Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A "Perverse Opportunity" to change the despotic status quo in Central Asia

Only Kyrgyzstan–of the five Central Asian states–escapes the bottom of the ratings and in 2015 (the year on which the 2016 report is based) actually charted an improvement, likely owing to its successful parliamentary elections in October. That said, with its score of 5.89, Kyrgyzstan seems to still be dancing on the edge of authoritarianism. Kazakhstan's score, 6.61, remained unchanged from last year. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have an additional dubious honor: their score, 6.93, is the lowest out of the 29 states included in the study (positions they've occupied for a decade).
Democratization has been a hot topic in Central Asia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But despite billions invested in various kinds of programs–building civil society, investing in independent media, and engaging in parliamentary exchanges–there hasn't been much measurable progress.
At the report's launch in Washington DC, much of the conversation circled Central European and Balkan declines in democracy–simply because there's isn't much new to be said about Eurasia. The economic crisis that has hardened over the past year–seen in bottomed-out oil prices, devalued currencies, and drops in remittances–presents, in the words of Nations in Transit project director Nate Schenkkan, a "perverse" kind of opportunity for the West to stress the benefits of democratic reforms, particularly transparency and accountability.

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