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After the Kyrgyz Spring: Challenges to Democratic Deepening

Politics of Central Asia
Kathleen Collins

On 1 December 2011, Roza Otunbayeva willingly stepped down from the presidency at the end of her 20-month term as interim leader of Kyrgyzstan without protest or pressure.1 The newly elected Almazbek Atambayev assumed the presidency and was sworn into office with his hand on the new constitution. A month earlier, on 30 October 2011, Atambayev had won Kyrgyzstan's first free and competitive presidential election.2 Just a year before that event, on 10 October 2010, Kyrgyzstan held its first fully free parliamentary elections; no one could predict the outcome. The constitutional referendum and elections faced serious challenges due to the after-effects of deadly ethnic violence in June 2010. Nonetheless, 2011 had witnessed the first democratic transfer of presidential power in Kyrgyzstan and all of post-Soviet Central Asia. A democratic beginning, however, is very often followed by retrenchment. Helping fledgling new democracies deepen and consolidate their new institutions and endure over time is often as complicated of a problem as overthrowing a dictator. Kyrgyzstan's recent history exemplifies the challenges and strongly suggests that Kyrgyzstani and international proponents of democracy direct their focus beyond elections to seriously addressing the potentially devastating challenges of corruption and governance, ethnonationalism and ethnic instability, and the need for a citizenry committed to the new democracy.