Crossroads Asia

Kyrgyz Optimistic About Country’s Direction and Economy, But Troubled by Corruption

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Crossroads Asia

Kyrgyz Optimistic About Country’s Direction and Economy, But Troubled by Corruption

Corruption remains a top problem for Kyrgyzstan, even as citizens are optimistic about the country’s direction.

Kyrgyz Optimistic About Country’s Direction and Economy, But Troubled by Corruption

Woman in a Karakol market in eastern Kyrgyzstan, September 2016.

Credit: Catherine Putz

A majority of Kyrgyz polled late last year said the country was headed in the right direction, but nearly all of them said corruption was a problem.

Fieldwork on the poll, conducted by Baltic Surveys/The Gallup Organization on behalf of the Center for Insights in Survey Research at the International Republican Institute, was done from November 19 to December 2, 2017. The poll follows similar surveys — last conducted in March 2017 — going all the way back to April 2005, which paint a picture of public opinion in Kyrgyzstan on a variety of issues.

When asked if they thought Kyrgyzstan was headed in the right or wrong direction, in general, 66 percent of the respondents in the latest poll responded positively. The response fits with the broader trend of a gradual rise in those saying Kyrgyzstan was headed in the “right” direction since the October 2014 survey, when only 47 percent responded positively.

But before the leaders in Bishkek celebrate, it’s worth noting that in the May 2009 survey, 63 percent said Kyrgyzstan was headed in the “right” direction. That number plummeted to 28 percent the following year, when the survey was conducted on the heels of the 2010 revolution.

In the latest survey, 53 percent of respondents said that in the last year the country’s economic situation had improved a lot (12 percent) or improved somewhat (41 percent). This marked a distinct rise from the March 2017 survey, in which 5 percent said the economy had improved a lot in the previous year, and 39 percent said it had improved somewhat (for a total of 44 percent). The Kyrgyz surveyed also expressed optimism about the country’s economic outlook, with 56 percent saying that in their opinion, they believed the country’s economic situation would improve a lot (16 percent) or improve somewhat (40 percent.)

These two facets — satisfaction with the country’s direction and noting economic improvements — informed IRI Regional Director for Eurasia Stephen Nix’s statement in the organization’s press release on the poll that, “The government must take advantage of this opportunity to show that they are listening to the views of Kyrgyz citizens, and are prepared to address issues requiring action and reform such as corruption.”

Corruption is quite the problem, and no easy thing to root out. When asked directly about corruption, 95 percent of respondents said it was a very big problem (74 percent) or a big problem (21 percent). Interestingly none responded that it was not a problem at all: the remaining 5 percent were those saying it was not a big problem (3 percent) or unsure (2 percent). For perspective: the percentage of those saying corruption is a very big problem in Kyrgyzstan has, since the 2011 September survey, never dipped below 69 percent. In the March 2017 survey, the response hit a high of 78 percent.

The impact of corruption — for example, in infrastructure projects — shows up elsewhere in the survey. When asked what the most important problems facing the state, their town/village, and their household, were, many of the responses link back to corruption in some fashion. Twenty-five percent said outright that corruption was a problem for the Kyrgyz state, a response second only to unemployment, which 50 percent of respondents said was a problem.

At the village level, respondents listed problems such as poor roads (22 percent), lack of drinking water (19 percent) and high prices (14 percent) — as well as unemployment (20 percent) and other issues. While corruption was listed as a town/village problem by only 2 percent of respondents — the problems that respondents cited most often are exacerbated by corruption.

Corruption has long been listed as a significant problem for Kyrgyzstan, not only in this citizen survey but also in international rankings. The powers-that-be in Bishkek know this, but what are they doing about it?