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Former Kyrgyz President Discusses Political Transitions at Wilson Center Event
December 14, 2012
By: Rebecca Aaberg | Printer Friendly

The Global Women’s Leadership Initiative (GWLI) at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars hosted former Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva in a forum entitled “Women’s Leadership in Times of Political Transitions: Some Lessons from Kyrgyzstan.” Otunbayera was the first woman president in Central Asia and led the first peaceful transfer of power in Kyrgyzstan. GWLI Director Rangita de Silva de Alwis served as moderator. and Wilson Center President and CEO Jane Harman gave the opening remarks.

Harman introduced Otunbayera, adding that “women’s leadership is especially critical during times of political transitions.” She noted that Otunbayera was “one of the key leaders of the Tulip Revolution” in Kyrgyzstan, which she called “Central Asia’s first parliamentary republic.”  de Silva de Alwis later quoted Otunbayera’s strong support for democracy: “There is no highway to democracy…democracy is the only way.”

Otunbayera spoke to both the economic and the political transition in Kyrgyzstan. She stressed the immediacy of the country’s current challenges, including a high rate of emigration and an education deficit. She also mentioned that the former Soviet republic’s economic transition had resulted in a rapid privatization of industries during the 1990s that left Kyrgyzstan with high poverty, adding that the expectations from the West put the country in a difficult position: “It took [the West] 200 years of privatization; in our countries it happened in 20 years.” Corruption is one of the most pressing challenges for Kyrgysztan, in Otunbayera’s opinion. She cited up to 70 percent of economic activity as part of the “grey economy.”

Although the Kyrgyz revolution received little attention in the Western media, according to Otunbayera, the events were what Russian President Vladimir Putin called the start of the Arab Spring. Eighty-seven members of the opposition were shot by government forces in front of the Kyrgyz president’s residence on April 7, 2010, starting the Tulip Revolution. When the opposition took power, they promised parliamentary elections in six months with a presidential election to follow. Otunbayera also spearheaded the constitutional referendum in June 2010 to limit what had been (before the revolution) increasing authoritarian control. When discussing the transfer of power in 2011, Otunbayera said that it is “difficult to leave under democracy,” that it is a “chaotic, messy” process.

When asked about her experience in rising to a leadership position as a woman, Otunbayera said that “women had been in the frontline of the struggle” and that there was “no choice…It was [a] critical moment.” The Kyrgyz Parliament includes 23 percent women, required by a quota system.

Otunbayera headed the opposition party from 2007 before leading the interim government.

For more information and to watch the webcast, please click here.



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