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Kyrgyzstan: Seven Lessons From 2011 – OpEd

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“The probability of repetition of past errors is 50%. One question remains open: what price will we pay this time?” said Sheradil Baktygulov, an expert in public administration, in an article written for the Institute for Public Policy.

The year of 2011 was rich in political events. Even a short list of these events causes mixed assessments, because the development of political life in the past year happened against the backdrop of the new Kyrgyz Constitution, adopted in June 2010.

In fact, the parliament, which formed without the direct intervention of the President, began to work as an independent body. At the same time, a new government began its work, and it was a result of compromise between the deputies of the Jogorku Kenesh.

The directions for further movement of Kyrgyzstan have been identified by two statements. The first one was about the country’s joining the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, and the second statement was about the renaming of the Transit Center “Manas” into a civilian transit center and creation of a joint Russian-Kyrgyz jet fuel selling company.

The process of selection and appointment of judges of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court was for some reason regarded as a judicial reform and was not brought to its logical conclusion – the appointment of judges. And finally, the election of the fourth President of the country completed the period of temporary or transitional positions, structures and components in Kyrgyzstan.

What did Kyrgyz politicians and their policies give the country and its inhabitants in 2011? From a formal point of view, in Kyrgyzstan, in accordance with the Constitution, almost all the organs of government and administration have been formed. The exception is the judicial branch. It seems that it has been formed, but if you look closely – it is not.

However, the main political achievements in 2011 are not the new powers given to the “old” government bodies and not even the appointment of the “old” people to “new” positions. The main political achievements are the lessons learned from the existence of ‘new’ bodies and the activities of the “old” people there.

Lesson number one

Beginning with the acquisition of sovereignty in Kyrgyzstan, the question of strengthening vertical management has been regularly raised. What is it? Simply put, this implies strengthening the people working on a permanent basis in the executive, judicial and legislative branches, as well as government bodies. These people do not sow corn and do not work in markets, but at the same time, they are very “costly” to taxpayers.

But exercising all functions of the government is impossible without them. Herein lies the main problem. Officials at all levels of government and administration are legitimized from above by the President or Prime minister. It would seem that an order or instruction gives an appointee power and authority, but in practice, the vertical of power, as it turned out, was never rooted in the field.

This is confirmed by the fact that the upheavals in the capital did not cause any attempts by officials to restore the status quo. There were statements by two or three politicians about their determination to bring the first two Presidents back, and also the Presidents themselves could not understand why there was no mass movement to support them.

The reality is that the bureaucracy and civil servants, left without orders from above, were just for a new authority to tell them how to live further. This is an advantage, as most government officials and security forces were not inclined to rock the situation, only in order to please someone from the top and thus worsen their own situation.

Lesson number 2

Political battles in 2011 have finally confirmed that a 20-year practice of democratic institutions is only imitation. The country still has an authoritarian vertical political system.

Simply put, the transfer of power from the Communist Party in 1991 to one person and the transfer of power in 2010 from one person to one hundred and twenty parliament deputies did not lead to the democratization of governance and economic prosperity to its people.

Moreover, it became apparent that the twenty-year practice of “wild” capitalism in Kyrgyzstan led to the fact that the real sources of authority in the country are the wealth and the origin of a man. The interests of the rich do not coincide with the interests of not only the poor, but also with the interests of those people who are able to secure a reasonable standard of living for themselves.

Taxpayers pay the full price for simulation of democracy, and in return they receive “grins” of capitalism; for example, in the form of wages, barely allowing both ends to meet.

One result of democracy imitation was (and is widespread in the country now) the simplest and most understandable form of political activity: run after the strongest without thinking why one should follow him. In this situation, our poor fellow citizens can be easily persuaded to participate in any form of political participation, including the establishment of super-Presidential/Khan autocracy.

Lesson number 3

People understand that the government is an abstraction rather than something concrete. The word “government” can be filled with any content. The same can be said about the word ‘power.’

Power structures were generally separated from society and exist in two dimensions of their own:

1) As a human life of the power elite, giving life to a variety of speculation, rumors and gossip,

2) As a set of external symbols, for example, numbers of cars with a “KG” sign, special communication, security, standard, large office and a leather armchair.

The year of 2011 showed that between the symbolic form of government and its real meaning, there is often nothing in common.

All versions of the Constitution stipulated that the government should be accountable before the people and work for the benefit of the people. The practice has shown that the power is exercised by officials in the interests of the strategies, programs, etc., invented by themselves. Further, to implement these strategies, the money of foreign taxpayers is allocated. Then officials shrug their shoulders and wonder why money is spent, but the happy future never arrives.

The government and the power are no longer perceived by the population as the embodiment of the good. The thesis that the government is always better no longer works, because if you look behind the beautiful words “state,” “government” and “power,” we find quite real people there. Therefore, the principle of “ask what you have done for your country, not what your country can do for you” does not work in Kyrgyzstan. After all, people in power are in captivity of their own attitudes and beliefs and are not the embodiment of honesty, kindness and justice.

Lesson number four

The events of this year have shown that the minds of people are occupied by local and foreign doctrines and theories that were widespread in the eighteenth, ninetieth centuries and early twentieth century. Holders of knowledge, aspiring to originality of thought, in fact operate with the concepts of past centuries, and modern democracy, as it turns out, is still living with ideas and categories of the eighteenth century.

It turns out that nothing new has been invented for centuries. I mean nothing appropriate to the needs of today’s Kyrgyzstan. So, the Kyrgyz have to go through an unexplored path to the future without reliable maps and accurate compasses. People will try to fit the present-day realities and challenges of the future into the framework of outdated doctrines and theories.

Lesson number 5

Discussions on a strong parliament of Kyrgyzstan and its relationship with the President and the government showed a lack of understanding of the fact that the destruction of the old system happened before building an effective new system.

The old system of distribution of authority and responsibility was destroyed in June 2010 with the adoption of the new Constitution. The new system of government in 2011 still has only formal institutions. Their activities are still filled with content, but evaluation of the effectiveness of the work of the parliament, the President and the government is already given.

This approach is not only false, but also harmful for the fate of the country. The effectiveness of a new system of government and responsibility has not yet manifested itself.

The error lies in the fact that a specific person or a group of persons are assessed, this assessment is usually negative, and it is projected to the entire institution. It would seem that this error suggests a logical proposal for the next redistribution of power. At its core, this is a harmful proposal.

The harm is that the proposed new schemes of redistribution of power do not solve any other problem, apart from establishing the control over the power for the benefit of another elite group.

We have the following dilemma: is the proposed scheme better than the existing one, or is the current scheme worse than the proposed one? From the standpoint of the ruling elite the answer is quite clear: the current system is good, because we are in power. Conversely, representatives of those elite groups striving for power will be right by saying that the current system is bad, because they do not have any influence, and the proposed scheme is good because it gives them the access to power.

However, if the only purpose here is getting access to power and resources, and various kinds of slogans about the interests of the people are not taken into account, this path will lead to new political cataclysms, right up to the mass demonstrations similar to the ones in March 2005 or April 2010.

Lesson number 6

Once again, the protest rallies in 2011 showed that the reform of the state system was closely linked to economic reforms. The “invisible hand” of an undeveloped market has led to failures in the economy that are still covered not only by selling gold, but also by lowering the standard of living of the country residents.

This situation has shown another paradox. GDP is growing more or less, but a major component of tax revenues remains labor, or rather the wage fund. About 70% of tax revenue is directly or indirectly connected with the wage fund. It is no longer secret that the wages in Kyrgyzstan are the lowest among the CIS countries. Hence the paradox is: the most oppressed factor of production, which is the labor, creates the bulk of revenues of the country. In fact, this is not true. This paradox is a result of distorted proportions.

Indicators of the country’s GDP in purchasing power parity indicate that the government ignores the income from rent, which by some estimates is comparable with the annual budget of the country. The main contribution to growth of the total net income of Kyrgyzstan is made not by labor and capital, but by rent – the income from the use of land and its natural resources, transportation and communications, the monopoly position of the producers of goods (including energy, gas industry, semiconductors, oil traders, etc.). The share of the rent accounts for up to 76% of total revenue. But today, the rental stream for the most part does not fall into the state treasury, but goes to the pockets of those who are in power or influential circles and semi-legal businessmen.

As we see, in Kyrgyzstan the ideas of democracy and capitalism were incompatible with each other. Therefore, reforming the government and public administration without reforming the current economic, financial and tax relations will germinate new ideas of political reorganization. It is a vicious circle, which has existed since 2000, i.e. since the onset of another “new” parliament.

Lesson number 7

The majority of citizens associate democracy with elections. Briefly speaking, elections in the country turned into public opinion polls and depend on how a candidate, either directly or through the TV commercials, looks on TV. It turns out that democracy in Kyrgyzstan is a process of electing one’s friends and relatives against the others.

What makes the candidates differ from each other? Every new candidate for power only promises to better manage the government than his opponents. Real democracy requires real ideological alternatives during elections. The absence of alternatives makes elections something like an exercise in tribal strife, where a certain tribe or a clan are accused of the country’s problems and then punished by excommunication from the government.

Especially now, when citizens of the country are in urgent need for political parties with distinct new ideas that are ready to begin debate on the future, they are offered disputes between parties who wish to return to some mythical past and parties without any programs.

Conclusion

We paid the maximum price for ensuring that the countries of Central Asia and CIS realize the illusory nature of simple solutions of privatization and democratization to reach prosperity for everyone. For us, the Kyrgyz people, it is especially important not to succumb to similar temptations in the future.

The complexity of the current phase of political transformation does not mean the return to the theories and doctrines that emerged after the Second World War and does not serve as an argument in favor of a centralized system of the Soviet type.

Our citizens have for too long seen the process of open selling/buying of the political power in the country. As a result, the cynical attitude towards the values of human society eventually corroded the government.

Will we repeat the mistakes of our past? Democracy relies on the compatibility of citizens, but it does not work hard to achieve it. The task of achieving compatibility of citizens should be solved by the citizens themselves.

The results of 2011 show that in 2012, citizens of Kyrgyzstan will have to find a solution to this problem. There are two options.

The first option is to give real meaning to a democratic system of governance (formally it has not been dismantled yet), further develop it and transform it into more modern forms of democracy.

The second option is to continue the path toward an authoritarian state, which sooner or later will once again “devour” its citizens and itself.

Both options have an approximately equal number of supporters. Hence, the probability of repetition of past errors is 50%. One question remains open: what price will we pay this time?

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IPP

The Institute for Public Policy, or IPP, is a Bishkek-based independent research and policy-making institution. The IPP's goals are to promote a participatory approach in establishing public policy; to strengthen expert analysis in order to promote effective and informed decision-making in matters of public policy, and to create an independent platform for dialogue on public policy issues.

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