Will Obama support democracy in Kyrgyzstan?
The ousted president of Kyrgyzstan was charged with murder. Now Roza Otunbayeva is the best hope to lead the country. She’s honest, pro-American, and committed to democracy.
Protesters toppled the corrupt, clannish, and repressive government of Kyrgyzstan’s President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on April 7. And now he’s been charged with mass murder. The new provisional government, headed by Roza Otunbayeva, promises a democratic constitution this June and free elections in October, but is tenuously in control. The revolution presents the US with a unique opportunity to promote democracy, stability, and economic reform in a predominantly Muslim country, while also preserving a US base critical to the Afghan war.Skip to next paragraph
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The Obama administration has been slow to recognize and cautious in supporting the provisional government whose method and legitimacy in taking power has been widely questioned. To be sure, it was not a peaceful democratic revolution, but this is no cause for the US to remain aloof.
The democratic activists who challenged Mr. Bakiyev’s authoritarianism had four primary demands: 1. an end to the president’s nepotism and cronyism, 2. the cessation of political persecution; 3. respect for democracy and human rights; and 4. an end to corrupt privatization of state assets.
Bakiyev responded with arrests that only further outraged protesters. Some, armed with stones, clashed with the authorities and stormed government property when Bakiyev’s men opened fire. Presidential guards and police killed 86 protesters and injured scores in defending the kleptocracy.
Despite the looting that followed, most participants were people expressing deep discontent with the economic malaise and the corruption, abuses, and injustice of Bakiyev’s dictatorship. The provisional government is now struggling to control instability fueled by Bakiyev’s allies.
Maintaining stability while pursuing a democratic transition is critical for Kyrgyzstan. Roza Otunbayeva and her collaborators have committed to doing that. The US should lead the international community in recognizing them and supporting stability and democratization through economic incentives to reform. Under joint US, Russian, and Kazakh pressure, Bakiyev has left the country.
Yet contrary to his bold pledge in Cairo in June 2009, Obama has been reluctant in Kyrgyzstan, as elsewhere, to promote democracy. But now is not the time to hold back. Kyrgyzstan’s future, and US interests and ideals, depend on American involvement and commitment to democracy.
Democratic activists and ordinary citizens from Azerbaijan to Kyrgyzstan to Iran look to America to support their pursuit of just, democratic government. By prominently backing the provisional government and actively supporting a democratic transition through political and economic aid, the US will dispel Kyrgyz public sentiment that America cares only about its own geopolitical interests.
America stands to regain some of the legitimacy and credibility for promoting democracy that it once enjoyed throughout Central Asia.