Has one of the brightest hopes for democracy in central Asia been dashed? That is the question being asked by observers of Askar Akayev’s 14-year rule. He was elected president of newly independent Kyrgyzstan in 1991, advocating openness and liberalism in the ex-Soviet republic. He pushed for privatisation and land reform, and initially took a hands-off approach to the media.
Now it is a very different picture: Akayev is accused of suppressing his critics, rigging elections and expanding presidential powers. Some people are convinced he will try to stay in power for a fourth five-year term. Human rights groups say they are concerned about the deterioration of civic freedoms in Kyrgyzstan.
Akayev has moved to pre-empt foreign criticism by cooperating with Russia and the United States. Both countries have bases in the strategically important country which borders China and is near Afghanistan.
While allying himself with Washington in the “war on terror,” Akayev has also cultivated close ties with Russian president Vladimir Putin. But it remains to be seen whether he can control of the domestic situation, and whether the winds of change will turn into a Ukraine or Georgia-style hurricane.