Kyrgyzstan as a “Rotten Door” Transition

Lucan Way by way of Monkey Cage:

The nature of the transition in Kyrgyzstan, in which the Bakiev regime rapidly collapsed in the face of just a few thousand protestors (armed mostly with rocks), does not augur well for the future of Kyrgyz democracy. In our book, Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes after the Cold War (to be published by Cambridge in August), Steven Levitsky and I argue that democracy is less likely to emerge in cases of “rotten door transitions” where opposition seizes power from a weak autocratic regime with a weak ruling party and/or state.

Africa, the former Soviet Union, and the Americas have recently witnessed several examples of “rotten door” transitions, in which protesters essentially knocked down doors that had already rotted from within. In such cases, even a small opposition push was sufficient to trigger regime collapse. In Georgia (2003), Haiti (2004), and Madagascar (2002, 2009), as well as Kyrgyzstan in 2005 and 2010, presidents fell because security forces would not or could not put down relatively small protests and were thus left defenseless as opponents overran the state. In Haiti, Aristide was toppled in 2004 by a “rag-tag army of as few as 200 rebels,” and in Georgia, police surrounding parliament dissolved so quickly that Shevardnadze was forced to flee mid-speech—leaving his tea on the speaker’s rostrum for Saakashvili to gulp down after storming the building. In Kyrgyzstan in 2005, a few hundred protestors were able to take over regional governments before Akayev abandoned power in the midst of an antigovernment rally of about ten thousand in the capital.

Rotten door transitions are often easy, in the sense that they require little opposition mobilization. Yet rotten door transitions often do not lead to democracy, for several reasons. First, they often take place in a context of extreme state weakness, in which state agencies cannot enforce the rule of law across the national territory. Although such conditions may aid protesters seeking to storm the capital, they are hardly favorable to stable democratization.