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Mr. Baisalov, who had been living in exile in Sweden, returned to Kyrgyzstan after the government was overthrown and Ms. Otunbayeva was made head of state. He initially had taken a job as chief of staff under the interim leader but quit to run in elections for parliament in June 2010. He has since retired from politics, and his party, Aikol El, no longer exists.

“There was no real renewal, no break with the past,” he says. “Ninety percent of the current members of parliament were working under the old, corrupt system of Bakiyev — and no one is doing anything about that.”

Aziz Sharsheyev, 24, who is developing business opportunities in the coal industry, disagrees with the widespread pessimism and believes Kyrgyzstan has a chance to develop a prosperous and pluralistic society. But Mr. Sharsheyev, who studied in the U.S., says that depends on the government improving educational opportunities.

“Democracy without education is not a democracy, and the quality of education here is very low,” he says.

Many Kyrgyz say they no longer believe that ushering in a more representative democracy is the right choice for the conflict-stricken country.

“I do not think much of parliamentary democracy,” says film director Alexander Tsay, 24. “Too many people making a decision on equal footing only complicates the process. We need a strong president again.”