2021's challenges for Central Asia
by Vladimir Rozanskij

There will soon be parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan; presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Authoritarianism grew during the pandemic, as did domestic violence and suicides. Tajikistan prepares for Shanghai-Five, grouping China and Russia, as well as India and Pakistan. A region in transformation 30 years after the end of the Soviet empire.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The elections of the lower house of parliament and regional councils will be held January 10 in Kazakhstan. On the same day, presidential elections and a referendum on the form of government will take place in Kyrgyzstan. These are the first appointments of the new year for the ex-Soviet countries of Central Asia, which have reached a crucial phase in their history, 30 years after the end of communism.

In March, the elections of the new Maslakhat (upper house) of Turkmenistan will be held, and the next presidential elections are also approaching in Uzbekistan (by the end of the year), even if no candidate has yet announced their candidacy.

These countries are characterized by very authoritarian forms of government. These have become even more stringent due to the pandemic and quarantine measures, imposed in very contradictory and questionable ways, criticized by all international organizations.

Across Central Asia, there was a sharp rise in domestic violence and suicides in 2020. These tragedies have not filtered through externally because governments have taken increasingly restrictive measures, especially on the media. In Turkmenistan the digital format has also been brought under state control.

Turkmenistan is the only country in the world that has not wanted to officially admit any case of coronavirus. But in general, all the countries in the region have given very partial and unreliable information on the pandemic; only in Kyrgyzstan in July were cases of Covid-19 associated with pneumonia statistics. The Turkmen authorities finally proposed to bring together in a forum (face-to-face or virtual) all doctors and specialists from neighboring countries to evaluate the fight against the virus, which should take place in the second half of 2021.

In the future, population censuses are planned in some Central Asian countries, which have undergone many changes in number and composition in the post-Soviet 30 years. In Kazakhstan the census had already been set two years ago, then it was postponed due to the resignation of President Nazarbaev and the pandemic, and should be held in October.

The census was also postponed this year  in Kyrgyzstan,  due to the virus; in Tajikistan, the results of the census held last year are expected in the coming months. Uzbekistan is the only country that has never taken a census since independence in 1991, and now it seems intent on carrying it out by 2023. In Turkmenistan, the census is scheduled for 2022.

In addition to the discussions on Covid-19, Turkmenistan is expected to organize the Third Summit of Heads of State of Central Asia in 2021, postponed and moved due to the turmoil in the streets in Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, where it was supposed to take place last year.

In Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan, the Assembly of the Eurasian Supreme Council is scheduled, where its creator, the former Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbaev, should be proclaimed as "honorary president". Tajikistan is also preparing an international summit, that of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (Shanghai-Five), in which China and Russia, as well as India and Pakistan also participate.

Finally, various international initiatives are planned for the area of ​​the Caspian Sea countries, including Iran and Russia. We should discuss the legal status of the Caspian coasts and the political and economic relations of the countries involved, in an area with very delicate balances, after the recent conflict in Nagorno Karabakh.

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