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31.8.02

Kyrgyzstan: Government Stages Public Rallies

Kyrgyzstan has been swept by a tide of government-sponsored rallies in support of beleaguered President Askar Akaev.

One such rally was attended by between 8,000 and 15,000 people in Bishkek on August 22. The event was initiated by the local administration, which has the power to grant or deny permission for mass protests in the city centre.

However, the country's increasingly vocal opposition has dismissed the events, claiming the majority of people who attended were government officials, public sector employees and pensioners. "The rally was engineered by the government and there were many plainclothes police among the participants," claimed the independent newspaper Moya Stolitsa-Novosti.

The protesters also called for the term of Akaev's presidency to be extended from five years to seven.

These events were organised immediately after a group of opposition leaders reiterated their intention to press for Akaev's resignation.


The last two sentences are what concern me. Beyond the disagreement among the Kyrgyz people about whether Akaev has done a good job as president loom the larger issue of the rule of law. The rule of law is a concept of governance that recognizes that nobody will have a purely disinterested and objective position on any particular issue. Perspectives are always limited, and that is going to affect governance done on a case-by-case basis. Under the rule of law, general principles -- in this case, elections at specified and non-negotiable intervals -- establish a process through which all cases are filtered. Though the rule of law can be taken too far, becoming rigidly bureaucratic and unable to take contextual factors into account, some degree of rule of law is necessary to set limits on power and establish a reliable social structure. The assumption that a policy is beneficial (such as the continued leadership of Akaev) can't be allowed to let it be implemented without going through the proper channels. And where a robust culture of the respect for the rule of law has not developed, adherence to the principle in practice becomes even more important. So calling for Akaev's resignation is more dangerous to Kyrgyzstan than calling for Bill Clinton's resignation was to the US, despite the greater severity of Akaev's crimes. The rule of law in the US was robust enough that we could afford to make an exception based on a consideration of a particular case because doing so would not question an entrenched system. But the Kyrgyz rule of law is weak enough that it can't afford many exceptions.

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