- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2005

The tenacity of the people of Kyrgyzstan has turned a revolution that could into a revolution that did. The uprising in Kyrgyzstan that ousted an autocratic ruler who held sway for 15 years was fueled mostly by political passions, but appears to have also been helped by President Bush’s clear support for democracy around the world. Mr. Bush’s vocal defense of democracy may have prevented former Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev from ordering a bloody crackdown on protesters, out of a fear of losing U.S. and Western support. The revolution adds to a trend of failing authoritarian governments, brought on by massive popular movements in Georgia, Ukraine and Lebanon.

The Kyrgyz people, many wearing pink or yellow headbands, began taking to the streets in reaction to flawed parliamentary elections held in February and earlier this month. In the south, protesters had taken over government buildings. Yesterday, they were successful in taking over key government buildings in the capital president to resign.

It remains unclear which, if any, opposition leader will rise to fill the power vacuum because, unlike the revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, there is no single opposition figure that protesters are rallying around. Former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev and Felix Kulov, a former vice president, police chief and head of the National Security Ministry, do, though, figure prominently.

What also remains unclear is how much political clout Islamic parties will gain as a result of Mr. Akayev’s downfall. Islamic parties are not expected to overtly become a strong force, but they might garner some influence over nominally secular policy-makers. Islamic parties could be strengthened if a new government is unable to respond to people’s concerns about poverty and corruption.

For this reason, it is important that United States and other Western countries support a budding and vulnerable democratic movement in Kyrgyzstan, a neighbor of Afghanistan. Both the United States and Russia have military bases in Kyrgyzstan. Should the Islamic parties rise to power, those bases could be closed. Kyrgyzstan, like other Central Asian countries, is predominantly and moderately Muslim, and it is in America’s interest for that moderation to continue.

The United States and other Western nations should continue to encourage the people of Kyrgyzstan toward democracy and be prepared to offer targeted assistance.

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