The Nations in Transit 2017 report by Freedom House notes that in 2017, more than half of the 29 countries in the report had declines in their Democracy Scores: 18 countries’ scores dropped.  This is the second biggest decline in the survey’s history, almost as large as the drop following the 2008 global financial crisis, according to the report. 

For the first time since 1995, there are now more Consolidated Authoritarian Regimes than Consolidated Democracies.

The report notes that Kyrgyzstan fell back in to the category of Consolidated Authoritarian Regimes, a category it had left after competitive parliamentary elections in 2011.

One benchmark for distinguishing between democratic and nondemocratic systems is the ability of voters to change their leadership through elections. In the last two years, Kyrgyzstan has shifted from presidential to parliamentary systems in an attempt to make such political change harder to achieve.

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev argued that constitutional revisions were needed to bolster the democratic power of parliaments in a region where strongman syndrome is endemic.  But the actual effect of the reforms will be to entrench the president’s party and an oligarchic elite even further.

Kyrgyzstan falls near the threshold for designation as a consolidated authoritarian regime in the Nations in Transit methodology, but it retains a measure of political pluralism that prevents total domination by one person or group. 

In Kyrgyzstan, the constitutional reform was not on the agenda at all in the fall 2015 general elections. The president raised it only several months later, after the parliament had already convened. When the governing coalition declined to take up Atambayev’s proposal in parliament in October 2016, Atambayev pulled strings to force the coalition’s collapse and install a more pliant alliance that supported the referendum.

The constitutional changes in Kyrgyzstan were reportedly more of a deal among a number of groups in the elite, most importantly President Atambayev and his Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK). The revisions actually do not weaken the presidency much at all: what they do is reduce the independence of the judiciary and increase the control of the prime minister over the governmental coalition.  It will be much more difficult for dissenting factions within the ruling coalition to break away, and the prime minister will enjoy greater control over local governments, at the expense of local elected officials.  The changes will effectively bolster the position of an oligarchic ruling class with little popularity or legitimacy.

The Nations in Transit project began in 1995 with a number of baseline assumptions.  One of them was that the countries included in the survey were in transition, but that their movement was unidirectional: Freed from dictatorship, they were leaving their past behind and moving, some slowly, others with haste, toward liberal democracy.  Although there was still a broad range of regime types even a decade later—9 of the 29 countries were “consolidated democracies” in 2007 while 5 were “consolidated authoritarian regimes”—the accession of the Central European countries to the European Union seemed to support the assumption that once a country had achieved democracy, it would stay at that end of the scale.

Current conditions present a very different picture. The number of consolidated authoritarian regimes has increased to 8, and the number of consolidated democracies has dropped to 7. Nearly all of the consolidated democracies have shown deterioration in the rule of law and adherence to democratic values.