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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 7, New Delhi, January 30, 2021

Transition From Communism To Capitalism – Central Asia Faces Challenges For Achieving Political Democracy | R G Gidadhubli

Friday 29 January 2021

by R.G.Gidadhubli

Three decades have passed subsequent to the breakup of the former Soviet Union in December 1991 when five Central Asian States attained their sovereignty. In fact they were the last among the 15 former Soviet Republics to declare their independence. This was mainly because looking back into history they were beneficiaries of seven decades of Communist system of the former Soviet era being transformed from historic backwardness to development, political security, stability and socio-economic development. The objective of all the former Soviet States was to bring about transition from the former Communist System to Political Democracy. It is a matter of great significance to understand as to how far Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan of the Central Asian States (CAS) have achieved in their objectives.

Democracy is an essential component of political transition from Communist System to Capitalist System and multi-party system should prevail as also free and fair elections need to be held in the formation of the government. An important event has taken place on the 10th January 2021 when elections were held in two states of CAS namely Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. In the Parliamentary elections held on 10th Jan. 2021 in Kazakhstan Nur Otan Party has succeeded to sustain power. It is reported that the Nur-Otan party got 76 seats, Aq Zhol 12, and the People’s Party of Kazakhstan which was originally called Communist Party 10 seats. In fact Kazakhstan has the only officially registered political party that labels itself as an opposition group namely the All-National Social Democratic Party (OSDP) which has boycotted parliamentary election held on 10th Jan. 2021 accusing that Kazakhstan’s political landscape continues to be dominated by the “same” political elite of Nazarbaev as was the case in the last parliamentary elections were held in 2016.

As per reports Election officials have claimed that more than 63 percent of voters have casted ballots. As expected Nursultan Nazarbaev being the first president of Kazakhstan and the head of Nur Otan party and holding power for about three decades continues to retain power even as he resigned in March 2019 and yet controlling key positions of power, including head of the country’s powerful Security Council and the ruling Nur Otan party. He has not given enough powers to Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev who is the current president of Kazakhstan. In fact this was the first parliamentary election of around 18 million people since the resignation of Nazarbaev in early 2019.

Voting percentage was rather low because as reported by one analyst some voters were turned away because they did not have documents certifying they had been tested and were negative for the coronavirus. Moreover, activist Roza Musaeva posted on Twitter that she was a “legal observer” but that police detained her and that the head of the local election commission told her that her accreditation had been revoked. In fact civil rights activists and opposition politicians have accused Kazakh authorities of intentionally refusing to officially register opposition political groups in recent months.

It is a matter of reality that the present parliamentary election lacks fairness and the Kazakh authorities have failed to conduct free and fair elections as per the requirement of a truly democratic government. This is contended by several observers and organizations. For instance, as stated by the head of an election-monitoring team to Kazakhstan from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has detailed a litany of failings and seemingly "concerted" moves by the Kazakh authorities to hinder transparency in recent national elections. Hence in its initial conclusions, the team described the 10th January Kazakh vote as "not competitive" and devoid of "genuine political alternatives to choose from."

In fact International election observers have opined that elections in Kazakhstan have not been free and fair, citing electoral fraud, repression of opposition candidates, and restrictions on the freedom of the press. Hence lack of competition have dashed the hopes of many Western countries who have close political and economic ties with Kazakhstan among the Central Asian countries who had hoped for deep political reforms during the last three decades. As opined by some critics Kazakhstan has failed to fulfill "many international commitments for holding democratic elections" to which Nazarbaev had pledged himself.

It is evident that Kazakhstan has flouted international standards of "good practice" and the authorities seem to have contravened their own national legislation. In reality authoritarian system has been prevailing and democratic process has been lacking.
Hence in fact the younger generation in particular in Kazakhstan has been calling for change. In view of this realizing that Kazakhstan lacks democracy, it is appreciable that the current president Toqaev on the eve of election has openly stated that democratic reforms in Kazakhstan should be introduced gradually to preserve the Central Asian country’s “foundation” and “unity.”


Kyrgyzstan is an exception among the CAS having relatively better democratic system. On 10th Jan 2021 was an important day for Kyrgyzstan because presidential election was held as also national referendum to decide whether the country should revert to presidential system from the prevailing parliamentary system even as there are speculations whether that will bring stability and development for the country. There were no reports of major violations during the vote.

Sadyr Jasparov won the presidential election held on 10th Jan 2021 in which 17 candidates contested and voting percentage was low below 50 pc. Among those contested mention may be made of Adakhan Madumarov who is the leader of Butun Kyrgyzstan which is the only opposition party, Kanatbek Isaev is the leader of the Kyrgyzstan party, Klara Sooronkulova is the leader of the Reforma party she is a former Supreme Court judge, Abdil Segizbaev is a former chief of the State Committee for National Security and so on.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have opined that campaign for presidential election was dominated by one candidate namely Jasparov who benefited from disproportionate financial means and misuse of administrative resources, resulting in an uneven playing field. In fact he was imprisoned since October 2013 on hostage taking charges in mining operation in northeast of Kyrgyzstan. He managed to come out of imprisonment during outbreak in October 2020 and freed from jail and took over power as acting prime minster and interim president. It appears he decided to hold this presidential election to legally claim power formally giving up presidency. As per reports the 52-year-old Japarov has received far more donations for his campaign than his opponents. Japarov had raised 1.23 million soms (about $15,000), trailing two other candidates: Babarjan Tolbaev (5.2 million soms/$63,000) and Aymen Kasenov (1.454 million soms/$17,000).

It is reported that all contesting candidates have made negative comments about Japarov in a series of debates held on state television in late December 2020. However, being elected Jasparov has promised rule of law a "dictatorship of law and justice" and dismissed fears of a strongman crackdown and no dictatorship. He had announced that he is open to the public to "criticize, advise, and guide" in his work. How far he will implement thee promises is yet to be seen.

Looking back, subsequent to the parliamentary election held on 4th October 2020 that led to mass unrest and violence due to which the government had been chased from power and the ruling president Sooronbai Jeenbekov was forced to resign. In the past also Kyrgyzstan has witnessed large scale protests by opposition public and political leaders in 2005 and 2010 which led to ousting ruling presidents and forcing them to resign and forming interim governments. In fact Kyrgyzstan witnessed Tulip Revolution in 2005 and claims to be Island of Democracy in Central Asia since four presidents have ruled during last three decades. Facing protests and failing in elections, two former presidents have left the country - Akaev has taken refuge in Russia and Bakaev in Belorussia. In reality as opined by some analysts Kyrgyzstan has witnessed long drawn battle between politicians of economically, ideologically and ethnically diverse North and South regions for decades who have played their role in political game for power.

Notwithstanding that as experts on Central Asia contend Kyrgyzstan is the only country of Central Asia which still has a modicum of democracy where parliamentary system prevailed for over two decades. However, the latest election indicates that parliamentary system has not succeeded and hence the country is possibly going back to presidential system.

In lieu of conclusion it may be stated that so far as Kazakhstan is concerned, authoritarian rule has prevailed by the head of Nur-Otan party Nazarbaev for the last three decades, who has not promoted democratic institutions and process. Despite the fact that Kazakhstan which is endowed with huge mineral and energy resources, he has failed to utilize economic and technical benefits of Great Game for the benefit of the country. In the case of Kyrgyzstan, money power seems to have dominated and used for securing and holding political power. There is some element of democracy but the process of democracy has been curtailed and great expectations of Tulip Revolution in 2005 are disappearing. This is evident from the fact that there is reversal of democratic process from prevailing over two decades of parliamentary government to presidential form of government which will come to power.

(Author: Dr R.G.Gidadhubli, Professor And Former Director, Center For Central Eurasian Studies, University Of Mumbai )

Mumbai, 15th Jan 2021

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