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Following the demise of communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, international actors moved into the region to help the post-communist states and their societies with the introduction of democracy. The provision of assistance to political parties by a number of specialized western organizations has been one of many forms of democracy promotion that have been carried out throughout the former communist world. Whereas most party assistance, especially in the early ‘transition’ years, flowed to Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the European former Soviet republics, some party assistance has also been provided in the countries of Central Asia, except Turkmenistan. Specifically, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), affiliated with the Democratic Party in the United States, works with parties in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, and previously in Tajikistan as well, while the International Republican Institute of the Republican Party works with parties in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
From the moment party assistance was being wrapped up in the countries of CEE that have joined the EU, there has been an elevated interest among organizations that provide party assistance to start up or intensify programs in Central Asia. Drawing on a discussion of political parties and party politics in Central Asia, this paper questions the rationale behind party assistance in the region. It argues that the environment for international party assistance in Central Asia is a highly adverse one and that, for this reason, party assistance in Central Asia is ill-positioned to make an impact. The discussion of party politics covers the former Soviet republics in Central Asia except Turkmenistan, which has not seen multi-party politics until recently.