While Kyrgyzstan's newly elected parliament has convened its first session, there is still no ruling coalition and the situation in the country remains unpredictable. Carnegie’s Martha Brill Olcott and Alexey Malashenko were joined by Daniel Kimmage from the Homeland Security Policy Institute to discuss the current security situation in Kyrgyzstan and its implications for the region.
Redistribution of Assets
Commenting on the current developments in the south of the country following interethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in June, Kimmage suggested thinking of the situation as a redistribution of economic power and a struggle over assets, as opposed to a purely ethnic conflict.
- A Population’s Transformation: The Uzbek population in the southern city of Osh has transformed from a prosperous plurality into a largely dispossessed, frightened minority, Kimmage said. Those with the resources to leave—the elite and the middle class—have already done so, and those who remain are attempting to return to their lives following the June events.
- Winners and losers: The outcome of the June conflict was characterized by a clear distinction between winners and losers, with the Kyrgyz business and political elite on the winning side and the Uzbek population on the losing side, Kimmage added.
A New Government
Following the overthrow of President Bakiyev last April and the outbreak of interethnic violence in June, Kyrgyzstan held a constitutional referendum, creating a new constitution and adopting a parliamentary system of government. While parliamentary elections were held in October, a governing coalition remains to be formed.
- Russia: Russia seems to prefer monitoring developments in Kyrgyzstan from a distance, rather than pursuing a hands-on approach, Malashenko said. Moscow has expressed skepticism about the ability of Kyrgyzstan’s new parliamentary government to re-stabilize the country. However, while the Kremlin prefers to deal with one leader rather than a parliament, it will work with whatever coalition is formed.
- Uzbekistan: Kyrgyzstan’s stability depends in part on the actions of its neighbors, and vice versa, Malashenko argued. The ethnic tensions in Kyrgyzstan and the influx of Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan into Uzbekistan following the June violence may have a destabilizing effect on Uzbekistan. Olcott agreed, saying that Uzbek President Karimov’s best strategy to maintain stability in his country is to continue working with Kyrgyzstan to restore stability there.
- Regional security: There is no indication that extremist groups benefitted from the June conflict, Malashenko said. However, there is a security concern that continued instability in Kyrgyzstan would push more young people to join extremist groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).
- Recurring violence unlikely: A recurrence of violence is unlikely, at least in the near future, Kimmage predicted: the Uzbek population in Kyrgyzstan is demoralized and knows that the power structure—including both local police and military, which are overwhelmingly Kyrgyz—is against them.
- Parliamentary system: It will take time, perhaps several decades, for Kyrgyz society to adapt to the parliamentary system, which replaced Kyrgyzstan’s previous presidential system, Malashenko said. He added that the country’s most pressing challenge is to remain united; any fracturing along the lines of private ambitions by various political players would damage the country’s chances for success. Failure by the winners of October’s parliamentary election to form a successful governing coalition would also lead to crisis, Olcott added.
- Assessing stability: Assuming that the winners of the parliamentary election succeed in forming a coalition, the next important test of the new parliamentary system will be the 2011 presidential election, Olcott concluded.