It’s a great pleasure to be invited to the Asia Society on this special occasion, and I want to thank Andrew Billow and Vishakha Desai especially for the kind invitation to be a part of it. I have the distinct honor to introduce a head of state whose accomplishments have bequeathed a lasting and positive legacy for Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia.
Who would have imagined a year and a half ago, that Kyrgyzstan would have come so far in so short a time? When Roza Otunbayeva took over as interim president after the April 2010 revolution, she had an immensely difficult inheritance to overcome: politically, socially, economically, and in foreign relations.
She had only a skeleton staff. Then her job, and the chances of fulfilling the hopes of her people, became even more challenging when tragedy erupted in the south in June, right as she sought to put Kyrgyzstan on a strong constitutional footing.
Despite all of the daunting challenges, she did not waver. The course she charted defied the odds, and took courage, as Secretary Clinton recognized last March in awarding her the President the State Department’s International Woman of Courage Award.
Thanks to her leadership, the voters of Kyrgyzstan boldly launched a vibrant parliamentary system in the June 2010 referendum on a new constitution. President Otunbayeva then did more than anyone to advocate and support a successful and competitive parliamentary election in 2010, and a competitive presidential election this past October.
Her efforts paid off. Kyrgyz voters seized both opportunities to voice their preferences and shape their new political system with an impressive turnout. And most significantly, she dedicated herself to the first peaceful and constitutional transfer of power between presidents in Central Asia. That is a feat for the history books, but also one with tremendous implications for governance inside and outside of Kyrgyzstan. It is no accident that Kyrgyzstan’s economy has resumed strong and promising growth as the nation moves towards a democratic future.
President Obama has made clear that the United States is committed to supporting Kyrgyzstan’s efforts to consolidate its democratic transition. We recognize and admire all the remarkable accomplishments of the last eighteen months, but much remains to be done. Kyrgyzstan’s democratic future depends on the implementation of rule of law reform – including respect for full human rights and due process, judicial reform, and national reconciliation
In saluting President Otunbayeva’s resolve at their meeting last December, Secretary Clinton reminded us all that elections alone do not produce democracies. Constitutional democracy, she said, starts from the premise that certain principles must be upheld by the rule of law, whose principles ensure that all citizens from all backgrounds and traditions can participate, and work together to build a nation where all citizens are entitled to the same rights.
President Otunbayeva embodies those principles, and has devoted her efforts to diminishing interethnic tension and promoting judicial reform. She recognized that these are the problems that all democracies must solve to endure as just and stable nations.
We are proud to have supported the 2010 and 2011 elections, and to have assisted President Otunbayeva’s tenacious efforts to empower her people. We look forward to working closely with her successor, President-elect Almazbek Atambayev, and the government and parliament, in continuing to deepen and broaden ties between our countries. I am confident the partnership between our two countries will continue to advance the work President Otunbayeva began.
And there is a lot we can accomplish together, to build a stable and prosperous region. A particular priority is to promote greater regional integration through a network of economic and transit connections running throughout Central and South Asia, with Afghanistan at its heart.
The network has two complimentary components:
· first the infrastructure such as roads, bridges, railways and pipelines connecting goods, services, and people; and
· second, trade liberalization – which includes the reduction of non-tariff trade barriers, improved regulatory regimes, transparent border clearance procedures, and coordinated policies that accelerate the flow of goods and services throughout the region.
Kyrgyzstan already is playing a vital role in these efforts and its continued leadership will be essential going forward.
On behalf of the U.S. Department of State and our gracious hosts today, the Asia Society, please join me in extending a warm welcome to a leader and true visionary of democracy, the first women president in Central Asia, the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, Roza Otunbayeva.