BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan—The weakness of democratic institutions and traditions is decried by representatives of virtually every political perspective in this Central Asian nation. It is one chief reasons cited by those who claim that the current administration of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev needs more time to implement the reforms it promised when it assumed power during the “Tulip Revolution” a little more than a year and a half ago. Democratic deficiencies are basis upon which other critics have argued for a political strongman similar to those of the Kyrgyz Republic’s regional neighbors. Is also the justification used by the multi-organization “Movement for Reforms,” which has organized the often angry but peaceful mass political protests in the nation’s capital, that continue today for the fourth straight day. For the opposition movement, greater democracy requires Bakiyev's resignation plus constitutional reforms to strengthen the power of the Parliament.
Lost in the current debate, and often overshadowed by pervasive poverty and endemic corruption, is that Kyrgyz Republic is at the moment building the kind of democratic traditions and practices necessary for a state of political freedom. Without discounting the political oppression that has created so much suffering in this nation, Kyrgyzstan already has a far greater commitment to democracy than any of the authoritarian regimes of Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan. While greater should not be confused with sufficient, greater is nonetheless significant. Before the opposition movement rallies that started on 2 November, President Bakiyev promised he would respond with force to violent demonstrations and riots, like those that marked the upheaval of 2005. Violence has not occurred thanks, in no small measure, to the discipline exercised by the opposition groups, who are reportedly policing themselves with the help of retired military and police authorities. For its part, the sizable military and polices forces have exhibited restraint by refusing to crush the expression of dissent—an almost guaranteed response from any of the other Central Asian regimes. And unlike those countries, the press here has covered the demonstrations, however imperfectly, and has at leastpublicly acknowledged the concerns raised by the opposition.
Political democracy has never been achieved without great struggle, fierce resistance, immense sacrifice and personal heroism. No state surrenders or shares power because it believes it is good idea for the nation. Political power is invariably wrested from a status quo that fights tooth and nail to preserve its monopoly on power. And the process is seldom, if ever, pretty or neat. The future of political democracy is in Kyrgyzstan is far from decided and the fragmented nation faces immense challenges, not the least of which is providing jobs and increasing the standards of living in a country with little financial capital and few natural resources. But the Kyrgyz Republic is a building an indigenous democratic heritage, a feat many other developing countries should be trying to learn from.