious political environments, as was the case in Ukraine and to some extent in Moldova; or more extreme, the push to curtail or reduce nascent political pluralism was on the march, most notably in Belarus and Russia.

Russia launched the year with a new law placing onerous reporting requirements on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). This was followed by tightened constraints on the media and electoral law reform that further disadvantaged the opposition. Corruption remained rampant. During 2006, the Russian political system continued to evolve, as Russia analyst Robert Orttung’s report observed, "according to Kremlin preferences." Orttung added: "Although benefiting from extensive economic growth and outwardly stable, Russia's political system faces many questions as President Putin's term comes to an end and political actors focus on the succession of power."

Domestic deterioration of democracy was felt by all those who lived in the 'near abroad' of Russia. Armed with booming energy profits and a renewed ability and interest to influence international issues, Russia's recipe for 'managed democracy' was emulated by its neighbors.

Most of the countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia further consolidated power around the president or political elite to the detriment of democratic development. Alternately focused on oil revenues, political infighting, international image, and cult of personality, little tolerance was exhibited for political pluralism and little effort ascribed to reform policies. The one exception is Georgia; although presidential dominance remains a concern, it is notably the one non-Baltic country of the former Soviet area to consistently improve year to year since its proclaimed 'Rose Revolution' in 2003. Georgia's success, however, is fragile and achievements could quickly unwind if antagonism with its big northern neighbor Russia were to escalate into a full-scale diversion and turn the country away from the momentum already established toward the consolidation of democratic governance.  

COUNTRY SUMMARIES

Country summaries are arranged by region, as follows: European Union (EU) 8, New EU, Balkans, Caucasus, Western Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and Central Asia.

Each country summary includes an overall direction denoted by: (improves), (worsens), - (stays the same), summary, and any rating changes.

The Democracy Score represents an average of subcategory ratings for electoral process, civil society, independent media, national democratic governance, local democratic governance, judicial framework and independence, and corruption. Nations in Transit ratings and scores are based on a 1 to 7 scale, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic development and 7 the lowest.

EU 8

Czech Republic -
Despite a deadlocked political environment and an absent government for much of 2006, the country continued apace in some areas of reform priorities. The democracy score remained at 2.25.

The country's inability to form a government in the five months following June elections led to essentially no government, impacted basic reform decisions, and demonstrated the depth of political partisanship present in the country. Parliamentary elections were competitive and well-run, with the Green Party entering parliament for the first time, while the system continued to provide little opportunity for new parties or the Roma minority. The press reverted to biased political coverage and political polarization during and after the elections.  The licensing of digital TV was again delayed after complaints led the Prague municipal court to overturn the issuance decision. October elections brought vibrant competition on the local level, and the overall system of local government registered continued improvement, most notably in education. A high-profile dispute between the chairwoman of the Supreme Court and the President reaffirmed judicial independence, and a number of judicial appointments and hiring of needed judicial administration workers suggested that the government was becoming more serious about its proposed reforms.

Estonia -
Estonia continued to slowly bring legislation and practice into line with EU regulations. The most notable happening was the beginning of a new generation of leadership with the election of President Ilves, who brings both a younger perspective as well as a change in the dynamics between the presidency and parliament with his close ties to the Social Democratic Party, which he helped to re-develop. The democracy score remained at 1.96.

Hungary
Hungary experienced a crisis of confidence in its leadership and its government institutions leaving it with a democracy score that worsened from 2.00 to 2.14.

Political parties used affiliated civil society groups in their campaigns, and the autumn brought the sudden appearance of a number of groups that are opposed to the fundamental principles of liberal democracy_._ In April 2006, elections contained elements of electoral fraud as well as deliberate misinformation about the state of the economy as put forward by the ruling Social-liberal coalition. The prime minister's mishandling of the governmental crisis in September as well as the creation of a Development Cabinet outside the government structure weakened the institutions and overall government consensus.

Latvia -
Overall Latvia has secured most of the requisites for a functioning consolidated democracy even as 2006 saw more public Euro-skepticism and apathy for Latvia's future. Setbacks and improvements offset each other in 2006, leaving the democracy score at 2.07.

Despite the OSCE declaring the October Parliamentary elections "administered transparently and professionally in a competitive and pluralistic environment", major distortions in electoral spending gave certain parties an advantage, indicating unfair pre-election rules. Voter turnout further declined from 71 percent to 62 percent. The Anti-corruption organization (KNAB) improved its methods and more actively investigated 'big fish', including potential mayoral-level vote rigging in the 'Jurmalagate' scandal, the activities of the oligarch and former mayor of Ventspils, and dismissal of high level judges, making the organization one of the most trusted institutions in Latvia.

Lithuania
Several months of political turbulence and the emergence of a minority led government did little to put into place active mechanisms for judicial reform or to inspire public participation in civil society. The democracy score worsened in 2006 from 2.21 to 2.29.

A lack of interest and confidence in NGOs, low public outreach of civil society groups and their unstable financial basis led to continued nonparticipation in Lithuania's civil society. In 2006, a new tax took affect, charging Lithuania's non-profits a 15-percent on commercial proceeds exceeding an established level. Recurrent institutional problems exposed weaknesses in the country's legal system. Despite reform efforts in 2006, lack of material improvements from the recent civil and criminal law were evident and fed the persistent critical public mistrust of courts.

Poland
The change in government dominated by the "twins" brought a reversal of some previously agreed checks and balances within the institutions and society causing the democracy score to worsen from 2.14 to 2.36.

Concentration of power under the executive without sufficient checks and balance dominated the new government with such actions as dissolving the civil service corps, controversial lustration policies, and consolidation of the division of EU Regional Funds under the PM rather than regional councils. Last minute changes to the election law allowing for the transfer of minority seats to stronger parties were made without proper consultation. Increased government pressure on civil society through official statements and actions was particularly felt by gay rights organizations. The government demonstrated its intent to pressure public service media by replacing the heads of all state owned media, criticizing anti-president satire, putting forward 'wild lustration' of media people, and giving preference to Catholic and conservative media groups. Perception of the prevalence of corruption has fallen among citizens primarily due to the work of the newly organized Central Anticorruption Agency, closure of the last unreformed secret service agency, and continued prosecution of a number of high profile cases.

Slovakia
Slovakia continued its reform process through the first half of the year, however the instillation of a new government composed of coalition partners from the pre-1998 era suggested that the democratic reform gains made in the past eight years might be challenged in 2007. The democracy score worsened from 1.96 to 2.14.

The newly-elected government coalition of parties exhibited overly-partisan interest in concentrating power through a number of key political appointments and through adopting measures to curb independent regulatory institutions. Voter participation in parliamentary elections held in early June declined. Cooperation between civil society and the new government decreased with less willingness to engage NGOs in policy formation.  The new government announced its intention to change NGO's favorable taxation status. In its statements and actions the executive displayed its interest to curb the independence of the courts; the new minister of justice removed a number of court chairmen without clear reason, and vacant constitutional court seats were filled with political rather than professional considerations in the fall. The new minister of justice attempted to abolish the Special Court and Special Attorney's Office which had been successfully investigating corruption and organized crime. The new government's efforts to increase government regulation in certain sectors threatened to increase corruption. The minister of agriculture in the new government was charged with corruption, but was supported by the government, and resigned only after the media covered the scandal.

Slovenia
Slovenia became the first of the new EU countries to adopt the euro as its currency in 2007. At the same time, both the courts and the government interfered in the freedom of the press. Protection and advocacy for minorities failed to improve, rather the attack on a Roma family in the village of Ambrus demonstrated insufficient government and civil society response. The trend of court decisions against journalists goes against the logic of free speech and press. At the same time, the ruling government parties demonstrated their influence over major media. Due to declining trends in civil society and independent media, the 2006 democracy score worsened from 1.75 to 1.82.

NEW EU

Bulgaria
The year saw power change hands on local as well as national levels as the country concentrated on improving its outstanding EU requirements in the areas of judicial reform and the fight against corruption. A number of attempts to interfere in media independence occurred in 2006 with attacks on journalists, combined with media self-censorship. Despite losing a number of funding sources, civil society continued to play a vibrant role in Bulgaria. The constitution was amended to introduce more transparency and accountability in the judiciary; a new prosecutor general was appointed who took on a comprehensive review of all prosecutors, the Ombudsman gained the right to petition the constitutional court, and the licensing of private enforcement firms improved implementation of court decisions*. The democracy score* improved from 2.93 to 2.89.

Romania
Romania continued to strengthen institutions in its bid to enter the EU in 2007. This was enhanced by a vibrant civil society and a set of media activities aimed at holding the government to its commitments. While media ownership concentration increased in 2006, investigative journalists actively focused on the government. Libel was de-criminalized and re-criminalized during the year. A Law on mediation was passed in May 2006. Judges displayed independence in a number of critical cases as well as some procedural improvements in the functioning of the judiciary*.* The Anti-corruption office managed to investigate and prosecute a number of high level officials on corruption charges. The democracy score improved from 3.39 to 3.29

BALKANS

NOTE: In Nations in Transit 2007, Freedom House provides separate ratings for Serbia and Kosovo in order to provide a clearer picture of processes and conditions in the different administrative areas. Doing so does not indicate a position on the part of Freedom House regarding Kosovo's future status.

Albania
Albania experienced a few setbacks in its consolidation of democratic institutions in 2006, especially in the areas of national democratic governance and electoral process, with some improvements in both judicial framework and independence and corruption*.* The new center-right government elected in December 2005 made numerous attempts to consolidate its power around the prime minister, offsetting the balance of other branches and due process, related to charges against the general prosecutor, cleansing the civil service without due process, and other anticorruption initiatives. Partisan politics of the new government and opposition failed to produce necessary election law and commission revisions, despite January 2007 local elections. The constitutional court displayed its independence in ruling that judges could keep posts in the High Council of Justice. The PM's political will has made some advances despite lacking a satisfactory institutional framework. Overall, the democracy score worsened from 3.79 to 3.82.

Bosnia-Herzegovina ↑
Bosnia-Herzegovina focused on the key administrative reforms necessary to begin the EU SAA process, with some success on the national level including defense reform. Implementing police reform and agreeing on constitutional reform of Dayton remained elusive. On a positive note, greater engagement and cooperation of NGOs like the Center for Civic Initiatives, GROZD, and DOSTA with policy makers improved citizens' understanding and access to state institutions. The democracy score improved slightly from 4.07 to 4.04.

Croatia
Croatia continued its reform process towards EU standards and accession across its institutions, but most efforts have produced slow results as the country continues to struggle with its war time legacies. The continued concentration and commercialization of print media in particular weakened the overall level of media professionalism and investigative journalism. The scandal over the appointment of the new head of the state news agency, HINA, demonstrated the continuing governmental and political influence over media outlets. The democracy score worsened slightly from 3.71 to 3.75

Kosovo -
The final decision on the status of Kosovo dominated all aspects of Kosovar society in 2006. At the same time, the government demonstrated stability in maintaining at least basic standards despite a dramatic set of events in the central government including the death of the Rugova, the forced resignation of the speaker of the parliament, and the creation of ministry of interior and justice. The democracy score remained at 5.36.

Macedonia -
Macedonia continued to focus on passing legislation for government-wide reforms as outlined in both the Ohrid Agreement and EU Accession process, with most implementation still to be tested. Despite some improvements to the electoral system, voter turnout drastically declined in 2006. Estimates suggested that the civil sector lacks capacities and consistent funding. Reform also focused on the judiciary long plagued by lengthy proceedings. In 2006, the European Court of Human Rights noted four such violations for lengthy proceedings. The democracy score remained at 3.82.

Montenegro
Montenegro became independent in 2006, satisfactorily completing referendum, parliamentary and local elections, but with most energy focused on the process of establishing the legal state rather than extensive reforms of its institutions. Transformation of state television into public television stalled with clear signs that the public service broadcaster remains under political control. Manipulated elections of representatives to the Council and Managing Board of the state television were notable in 2006. Local elections allowed direct election of mayors in the remaining 14 of 21 municipalities, and polarization between political blocs that previously hampered local and local-national political cooperation lessened with a series of agreements. 

The parliament approved a Law on Communal Taxes to go into effect January 2007. While amendments to the Public Procurement law should improve transparency, the parliament failed to amend the flawed Conflict of Interest Law or to follow through meaningfully on any of its charges against high profile officials. The democracy score worsened from 3.89 to 3.93

Serbia
2006 was an extremely eventful year for Serbia including the dissolution of Serbia and Montenegro, enactment of the new Serbian constitution, Kosovo final status efforts, ICTY cooperation and ongoing SAA talks. Despite all of these challenges, Serbia did make some progress in the reform process, primarily on finalizing the Serbian constitution. Serbia acted responsibly during the referendum process of independence of Montenegro, and put in place a new constitution, despite less than effective ICTY cooperation and a stalemate on the status of Kosovo. The Republic Broadcasting Agency (RBA) ruling on the distribution of national frequencies caused an outcry from the Association of Journalists, Minister of Information and the OSCE, especially after the nighttime closure of BK TV by special police forces The OSCE also criticized amendments to the Law on Broadcasting. Journalists continued to face threats and attacks. The government stepped up its efforts to investigate institutional corruption, including investigating the operations of MOBTEL and business tycoon Bogoljub Karic, as well as suspending immunity of other high level officials charged with corruption. Despite some flaws, a new Law on Party Financing will oblige reporting of all campaign expenses exceeding €75 (US$103). As a result of developments in national democratic governance and corruption, the democracy score improved from 3.71 to 3.68.

THE CAUCASUS

Armenia
Little progress was made on redistributing power amongst government branches. Rather, consolidation of political power in the ruling party and elites paved the way for a continued grip on political and economic power during 2007 parliamentary elections. The government's failure to investigate allegations of fraud during the 2005 referendum, and its inability to produce legislation putting into effect approved amendments, demonstrated the lack of political will to improve governance in Armenia.  While media organizations were partially successful in influencing a change in Armenia's licensing regime and a new regulatory body, accelerated attacks on journalists suggested an increasingly difficult media environment in the run up to 2007 elections. The democracy score worsened from 5.14 to 5.21.

Azerbaijan
In 2006, Azerbaijan began enjoying the profits of the BTC pipeline project, and accordingly the president was able to maintain his political and economic control over most aspects of the country's institutions. International pressure for reform brought some level of technical compliance, even as further crackdowns on opposition forces in the media and civil society continued. Civil society faced harassment in the form of student expulsions, police detainment, registration, taxes, and funding. Independent media also faced threats and pressure, especially with the closure of ANS TV and ANS CM radio. The democracy score worsened from 5.93 to 6.00.

Georgia ↑
Progress continued in reforms on almost all levels, despite persisting concern over the amount of power resting with the president and his advisors. Legislation on public financing of political parties and free TV time for campaigning before the October local elections created a more level playing field for political parties even as opposition parties remained weak. The Media Council began issuing judgments on specific cases to enforce professional standards among journalists, and the government stopped local authorities in their attacks on journalists in a number of cases. New independent local government institutions as outlined in December 2005 legislation were formed after conducting relatively free and fair local elections in October. Public perception of anticorruption efforts continues to improve, and the government is becoming more systemized in its efforts. The Customs and Tax Offices were united into a single agency by the end of 2006. Georgia ratified the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption, and several parliamentarians were stripped of their positions after corruption investigations. The democracy score improved from 4.86 to 4.68.

WESTERN COMMONWEALTH OF INDEPENDENT STATES (CIS)

Belarus
In 2006, Belarus continued its path towards consolidated authoritarian rule with presidential elections less than free or fair, increased pressure on civil society and media, and strengthening President Lukashenka’s grasp on political and economic power. At the same time, despite continued, organized government efforts to limit the functions and establishment of civil society organizations such as denying visas, liquidating organizations, jailing religious leaders and oppositionists, and expelling students, participation in civil society persisted. The slight improvement in civil society brings the first improvement to the democracy score for Belarus in the last decade. The democracy score improved from 6.71 to 6.68.

Moldova -
Reforms were generally stagnant during 2006 with President Voronin further consolidating his power over most aspects of Moldovan society. Opposition forces remained weak and divided, and the media fell heavily under political influence. Improvements in media legislation have yet to see any practical implementation thus far. Furthermore, external relations were limited to pressures from Russia and little to no engagement with the European Union. The democracy score remained at 4.93.

Russia
The year 2006 saw Russia continue on its path towards authoritarian governance as demonstrated with the deterioration of ratings for electoral process, independent media and civil society, and an overall democracy score downgrade from 5.75 to 5.86.

New legislation limited the opposition's ability to participate in elections and gain significant representation while authorities worked to establish a two-party system between United Russia and Just Russia to gain support for the regime. Efforts to constrain if not completely silence independent media in Russia reached levels of international concern with the murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya. The judicial system, notably the courts, also took part in harassing journalists and censoring the internet. At the same time, a Kremlin-friendly company bought leading newspaper Kommersant and replaced the editor, leading to the resignation of key journalists, and closure of its opinion section. A new law on NGOs particularly restrictive of human-rights related organizations was put in place within an atmosphere of growing xenophobia, leading to laborious reporting requirements.

Ukraine
The election of a new parliament in March and the subsequent political stalemate between political camps under the 'dual executive system' dominated much of 2006, leaving little time and energy for further democratic transition and consolidation.  Improvements came only in the area of electoral process as the final preparations of election amendments prior to March 26 elections led to the most free and fair elections in Ukraine's history, although holding national, regional, and local elections on the same day created some level of confusion. The constitutional model of governance with dual executive power introduced in 2006 lacked an efficient system of checks and balances and did not bridge the ongoing political divides and power struggle destabilizing national governance structures. The May action plan adoption and subsequent legislation to modernize the judicial framework to European standards met strong resistance from judges for its lack of systematization, and for lack of a corresponding constitutional amendment that would allow proper implementation.  The democracy score worsened from 4.21 to 4.25.

CENTRAL ASIA

Kazakhstan -
Despite a few symbolic gestures and minor improvements including an active international public relations campaign launched by the government to obtain the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) rotating chair for 2009, further consolidation of power around President Nazarbaev and his elites weakened institutions and the ability of society to provide a counterweight. The benefits of Kazakhstan's rapidly growing economy remain within the hands of a small group of kin and clients. Opposition party members continued to face harassment from not only the leading party, but also from the judiciary which backs the state. The democracy score remained at 6.39.

Kyrgyzstan -
Political turmoil kept the government primarily focused on its own survival with little reform attempted beyond the crafting of a new constitution. The new constitution signed in November is expected to provide for a more equal distribution of power among the three branches of government, however many suspect this will only take place after the presidential election of 2010. A number of by-elections in 2006 also raised concern regarding the ability to hold free and fair national elections in the future. Efforts to fight corruption in the beginning of the year showed little progress by year's end. The democracy score remained at 5.68.

Tajikistan
The OSCE determined that the 2006 elections, although peaceful, took place with a number of violations, further questioning Tajikistan's commitment to democracy. A lack of political will was also visible in the areas of judicial reform and in the inefficiency of the centralized corruption agency established in 2006 to tackle the issue of widespread corruption. Media continued to cater to the state by practicing self-censorship. The democracy score worsened from 5.93 to 5.96.

Turkmenistan -
In 2006 Turkmenistan continued its entrenchment into authoritarian isolation. The state continued to promote Ruhnama, a two-volume national code of spiritual conduct written by Niyazov, and to regularly replace middle and upper level government officials. Media restrictions remained highly restrictive, and reportedly, a journalist from Radio Liberty was beaten to death while in custody. The very end of the year brought the unexpected death of President Niyazov and signaled the potential for some softening of the regime under its new leader. The democracy score remained at 6.96.

Uzbekistan -
Further crackdowns on civil society, media and consolidation of political and economic powers around President Karimov have deepened the restrictive environment of Uzbekistan. The national government made no efforts in this year to loosen restrictions adopted after the events in Andijan. Relations with the West continued to decline, calling into question the ability for outside observers to monitor elections scheduled for 2007. Independent media and civil society activists also faced continued harassment, arrest, and imprisonment. The democracy score remained at 6.82.