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Kyrgyzstan as a “Rotten Door” Transition

- April 9, 2010

More from Professor “Lucan Way”:http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/polsci/faculty_staff/ourfaculty/way_lucan.html:

bq. The nature of the transition in Kyrgyzstan, in which the Bakiev regime rapidly collapsed in the face of just a few thousand protestors (armed mostly with rocks), does not augur well for the future of Kyrgyz democracy. In our book, _Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes after the Cold War_ (to be published by Cambridge in August), Steven Levitsky and I argue that democracy is less likely to emerge in cases of “rotten door transitions” where opposition seizes power from a weak autocratic regime with a weak ruling party and/or state.

bq. Africa, the former Soviet Union, and the Americas have recently witnessed several examples of “rotten door” transitions, in which protesters essentially knocked down doors that had already rotted from within. In such cases, even a small opposition push was sufficient to trigger regime collapse. In Georgia (2003), Haiti (2004), and Madagascar (2002, 2009), as well as Kyrgyzstan in 2005 and 2010, presidents fell because security forces would not or could not put down relatively small protests and were thus left defenseless as opponents overran the state. In Haiti, Aristide was toppled in 2004 by a “rag-tag army of as few as 200 rebels,” and in Georgia, police surrounding parliament dissolved so quickly that Shevardnadze was forced to flee mid-speech—leaving his tea on the speaker’s rostrum for Saakashvili to gulp down after storming the building. In Kyrgyzstan in 2005, a few hundred protestors were able to take over regional governments before Akayev abandoned power in the midst of an antigovernment rally of about ten thousand in the capital.

bq. Rotten door transitions are often easy, in the sense that they require little opposition mobilization. Yet rotten door transitions often do not lead to democracy, for several reasons. First, they often take place in a context of extreme state weakness, in which state agencies cannot enforce the rule of law across the national territory. Although such conditions may aid protesters seeking to storm the capital, they are hardly favorable to stable democratization.

bq. Second, rotten door transitions often result in new power balances that are unfavorable to democracy. Because rotten door transitions do not require a strong opposition push, they often take place in countries with weak civil societies, in which few counterweights to state power exist after the transition. Opposition weakness is often exacerbated by the disintegration of old governing parties. In Georgia, Malawi, Madagascar, Mali, Moldova, Senegal, and Zambia, ex-ruling parties were decimated by defection to successor governments, leaving the opposition fragmented and weak. Weak oppositions do not favor democratization.

bq. Third, rotten door transitions often bring little elite turnover. Because transitions are often driven by large-scale (and last-minute) defections from the old regime, rather than sustained opposition or pro-democracy movements, many of the most influential transition figures tend to be drawn from the old regime elite. Consequently, post-transition governments are often led by politicians without a clear commitment to democracy—and with considerable experience in authoritarian politics.

bq. Finally, rotten door transitions often bring little institutional change. The rapid and chaotic nature of transitions by collapse often means that few real institutional reforms are undertaken. As a result, much of the institutional architecture of competitive authoritarianism—including weak, corrupt electoral and judicial authorities, state monopolies on the electronic media, politicized bureaucracies and security agencies, and repressive libel and/or internal security laws—is left intact.

bq. In sum, rotten door transitions generally occur in a context of state, party, and civil society weakness. New governments are often filled with elites from the old regime, and they inherit many of the politicized and authoritarian institutions that had characterized the previous regime. Thus, there exist few societal or institutional checks on government abuse.

bq. Something to think about when we consider the future of democracy in Kyrgyzstan.