Overview | Government

This series of profiles of foreign nations is part of the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The profiles offer brief, summarized information on a country's historical background, geography, society, economy, transportation and telecommunications, government and politics, and national security. Derived from The Library of Congress.


Overview: Kyrgyzstan is a unitary presidential republic that began the post-Soviet era as the least authoritarian of the five Central Asian states. The constitution, which calls for three separate branches of government, has been amended several times to change the structure of the legislative branch. Beginning in the late 1990s, the regime of the thrice-elected President Oskar Akayev increasingly bypassed democratic processes, despite increasing protests. Constitutional changes concentrated power in the presidency, to the detriment of the legislative branch, and made removal of the president more difficult. The parliament has blocked some presidential proposals, but it has not been an effective check on executive power. The judicial branch is effectively under the control of the executive branch. In his election platform of mid-2005, provisional president Kurmanbek Bakiyev promised government reform to curb the power of the presidency, but Bakiyev’s new government included mainly established politicians. In 2006 opposition groups increasingly accused Bakiyev of taking all the executive power that Akayev had exercised before his overthrow. Significant regional political power centers continued to exist in 2006, with a pronounced split between northern and southern provinces. In many cases, political loyalties still are defined by clan rather than party. In 2006 organized criminals reportedly achieved increased access to political leaders, contravening Bakiyev’s promised political cleanup and sparking new street demonstrations. A new constitution was approved in November 2006 after large-scale protests forced Bakiyev to grant increased power to the legislative branch.

Executive Branch: The executive branch comprises the president, the prime minister, and a cabinet consisting of four deputy prime ministers, 13 ministers, the general prosecutor, and the heads of six national agencies, commissions, and committees. Following the constitutional reform of 2006, the prime minister is appointed by the party receiving a plurality in the latest parliamentary elections. That reform also deprived the president of the right to dismiss parliament. Presidential power increased as the result of a 2003 referendum, the conduct of which received international criticism. The president is directly elected to a five-year term, with a two-term limitation that was circumvented by Akayev in a 1998 referendum. In the early 2000s, Akayev’s informal power base among the business elite and younger politicians eroded as he increasingly favored the clans of the north (his region) over those of the south. In early 2005, energized by manifestly unfair parliamentary elections, opposition demonstrations in the cities brought about Akayev’s resignation in what became known as the Tulip Revolution. His successor, former prime minister Kurmanbek Bakiyev, pledged in 2005 to restore some powers to the legislative branch. Upon election he retained most of the acting cabinet that he had selected on Akayev’s resignation. The choice of former security chief Feliks Kulov as prime minister symbolically united Kyrgyzstan’s opposing regions: Bakiyev is from the south, Kulov from the north. The two officials maintained an uneasy truce throughout 2006.

Legislative Branch: Members of the unicameral, 75-member Supreme Council (Zhogorku Kenesh) are directly elected to five-year terms. In 2006 there were no women in the Supreme Council. A referendum in 1998 substantially weakened the Supreme Council’s power to block legislative proposals of the president. In 2003 a referendum changed the legislature’s structure from bicameral to unicameral, after a referendum in 1994 had established a bicameral legislature in place of the much larger unicameral legislature that had been established by the 1993 constitution. Both changes aimed to increase presidential power at the expense of the legislative branch. Pursuant to the referendum of 2003, the disputed elections of early 2005 seated a new 75-member unicameral legislature. After his election in mid-2005, Bakiyev did not call for new parliamentary elections, despite the irregularities of the previous vote.

Judicial Branch: Although nominally independent, the judicial branch is substantially under the control of the president, who recommends appointments to both of the main judicial institutions: the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court. (The constitutional amendments of 2003 abolished a third national court, the Supreme Court of Arbitration, awarding its role as arbiter of commercial disputes to the Supreme Court.) The Supreme Court is the highest appeals court for civil and criminal cases. The Constitutional Court, whose chief justice is one of very few women holding significant national office, rules on constitutional interpretations and on the validity of presidential elections. The members of those courts are elected to 10-year terms by the Supreme Council, after being nominated by the president. The president appoints judges to seven-year terms at the subnational levels. High-profile cases have shown the courts’ bias toward the executive branch. In 1998 the Constitutional Court ruled on a technicality that Akayev could stand for a third presidential term, contrary to the constitutional prohibition. In the early 2000s, criminal trials of opposition figures demonstrated substantial partisanship by the courts toward the executive branch.

Administrative Divisions: Kyrgyzstan is divided into seven provinces and the municipality of Bishkek, the capital. Provinces are divided into a total of 40 districts. The districts in turn are divided into rural communities, each comprising up to 20 small settlements.

Provincial and Local Government: Each province is headed by a governor (akim) who is appointed by the president. District administrators are appointed by the central government. Rural communities are governed by directly elected mayors and councils.

Judicial and Legal System: Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, Kyrgyzstan’s court system is widely seen as under the influence of the prosecutor’s office. Low salaries make the bribery of judges commonplace. Most cases originate in local courts; they then can move via the appeals process to municipal or regional courts, with the Supreme Court the final court of appeals. Property and family law disputes and low-level criminal cases are heard by traditional elders’ courts, which are loosely supervised by the prosecutor’s office. Economic disputes and military cases are heard in specialized courts. The constitutional amendments of 2003 expanded the scope of the Supreme Court in civil, criminal, and administrative proceedings. Many protections of Western jurisprudence have not been incorporated into Kyrgyzstan’s system, which retains many features of the Soviet system. The right to counsel and the presumption of innocence of the accused are guaranteed by law but often not practiced. There is no trial by jury. Reform legislation under consideration in 2006 would establish a jury system and bolster the independence of the judicial branch.

Electoral System: A new electoral code signed in 2004 is characterized by international authorities as an improvement over the previous law but still failing to meet international standards. Suffrage is universal, and the minimum voting age is 18. The Central Election Commission approves candidates, conducts elections, and certifies election results. International monitors have identified substantial irregularities in the presidential election of 2000, referenda in 1998 and 2003, and the parliamentary elections of early 2005 (in which only six opposition candidates gained seats). The prospects of opposition parties were hurt by the abolition in 2003 of party list seats in parliament and by election code changes in 2004. International and domestic monitors declared the special presidential election of July 2005 basically fair; turnout was estimated at 58 percent.

Politics and Political Parties: In the 1990s, numerous political parties with a variety of agendas developed, but few had broad national followings. An exception was the Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan, an opponent of free-market economic reform, which in the parliamentary elections of 2000 gained 28 percent of the vote. In general, opposition parties retained a high level of activity but were unable to form a united front against the Akayev regime; in the 1990s and early 2000s, opposition parties formed several unstable coalitions. A major opposition bloc, For People's Power, was established in 2004. The abolition in 2003 of party list voting for parliament and the abolition of runoff elections hampered the election efforts of opposition parties. The resignation of President Akayev brought a fundamental realignment of parties, but the north-south divide remained a critical distinction among factions in 2006. In April 2006, the Union of Democratic Forces united seven parties and 11 nongovernmental organizations in a coalition that became a leading voice for reform. Among other opposition parties in 2006 were Ar-Namys, Asaba, Ata-Meken, the Pro-Reform Movement, and the Social Democratic Party.

Mass Media: Although the constitution guarantees freedom of the press and prohibits censorship, government restrictions exist. Competition among media outlets is skewed by heavy government support of pro-government newspapers and broadcast outlets. In the early 2000s, an increasing number of such outlets were controlled by individuals with ties to the government. In 2003 two national, state-run radio networks and four television stations were in operation. There were 187.6 television sets per 1,000 population in 2004; no statistics were available on radio use. In 2003 some eight of Kyrgyzstan’s 25 to 30 newspapers and magazines were state-owned, and the state publishing house, Uchkun, was the major newspaper publisher in the country. After the change of government in 2005, opposition views generally received more exposure in the media. However, access to the mass media by opposition spokespersons remained limited.

Foreign Relations: In the post-Soviet era, Kyrgyzstan has joined several regional organizations in an effort to improve its security and economic position. Among those organizations are the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Because such organizations have not had the intended effect, Kyrgyzstan’s meaningful foreign relations have largely been bilateral. However, SCO membership assumed particular meaning for Kyrgyzstan in 2005 as the SCO, assuming a more active geopolitical role than previously, urged that Kyrgyzstan expel U.S. troops stationed there. Relations with Russia have remained a primary concern because Kyrgyzstan had been unusually dependent on the Soviet structure in security and economic matters. The rights of the technically adept Russian minority have been a sensitive issue. After the posting of U.S. troops in Kyrgyzstan for the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan in 2002, President Akayev sought to balance that presence with ongoing Russian interests. The early policy of Akayev’s successor, Kurmanbek Bakiyev (elected in July 2005), sought to retain that balance in the face of pressure from China and Russia to expel U.S. troops. However, U.S. influence diminished in September 2005 as Russia concluded a bilateral agreement with Kyrgyzstan. The agreement expanded Russian military aid, arms sales, and aid in building energy infrastructure. Bakiyev continued to cultivate political support from Russia in 2006. Relations with the United States were strained in early 2006 when Kyrgyzstan demanded a hundredfold increase in U.S. payments for use of the Manas air base. In July 2006, a new rental agreement, favorable to Kyrgyzstan, relieved tensions temporarily. Since 2000 tensions with Uzbekistan have increased because of disputes over the two countries’ fuel-for-power arrangement and Uzbekistan’s unilateral steps against cross-border terrorist organizations. Uzbekistan’s mining of the common border has brought complaints from Kyrgyzstan. In 2005 more than 500 refugees from the Andijon crisis in Uzbekistan fled to Kyrgyzstan, causing further tension when Uzbekistan demanded their return. Some refugees were granted political asylum outside Central Asia in 2006. Relations with China have improved steadily since 1991, as trade has flourished and border issues have been settled. Kyrgyzstan’s large population of Uyghur emigrants concerns China, however, because of separatism in China’s adjoining Xingjiang Province, from which they migrated.

Membership in International Organizations: Kyrgyzstan is a member of the following international organizations: the Asian Development Bank, Central Asian Cooperation Organization, Collective Security Treaty Organization (of the Commonwealth of Independent States), Commonwealth of Independent States, Economic Cooperation Organization, Eurasian Economic Community, Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Food and Agriculture Organization, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), International Development Association, International Finance Corporation, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Labour Organization, International Monetary Fund, International Organization for Migration, International Telecommunication Union, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Partnership for Peace (of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), Shanghai Cooperation Organization, United Nations, United Nations Committee on Trade and Development, United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Universal Postal Union, World Customs Organization, World Federation of Trade Unions, World Health Organization, and World Trade Organization.

Major International Treaties: Among the multilateral treaties to which Kyrgyzstan is a signatory are the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal; Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution; Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction; Geneva Conventions (1949); International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer; Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification; and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol.


Armed Forces Overview: In the post-Soviet era, Kyrgyzstan has not developed an armed force of significant size, and it remains dependent on Russia in many aspects of national defense. Between terrorist attacks that occurred in 1999 and 2003, military spending increased by about 50 percent, but the armed forces did not grow significantly during that period. Ground forces constitute the main fighting element. In 2006 Kyrgyzstan’s army had 8,500 active personnel, and its air force had 4,000 active personnel. Some 57,000 individuals were in military reserve status, and the paramilitary Border Guard Service had 5,000 troops.

Foreign Military Relations: In the early 2000s, both the United States and Russia established bases in northwestern Kyrgyzstan (the United States at Manas in 2002 to support operations in Afghanistan, Russia at nearby Kant in 2003 under the Collective Security Treaty Organization of the Commonwealth of Independent States). The Kyrgyzstani government has tried to balance the competing military interests of those countries, and of neighboring China, in Central Asia. Because of the importance of that balance and under pressure from China and Russia, Kyrgyzstan has been reluctant to allow a permanent U.S. military presence. In 2006 tension over increased fees was reduced when the United States negotiated a new agreement paying Kyrgyzstan a reported US$150 million to continue using Manas. (Russia pays nothing to occupy its Kant base.) Russia and Kyrgyzstan conducted joint military exercises in the summer of 2006.

External Threat: No neighbor constitutes a conventional military threat to Kyrgyzstan. The porous southern and western borders, however, have allowed terrorist groups to enter and occupy southwestern Kyrgyzstan from the Fergana Valley and Tajikistan. Events in 2006 caused speculation about a possible resurgence of the terrorist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in that area. As of 2006, membership in the security-oriented Shanghai Cooperation Organization had not materially improved Kyrgyzstan’s border security. A bilateral border treaty with China has improved security to the east.

Defense Budget: Since 1999 Kyrgyzstan’s defense budget has increased significantly, albeit from a very low starting point. Between 2003 and 2005, military expenditures increased from US$55.2 million to US$73.1 million.

Major Military Units: In 2006 Kyrgyzstan’s army had one motorized rifle division, two independent motorized rifle brigades, one air defense brigade, one antiaircraft artillery regiment, and three special forces battalions. The air force had one fighter regiment, one composite aviation regiment, and one helicopter regiment.

Major Military Equipment: In 2006 the army had 215 main battle tanks, 30 reconnaissance vehicles, 387 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 63 armored personnel carriers, 141 pieces of towed artillery, 18 pieces of self-propelled artillery, 66 mortars, 21 multiple rocket launchers, 26 antitank guided weapons, 18 antitank guns, and 48 air defense guns. The air force had 48 combat aircraft and 9 attack and 23 support helicopters.

Military Service: The minimum age for conscription or voluntary military service is 18, and the term of service is 18 months. Conscription eligibility continues until age 27. Since 2000 the military has moved from a conscription system to a mainly volunteer army, but pay failures have caused increased desertions.

Paramilitary Forces: Kyrgyzstan has a border guard force of about 5,000. A nominal National Guard is manned by regular army personnel.

Foreign Military Forces: In 2006 about 1,000 U.S. troops were stationed for the fifth year at Manas Airport as a supply point for U.S. and allied operations in Afghanistan. In 2006 about 300 Russian troops were stationed at Kant Air Force Base, but plans called for an increase to 750, and Russia has invested substantial funds in upgrading the facility. Russia has a 15-year extendable agreement at Kant.

Military Forces Abroad: No Kyrgyzstani combat forces are stationed abroad; small observer groups are with United Nations forces in Burundi, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Sudan.

Police: The main law enforcement agencies are the Ministry of Internal Affairs (for general crime), the National Security Service (for state-level crime), and the national prosecutor’s office, which prosecutes all types of crime. All police forces are under civilian authority. Police, who are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, have been used to disrupt political demonstrations. The violent demonstrations of 2002 brought about a police reform program aimed at improving public perceptions of a force known for taking bribes, criminal ties, and violence and plagued by low pay. However, in 2005 many cases of police malfeasance still were reported. About 25,000 regular police were active in 2005.

Internal Threat: Corruption and incompetence in the police force have led to uncontrolled crime in urban parts of Kyrgyzstan. In 2005 and 2006, the Bakiyev government came under increased criticism for failing to control criminal organizations as incidents of violent crime increased. In the early 2000s, Kyrgyzstan’s location between Tajikistan (a major transit country for narcotics from Afghanistan) and Russia has made the western part of Kyrgyzstan (particularly Osh) a major transit region for narcotics and human trafficking, with related increases in overall crime and in the incidence of human immunodeficiency virus. During that period, domestic narcotics production and abuse have grown sharply. In 2005 Kyrgyzstan had the third-highest rate of opium addiction in the world. Domestic crime groups also have become linked increasingly with transnational groups. In the Fergana Valley, tension exists between citizens of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan over land and housing rights. The political ferment of 2005 included public demonstrations that raised fears of long-term instability. Reportedly, in 2004 and 2005 the activity of Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Party of Liberation), a nominally nonviolent Islamic group advocating the overthrow of secular governments in Central Asia, increased substantially, although the group was outlawed in 2003.

Terrorism: In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Kyrgyzstan has suffered incursions by terrorist groups (notably the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan—IMU) from hotbeds of Islamic insurgent activity in nearby Tajikistan and the Fergana Valley. In 1999 Islamic terrorists took a group of Japanese and Kyrgyzstani hostages in Kyrgyzstan, and an Islamic insurgency continued in Batken and Osh in 2000. In 2003 a series of minor incidents in Osh were attributed to terrorists. Those events showed that Kyrgyzstan did not have sufficient security forces to prevent a major terrorist incursion. Domestic forces have been upgraded somewhat in the early 2000s, but Kyrgyzstan likely would need assistance from Russia or Uzbekistan to counter a serious insurgency. In 2006 Kyrgyzstan received US$2 million from the United States to combat domestic terrorism as part of the new Manas rental agreement. The money was earmarked for the purchase of border-patrol helicopters.

Human Rights: Beginning in the late 1990s, journalists who criticized the Akayev regime often were imprisoned, as were opposition political figures such as Feliks Kulov. Four political parties were barred on technicalities from the parliamentary elections of 2000. The election code changes of 2004 restricted access to electoral procedures by the media. Courts often do not observe the nominal right to counsel and to presumption of innocence of the accused. Prisons are overcrowded and have serious shortages of food and medical support. In the early 2000s, tuberculosis and human immunodeficiency virus rates in prisons were high, and authorities were accused of having lost control of the prison population when a major prison riot occurred in November 2005. The reporters of some independent media outlets have been harassed and threatened, acts of violence have occurred, and copies of independent newspapers have been confiscated. Registration of new media outlets has been prolonged or denied, and the government’s awarding of broadcast frequencies prolonged. Authorities have restricted the activities of some Muslim groups considered extremist and of some Christian missionary groups. The constitutional amendments of 2003 contain several nominal improvements to human rights protections, but genuine reform has not occurred. Women, who have equal status by law, are well represented in most professions, particularly law, medicine, banking, and nongovernmental organizations. However, women are more likely than men to lose their jobs in economically difficult times, and domestic violence and forced marriage reportedly are common.

Index for Kyrgyzstan:
Overview | Government


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