Kate Mallinson

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A Russian peacekeeper in Kazakhstan as part of the (CSTO) Collective Security Council contingent sent in following unrest after protests in western Kazakhstan sparked by rising fuel prices. Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images.

In early January Kazakhstan was rocked by three cascading events: legitimate anti-government protest against three decades of corruption and ineffective governance under Kazakhstan’s long-time leader Nursultan Nazarbayev; an attempted palace coup; and an armed insurrection led by well-trained mercenaries on the streets of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s commercial capital.

On 2 January, a small demonstration over fuel prices triggered a nationwide protest movement which raged against three decades of rule which did not serve the interests of the people, but rather the ruling elite and its allies. The calls of ‘old man out’ were conspicuously directed at President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s predecessor Nazarbayev, who still retains control of much of Kazakhstan’s political economy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Evacuees from Kabul arrive at Tashkent, Uzbekistan in a military aircraft following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Photo by Handout/Bundeswehr via Getty Images.

Unlike the West, the Central Asian states have been preparing for the return of the Taliban to neighbouring Afghanistan for several years, building up their diplomatic relationships and enhancing domestic security, but the takeover leaves them facing enormous challenges.

The uncertainty of the situation in Afghanistan and whether the Taliban can keep its security guarantees to Moscow of preventing the export of extremism is a worry, but Russia is also using the momentum and the ignominy of the US withdrawal to deepen its security involvement in the region, whether the region wants it or not.

Central Asia governments have to tread carefully with their actions and messaging towards both actors as despite Russia – and even the US – exaggerating the security risks over the last 20 years, the risks for Central Asia are certainly real.…  Seguir leyendo »

Boys ride scooters during International Children's Day (June 1) at the central Ala-Too Square in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Photo by VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP via Getty Images.

Truth has been a casualty of the pandemic globally and the various Central Asian governments’ responses to the pandemic reflect both how far and how little their leaderships have progressed from the Chernobyl mentality of concealing the truth during the latter days of the Soviet Union.

The Kazakh government has shown relative transparency in communicating with citizens about virus data, even if the actual death toll is likely to be higher than reported. Uzbekistan’s seemingly much lower cases rates than in Kazakhstan and rapidly flattening curve, weeks before its neighbour, suggest that it has been less transparent, while its compliant media fails to hold it accountable.…  Seguir leyendo »

Shavkat Mirziyoyev in June. Photo: Getty Images.

In the three years since Shavkat Mirziyoyev was elected president of Uzbekistan, he has embarked on a wide-ranging reform process including currency liberalization, eliminating forced labour and abolishing exit visas. This has encouraged foreign investors and the population, but a rare protest last week over natural gas and electricity shortages shows that the Uzbek population’s faith in change under the new leadership could be wearing thin, while foreign direct investment that adds real value to the economy is in short supply.

When Mirziyoyev came to power, Uzbekistan was on the verge of bankruptcy. A former prime minister of 13 years, and a pragmatic economist, the new president set on a rapid course to open Uzbekistan up to its neighbours and remove barriers to trade and foreign investment.…  Seguir leyendo »

Former Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev. Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

Although there were some signs of a looming transition of power, Nazarbayev’s resignation caught many by surprise. Importantly, he followed constitutional procedure to the letter and for the first time in 20 years, did not push for snap elections.

This enforces the legitimacy of his temporary successor and launches the succession process, proof that he chose evolutionary development for Kazakhstan rather than revolutionary.

Nazarbayev’s authority and ability to govern effectively had waned over the last couple of years. With rising political disaffection and an uncertain economic outlook related to the oil price, stagnant growth and inflationary tendencies, it is possible that the president decided to leave in case the situation deteriorated.…  Seguir leyendo »

Georgia’s Presidential Campaign Damages Its Democratic Credentials

Georgia’s election on 28 November of former French diplomat and Georgian foreign minister Salome Zurabishvili as the region’s first elected female head of state since independence might appear to be a substantial achievement for a country that has been positively cited in its moves towards a more democratic culture.

But the election was marred by physical violence, vote-buying, misuse of state resources and a substantial imbalance in donations between the parties. And the presidency itself is, after constitutional changes, largely ceremonial. The assumption that Georgia continues to move along a trajectory of democratic governance is far from the reality.

Although mostly free, with voters having a genuine choice between a record number of first round participants, the elections were not fair.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sooronbay Jeenbekov won 54.3 per cent of the vote in Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election. Photo: Getty Images.

Kyrgyzstan looks set to conduct the first democratic transfer of power in the Central Asian region. On 16 October, the Kyrgyz Central Election Commission announced preliminary results revealing that the candidate of the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), Sooronbay Jeenbekov had won 54.3 per cent of the votes cast in the country’s presidential election, while his chief opponent, businessman Omurbek Babanov received 33.4 percent. After a campaign marred by mud-slinging and provocations, this clear majority confounded expectations and widespread belief that a close vote between these two former prime ministers would necessitate a run-off.

The peaceful and measured response to the unexpected results so far is broadly encouraging.…  Seguir leyendo »