Democratization of Kyrgyzstan through Reformation of the Electoral System

Kyrgyzstan

What is clear is that some devout Muslims in southern Kyrgyzstan have reacted angrily to what they regard as unequal treatment of Muslim and Christian proselytizing groups: The passions aroused by Christian conversions among some Muslims could lead the government to adopt a more restrictive policy toward evangelizing Christian churches in the country. In terms of the laws relating to the mass media and the number of media organizations, Kyrgyzstan appears to enjoy an enviable position among Central Asian countries. In , a total of media organizations were registered with the Ministry of Justice were newspapers or periodicals, and were broadcast outlets.

In addition, more than Web sites based in Kyrgyzstan provide information electronically to the population. However, the number of registered media organizations bears little resemblance to the number of functioning newspapers and television and radio stations, which are 45 and 15, respectively.

By themselves, these figures would not be cause for concern. In a relatively poor country of 5 million persons, 45 newspapers and 15 television and radio stations could serve the information needs of the population. The problem is not in numbers, but in the lack of media competition and the difficulty of some citizens, especially those in rural areas, in gaining access to multiple media sources. Two important factors contribute to the dominance of the media by political and economic forces that are closely allied to the ruling president.

The first is financial. Government and government-related press outlets receive mailing and tax privileges that are not in place for the independent media, which must pay regular mail rates as well as a 20 percent value-added tax. In return for this privileged status, the press service of the government or president places articles under pseudonyms in Akaev-friendly newspapers. Second, the government-owned enterprise Uchkun has traditionally been the major printing press in the country, and the government has used the threat of nonpublication to intimidate opposition-oriented publications.

The government and powerful financial interests have subjected independent media personnel to various means of intimidation. These include physical assaults carried out by unknown thugs, pressure on companies that advertise in the independent media to halt their patronage, and lawsuits against the media.

In the wake of the "gold scandal" of , in which various officials were accused of wrongdoing by the press, investigative journalists and their editors were subjected to criminal prosecution and civil suits. In the most celebrated case, a journalist and an editor of the independent newspaper Res Publica were found guilty of criminal libel and imprisoned.

In the decade since the gold scandal, politicians and businessmen have regularly turned to the courts to silence their critics in the press. In , successful civil suits against the newspaper Moia Stolitsa Novosti, widely known as MSN, imposed such heavy damages that the paper was forced to close, though it managed to reopen under a new name within months. Although in most instances the civil libel cases are nuisance suits, the necessity to defend the papers in court saps the resources of a financially vulnerable press, and this has a chilling effect on investigative reporting.

Unwelcome pressure on the independent media appears to have decreased somewhat in During the year, there were no beatings, jailings, or killings of journalists and no lawsuits against the most prominent opposition newspapers, though the government did threaten the independent newspaper MSN with violating antimonopoly laws for selling their issues for less than those of their government-backed competitors. Furthermore, Kyrgyzstan's national communications agency sought to keep the independent television station Pyramida permanently off the air after it closed temporarily for technical repairs to its transmitter.

Only the intervention of George Soros led to a lifting of the ban on Pyramida. In some regions, local authorities continued to harass independent journalists. In July , in Karakol, the regional procurator threatened to close down a local newspaper, Faktor, for having published a list of the country's richest persons, an action that allegedly defamed President Akaev and his family. At the end of , a new printing house opened with financial support from the international community; and in , this operation began to serve as a reliable alternative to Uchkun for many independent publications.

The independent newspaper MSN is now printing press runs of 50, copies weekly at the new facility. Moreover, under intense pressure from the West to create a more hospitable environment for independent media in Kyrgyzstan, President Akaev submitted a bill to the Parliament in that would have removed the articles on criminal libel Articles and from the country's criminal code. Deputies refused, however, to adopt the legislation, which represented the third attempt in less than a decade to remove criminal libel from the statute books.

Justifying his vote against the measure, one member of Parliament was quoted in Slovo Kyrgyzstana as arguing that to remove the criminal sanction for defamation would lead to "dictatorship" of the press. The one new source of concern for the independent media in was the intense campaign in the pro-government press to condemn independent media as stooges of the United States and other foreign states or as supporters of extremism. Reviving the language and tactics of Soviet-era antiforeign campaigns, some critics accused the independent media of "ideological diversion," thereby associating media opposition with treason.

President Akaev himself accused certain papers of becoming "destabilization manuals. As a means to restrict press coverage of the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in , the Parliament introduced revisions to the Law on Elections in that make it illegal for foreign media to engage in "electoral agitation," a prohibition that the Central Election Commission is likely to use to prevent unfavorable coverage of "official" candidates by the foreign radio and press.

Under the new law, a simple interview with a candidate that is published by a foreign newspaper is illegal and could lead to the candidate's disqualification. Until recently, Kyrgyzstan was a unitary government that concentrated virtually all power in what are called "organs of state" meaning central and regional governments as distinct from "organs of local self-administration.

In this system, local councils were largely decorative institutions that lacked real authority and autonomy. Critical decisions affecting local matters were made either by officials in the capital or by regional governors and their staffs. There was also a single national taxation system controlled from the capital, from which local government was funded.

Thus, until direct local taxation was limited to minimally remunerative sources such as a hotel tax, a tax on dog owners, hunting and fishing licenses, and a tax on garbage removal. Legislation introduced in promised to give greater political and fiscal autonomy to local government.

President Akaev even claimed that under the new national strategy to decentralize the state administration, local governments will be able to "resolve all key socioeconomic problems of their communities.

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Protesters in Kyrgyzstan united against the figure of President Akaev, but they did not rally behind a single opposition leader, as Georgians rallied behind Mikheil Saakashvili and Ukrainians behind Viktor Yushchenko. The new legislation, however, gives those who draw the country's electoral boundaries more leeway for gerrymandering districts for partisan or ethnic purposes by allowing a deviation of 10 percent for most districts and 15 percent for remote districts. We tried to define the role of government during the June tragedy], Voice of Freedom Central Asia, 19 September , http: During the first two years under the new constitution, the parliament produced four different ruling coalitions. For example, in it openly supported the nomination of Akaev as president and called on other groups to do the same. In Russia we find many of the features of this flawed system in its classic form: The situation is still fluid, however, and any verdict on the post-revolutionary government would be premature.

First, it called for directly elected local soviets to select village, district, and city chief executives, thus breaking the dependency on bonds of patronage that had existed between the regional governors and local officials. Second, it provided for greater budget autonomy by allowing cities and villages to form their own budgets and to raise some taxes locally.

Whether these attempts to decentralize administrative power enhance popular participation in government should become clear once the new executives assume their duties in In part, this devolution of power may be viewed as a response to the inefficiency of local administration. But it is also part of a larger political struggle between the two key levels of power in Kyrgyzstan central government and regional governments.

In championing greater autonomy for local administration, political officials in Bishkek appear to be attempting to weaken the regional governors' offices, which have been the most potent check on presidential power in the Kyrgyzstani political system. With an invigorated layer of political institutions in the country's villages, districts, and cities, regional authorities will find themselves sandwiched between presidential and local power.

Competitive elections for local councils were conducted across Kyrgyzstan in October using new electoral rules designed to enhance competitiveness and transparency. By introducing competitive elections with national parties, the government did raise the profile of local government and enhanced the bonds between voters and local leaders. However, because two pro-presidential parties, Adilet and Alga, Kyrgyzstan!

For the first time, local elections in Kyrgyzstan were held in multimember districts, usually with four seats in each. Such districts tend to benefit underrepresented groups in society, such as women and minorities, by avoiding one-on-one contests between majority and minority groups or men and women. However, in Kyrgyzstan the use of multimember districts in local elections did nothing to undermine the dominance of ethnic Kyrgyz in local government institutions.

Although they represent only 70 percent of the country's population, ethnic Kyrgyz candidates claimed 85 percent of the seats in local council elections. Ethnic Uzbeks were left with 6. According to the Constitution, courts in Kyrgyzstan are independent and subject only to the law. The reality, however, is that the president and other executive officials exert considerable influence on judges.

The first source of influence is the patronage power of the president, who appoints all Kyrgyzstani judges. Where justices on the country's highest courts, the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court, must be confirmed by the Parliament, other judges are selected by the president alone. The relatively short terms of office for regional and local-level judges make it difficult for them to assert their independence, as does their vulnerability to recall. Judges in regional and local courts may be removed from office not only for reasons of criminal malfeasance, but also for failing a professional performance review, which may be influenced by the political authorities.

Reviews of judges are conducted by an "attestation commission," which is formed by, and subordinate to, the president. The performance review, which consists of an oral exam, may be administered at any time. The second source of political influence on the Kyrgyzstani judiciary is financial. The relatively low pay for judges makes them dependent for basic goods and services on executive authorities in their district, city, or region.

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Given the difficulty of surviving on a judicial salary, judges rely on the state to provide subsidized housing and other benefits, which gives mayors and governors levers of influence over the courts. The precarious financial position of judges, and their lack of professionalism, also makes them vulnerable to bribes from the business sector. In part because of high levels of corruption, Kyrgyzstan eliminated its separate system of commercial courts in and folded it into the courts of general jurisdiction. In theory, justices serving in the country's two highest courts are more protected from economic and political pressure because of better pay, longer terms of office, and the requirement that two thirds of the Parliament approve their removal from office.

However, even higher-court justices are subject to pressures from the country's political leadership; and in , the chairman of the Supreme Court resigned after the authorities launched a campaign to discredit him. An indication of the attitude of judges toward presidential power was provided recently by a justice on the Kyrgyzstani Supreme Court, Kurmanbek Osmonov, who was quoted in Slovo Kyrgyzstana as saying that "as an instrument of state policy, he is obligated by his position to introduce reforms announced by the president of the country It would be wrong, however, to regard the courts as mere puppets of the president.

At times, they render decisions that do not accord with the interests of the ruling elite. In the fall of , for example, the Constitutional Court struck down a provision of a new Law on Meetings that would have required demonstrators to receive permission to march. The court ruled that Article 16 of the Constitution required demonstrators only to inform the authorities of their plans to march.

Several structural features of the legal system undermine due process for defendants and impede the availability of reliable remedies for civil litigants. First, In civil cases, the absence of a well-developed institution of court bailiffs, akin to the newly created pristavy in Russian law, means that the decisions of courts are often unenforced. Second, in criminal cases, although the criminal procedure code accords all needy defendants a right to legal representation, the state has been unwilling to finance a public defender's office.

The result is a defense bar that is obligated to take criminal cases pro bono or for a very modest fee, which frequently denies defendants a vigorous and well-prepared defense. Third, the criminal process in Kyrgyzstan continues to be dominated by the largely unreconstructed procuracy that was inherited from the Soviet era. This institution is charged with investigating, prosecuting, and then overseeing the legality of judicial decisions in criminal cases, which ensures that prosecutorial misconduct is rarely revealed and that an accusatorial bias infuses the criminal process.

Instead of acquitting defendants when criminal charges are not substantiated in court, judges frequently return the case to the procuracy for supplementary investigation. There are no jury trials in Kyrgyzstan that might serve as a check on this accusatorial bias. Unlike Kyrgyzstan's legal institutions and legal culture, the country's legislation appears to exemplify rule of law principles.

The Constitution and subordinate normative acts provide for freedom of expression, religion, and association, property rights, and equality for all under the law. However, the declaratory principles set out in the Constitution and other legal acts are not matched by legislation that would allow citizens to seek timely and adequate remedies through the law.

As a result, defendants are denied early habeas corpus hearings that would spare them lengthy periods of incarceration while the procuracy or other law enforcement organs investigate the charges. Because the future of Kyrgyzstan's legal system is dependent to a great extent on the quality of legal education received by judges, advocates, and procurators, some observers have become alarmed recently by the proliferation of law schools. Slovo Kyrgyzstana reported that in , there were more than 50 law faculties across the country, in which 22, students are enrolled.

This is several times more than the number of lawyers in Finland, a country with a similarly sized population. The inability of most new law faculties to recruit highly qualified instructors, along with a poorly developed system of professional examinations and continuing legal education, raises the specter of a growing generation of Kyrgyzstani lawyers that is less professionally qualified than the Soviet-era jurists who now dominate the legal system. This possibility would pose a particular threat to the quality of justice and legal practice in provincial areas and in the less attractive and less highly paid fields of law.

Corruption is endemic to Kyrgyzstan and most other post-Soviet states. The privatization of the nation's wealth, the erosion of pay and professionalism in law enforcement organs, the loss of a national belief system, and a lack of political will by the country's leadership: These and related factors encourage self-aggrandizement at the expense of the state and the commonweal. Examples of corruption in Kyrgyzstan range from the mundane, such as the police's regular request for bribes from drivers at checkpoints on the Bishkek-Osh highway, to the involvement of highly placed politicians in intricate kickback schemes.

Although comparative levels of corruption are notoriously difficult to assess, it is clear that Kyrgyzstan has one of the most corrupt societies in Eurasia. In , Transparency International ranked Kyrgyzstan seventh from the bottom in its corruption index of countries. On the surface, at least, the commitment of the government to anticorruption measures appears impressive. As early as , President Akaev convened a special meeting of his ministers to upbraid them for not rooting out corruption in their ranks. After exclaiming, "It's enough, it's enough This was followed by a barrage of articles in the press that exposed the wrongdoing of lower- and middle-level officials in law enforcement organs.

Akaev's admonitions to executive officials about the need to eliminate corruption continued in , but there is little indication that these initiatives will reach the higher levels of power or represent a sustained attack on the system of incentives that encourages wrongdoing. One of the most effective ways to resist these anticorruption measures was clearly demonstrated in May , when the top anticorruption official in the Ministry of Internal Affairs was assassinated in Bishkek.

Compared with other countries in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan has taken significant legislative steps to reduce registration requirements and other controls that increase opportunities for profit-making behavior by government officials. Moreover, Kyrgyzstan was the first country in the region to adhere to the UN Convention Against Corruption, and it has passed numerous laws designed to expose wrongdoing by state personnel and agencies, such as the Law on the Declaration of Income by High-Ranking Government Officials, which takes effect in May It has also created institutions to fight corruption, such as the ombudsman's office and the Audit Chamber, and, as noted earlier, President Akaev signed a decree in that promises to create the office of state secretary in each government ministry.

This office is designed as a buffer against the intrusion of personal and political influence in hiring and promotion. Yet the government continues to suffer a massive loss of revenue due to the corrupt practices of its officials. Although some officials are brought to justice for abuse of office or bribe taking, the government has failed to prosecute any cases under Article of the criminal code, which was introduced in specifically to target corruption. In the worst case, the president could dissolve the parliament for failing to form or sustain a ruling coalition and government.

Following the October presidential election, the parliament formed a new ruling coalition that included four of the five parties represented in the chamber.

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Ata-Jurt, the largest faction, was pushed into opposition. This enlarged coalition made it easier for the government to pass legislation. The parliament demonstrated during that it could conduct meaningful political debates around issues of national concern. However, these debates often lack an ideological foundation, and members of parliament MPs rarely display in-depth knowledge of the issue under discussion. Still, they are becoming accustomed to public oversight and mass media coverage of their work. However, the underlying reasons for the move were personal disagreements between Babanov and a number of MPs and his growing popularity, particularly among Bishkek residents.

Some MPs reportedly did not like Babanov and preferred to keep Respublika outside the ruling coalition.

Five Years on, Has Kyrgyzstan’s Democratic Revolution Put Down Roots? – Foreign Policy

Moreover, with the help of his Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan SDPK , the president convinced the parliament to ensure that he becomes the only decision maker on the course of foreign policy. Despite these moves, Atambayev has not yet matched his predecessors in their zeal and ability to centralize political control in the presidency.

With the president strengthening his own powers, all parties except the SDPK have suffered internal splits. To a large extent, this is a consequence of the fact that they are not built on—or held together by—shared values and ideologies. In moves that were seen mostly as indicators of intraparty divisions, both Ata-Jurt and Ar-Namys voted to replace their leaders in However, the current constitution is unclear about what status MPs acquire after leaving their factions and whether they are still considered part of the ruling coalition.

The coalition-building efforts and the appointment of a new cabinet in September proceeded smoothly, compared with previous attempts. Importantly, as MPs point out, the removal of the prime minister, the formation of the new coalition, and the appointment of the new ministers proceeded within the limits of the law. This comes as a sharp contrast to the period after the March regime change, when opposition leaders marginalized by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev resorted to street protests to challenge his regime.

In early October, the leader of the Ata-Jurt party, Kamchybek Tashiyev, organized a rally of some supporters to demand the nationalization of the Canadian-owned Kumtor gold-mining company, which has been operating in Kyrgyzstan since After calling for the ouster of the president, Tashiyev and his supporters scaled a fence and stormed the parliament building.

Police officers dispersed the crowd, and Tashiyev was arrested for attempting to overthrow the government. Although the Ata-Jurt leader has little chance of ousting the current elected leadership, protesters in Osh demanded his release. It is unclear why certain parties joined the latest ruling alliance and others were left out, which suggests that the relevant deals were cut behind closed doors.

Kyrgyz media outlets and observers have offered various explanations, including interpersonal rivalries among faction leaders and allegations that certain parties were willing to pay bribes to be included in the coalition. Nevertheless, the frequent changes in the composition of the ruling coalition and cabinet indicate that the parliament, president, and government are still learning how to function under the new constitution.

Uncertainties remain over which branch of government has more power, with the greatest competition emerging between the president and the parliament. Two years after the June ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, the country remains stable, but discrimination continues. Ethnic minorities, especially ethnic Uzbeks, are underrepresented in the parliament and the government compared with previous years. Furthermore, all political forces avoid discussion of interethnic relations, especially in southern Kyrgyzstan, leaving the burden of peace building and reconciliation to nongovernmental organizations NGOs.

Justice has not prevailed, and the perpetrators of the violence remain free. Between and Kyrgyzstan held two national elections and one constitutional referendum. The international community praised the referendum and parliamentary elections in for their competitiveness and inclusiveness. During both the parliamentary and presidential elections, candidates were able to register and campaign freely, and their fundamental freedoms were respected.

These shortcomings did not affect the overall outcome, according to election observers. Almazbek Atambayev won the presidential election with 63 percent of the vote. While he was regarded as the strongest candidate, he was still dogged a year later by accusations that he had used administrative resources and greater media coverage to prevail over his competitors. In March and November , Kyrgyzstan held local elections based on a proportional system that requires parties to overcome a 7 percent vote threshold to receive seats in local councils.

According to the new system, if no party is able to earn more than 7 percent, the mandates are distributed among the three parties that received the most votes. Following the elections, the SDPK and Respublika emerged as most powerful parties on the local level. The local elections in Bishkek were extremely competitive. Sixteen parties registered to run, including all five parties represented in the national parliament as well as several new ones.

Four parties were able to overcome the 7 percent threshold, but none secured a majority in the council, with the largest, the SDPK, gaining 47 percent of the seats. Among those that won seats was Zamandash Contemporary , which has a strong base of support among Kyrgyz migrants working in Russia and their families.

Several months prior to the elections, some Bishkek entrepreneurs and local party leaders argued that the voting process should include elements of a majoritarian system, but their arguments were rejected. Discouraged business leaders have moved to form their own party, Za Zhizn bez Baryerov For Life without Barriers , marking the first grassroots-organized political party that united members based on common values, as opposed to support for particular leaders. The party advocates less government control over public life and greater reliance on the private sector.

All interested parties had the opportunity to register with the CEC and compete in the elections. None of the parties reported difficulties with the registration process.

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However, Ar-Namys and Za Zhizn bez Baryerov, which were unable to win enough votes for representation, complained about widespread election fraud and low voter turnout. The question of whether mayors should be elected directly by voters or indirectly by city councils continues to be a contentious one. The NGOs noted the poor preparation of local observers representing competing parties.

They also reported some instances of repeat voting in Osh and Karakol. Protests against the election results were held in Tokmok and Karakol, and the CEC agreed to a recount in several disputed precincts. In , NGOs played a key role in the oversight of local elections. The government did not introduce any laws that would either limit or foster civil society activities, though former prime minister Babanov declared that Kyrgyzstan needs to restrict foreign-funded NGOs that work on political issues, much as Russia did in July.

It is easy to register a civil society group in Kyrgyzstan and to organize public events and campaigns. Both the government and the parliament are slow to react to NGO recommendations and criticism, and the relationship between state institutions and civil society is often filled with distrust and mutual accusations. Nevertheless, the government and the parliament at times collaborate with civil society groups in designing policy programs and election monitoring efforts, and NGOs regularly generate discussions in mass media on human rights, political reforms, and other issues.

In early , then president Roza Otunbayeva, with the financial support of international donors, formed Public Advisory Councils PAC to monitor the work of various government agencies. They have access to all relevant government documents. Today, some PACs continue to actively supervise the work of the ministries, while others have become dormant. Some of these projects were the result of local NGO collaboration with donor organizations.

Others were initiated through support provided by local companies and individual entrepreneurs. In September, NGO activists published a detailed review of the actions of law enforcement agencies and the military during the ethnic violence in Osh on June 11, According to the report, the armed forces opened fire on civilians and violently dispersed a gathering of 10, people in central Osh. It alleged that security forces brutally suppressed civilians and covered up the actions of criminal groups and businessmen in connection with the Osh violence.

The report deepened the public understanding of the way the violence was handled by the interim government and generated discussion among civil society groups and mass media. At least two civic organizations have played an active role in formulating plans for police reform. Both NGOs insisted that they participate in the OSCE-led process, given that the Interior Ministry has failed to overhaul police procedures despite a decade of efforts.

It took over a year for the working group to design the concept paper. It is now up to the government and the parliament to implement the proposed reform. In early , a group of NGOs successfully lobbied against a law banning casinos in Bishkek. Lawmakers granted final approval to the measure in December despite strong opposition among some male MPs. Under the new rules, the crime carries a maximum of seven years in prison, up from the previous three-year maximum or a fine. A year prison term is now authorized if the victim is younger than 17, the legal age for marriage.

The NGO sector at times resembles a marketplace competition for donor funding and not ideas. However, there are emerging signs of local financial support for NGOs. The financing mainly comes from individual entrepreneurs, large corporations, or political leaders. For the most part, local funds are targeted at organizing one-time projects or public events, such as filming an advocacy video or organizing a charity campaign. Most of these locally generated NGO activities are concentrated in the capital. Very few local resources are spent on promoting interethnic dialogue related to communal conflict in various parts of the country.

Kyrgyzstan: The Failure Of Managed Democracy

Local civil society activities that have arisen since , particularly in Bishkek, include fund drives by environmental groups, recycling programs, nonprofit shops selling goods made by elderly or disabled people, and TEDx events conferences on technology, entertainment, and design. Furthermore, Bishkek-based feminist and LGBT lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community networks are among the most active in the region.

In the post-Soviet world, managed democracy is the brainchild of a political elite that grudgingly accepts elections as a precondition for legitimacy, yet retains a Soviet understanding of politics as a dark art of manipulation. The practice of managed democracy amounts to a grab-bag of dirty tricks and a playing field that is anything but level -- state-controlled media serve up puff pieces to promote favored candidates and smear campaigns to denigrate undesirable ones, election commissions ignore gross violations and punish minor ones, duplicate candidates confuse voters.

The list is long and sordid. But its purpose is short and sweet -- to reduce the necessary evil of elections to a predictable exercise that allows elites to devote the bulk of their time to more pressing pursuits, mainly the exploitation of public office for private gain. Though it has its roots in a Soviet idea -- that politics is at once material and ethereal, administered with payoffs and adjusted with propaganda -- the managed democracy we find in post-Soviet states should not be confused with the system that came before it.

Through all its permutations, the Soviet system had a strong totalizing streak that led it to try to control all things in society. Its successors are, in at least one sense, genuinely more democratic, for they focus on the majority. They jealously guard state-run television, with its nationwide reach and demographically average viewers, but are not overly concerned if the numerically insignificant chattering classes air their discontents in newspapers with limited readership.

Managed democracy comes in a variety of forms, however, and some regimes -- in Central Asia, for example -- "manage" the political process so closely that they reduce the role of "democracy" to window dressing, producing systems more accurately described as "authoritarian" or even "dictatorial," although they contain elements of managed democracy. But while this system offers undeniable advantages to elites more concerned with the perquisites of power than the perils of accountability, it is fatally flawed.

The flaw is twofold -- first, the lack of accountability reduces the incentive for the elite to communicate with constituents and base governance on the electorate's real concerns; and second, as issues properly treated in the public political realm are left to fester or are resolved through back-room deals, the inevitable popular dissatisfaction creates an incentive for the elite to intensify its management of the political process.

The result is a vicious cycle in which the political process becomes dysfunctional. In other words, managed democracy is not democracy at all. Sooner or later, something has to give. Elections are a flashpoint because they put the spotlight on the machinery of managed democracy even as they raise the very issues the dysfunctional political system has neglected. The particular course of events in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan was in each case a product of local circumstances, but the unifying thread was that a virtual political system that maintains the appearance of democracy but disdains its essence collided with the real political concerns of millions of citizens.

The collision revealed that the emperor had no clothes, and he was soon forced to exit the scene. Kyrgyzstan While the breakdown of managed democracy is the common thread in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, the way it broke down in Kyrgyzstan was a product of local factors.

The first election-related protests erupted in Kyrgyzstan a few days before the first round of parliamentary elections on 27 February, when demonstrators blocked roads in a number of districts to protest the removal of candidates from the ballot. Two aspects of these protests were significant. First, they were not limited to the southern part of the country. Mountains divide Kyrgyzstan into north and south, and the south, which is poorer than the north, has traditionally been home to significant antigovernment sentiment.

President Akaev is a northerner, and the perception that the south languished under his rule contributed to dissatisfaction. Second, the late-February protests did not fit neatly into a divide between "pro-government" and "opposition" candidates. Protesters took to the streets because they felt that "their" candidates, usually prominent local figures, had been removed from the ballot by regional election commissions as a result of manipulation, sometimes by rival local figures with better connections to central authorities.

Kyrgyzstan held first-round parliamentary elections on 27 February and second-round elections on 13 March. Preliminary official results from the two rounds showed a commanding victory for pro-government candidates, with the opposition garnering at best 10 percent of the legislature's 75 seats. As events progressed and protests intensified during and after the election period, they began to conform more to the familiar outline of Kyrgyz politics sketched above, with the largest demonstrations taking place in the south and well-known opposition figures playing an increasingly prominent role.

More importantly, local demands such as the reinstatement of a particular candidate or a recount of election results in a particular district gave way to broader political demands, primary among them the resignation of President Akaev. Numerous sources indicate that protesters were driven by a sense that Akaev and his family had "gone too far," plunging the country into a morass of corruption, mismanagement, nepotism, and cronyism.

The perception was widespread that Akaev and his family not only controlled substantial business interests, but also maintained a stranglehold on virtually all sources of revenue in the impoverished country. Contributing to this sense that "enough is enough" was the decision by Akaev's son and daughter, as well as the children of other high-ranking officials, to run for parliament.

Akaev and his allies mobilized the resources of the state-controlled media apparatus to depict protests either as insignificant or as the work of dangerous extremists with ties to the outlawed Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. But these efforts backfired. They angered protesters who felt that their concerns were being deliberately ignored or misrepresented.

Further exacerbating the situation, the Kyrgyz authorities had recently taken steps to tighten their control over the media. Although it already controlled nationwide television channels, the government threatened independent newspapers with lawsuits in the lead-up to elections. A printing press funded by Freedom House suffered a mysterious power outage on 22 February, only days before elections.