Bakiyev was the leader of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan before his ascendance to the presidency. He received most of his popular support from the south of the country.
The Legislative Assembly of Kyrgyzstan of the Supreme Council of Kyrgyzstan appointed him acting President on March 25, 2005, following the ousting, during the Tulip Revolution, of President Askar Akayev. In October 2007, Bakiyev initiated the creation of Ak Jol party, but could not lead it due to his presidency.
Following the events of the 2005 Tulip Revolution, Bakiyev won the 10 July ballot for the Presidential election with 89% of the vote with a 53% turnout.
Despite initial hopes, Bakiyev's term in office was marred by the murder of several prominent politicians, prison riots, economic ills and battles for control of lucrative businesses. In 2006, Bakiyev faced a political crisis as thousands of people participated in a series of protests in Bishkek. He was accused of not following through with his promises to limit presidential power, give more authority to parliament and the prime minister, and eradicate corruption and crime. Bakiyev claimed that the opposition was plotting a coup against him.
In April 2007, the opposition held protests demanding Bakiyev's resignation, with a large protest beginning on April 11 in Bishkek. Bakiyev signed constitutional amendments to reduce his own power on April 10, but the protest went ahead, with protesters saying that they would remain until he resigned. Clashes broke out between protesters and police on April 19, after which the protests ended.
Over the years, the relationship between China and Kyrgyzstan has grown. The number of Chinese students in Kyrgyzstan has risen. There is even a plan for a high-speed rail to connect the two countries.
In February 2009, while in Moscow, Bakiyev announced the eviction of the US Air Base from Kyrgyzstan, right after a meeting with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, during which Russia promised a $2 billion investment.
Bakiyev was re-elected in the 2009 presidential election.
After the re-election in 2009, some people in Kyrgyzstan said that he would now deal with political and economic reform. Others were skeptical. The Eurasian Daily Monitor wrote on September 10 that his style resembled other leaders such as Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbayev. However, he lacked resources and Kyrgyz people were anxious about the risk of renewed power shortages and blackouts like in the winter 2008–2009.
During the winter of 2010 Kyrgyzstan has suffered from rolling blackouts and cutoffs occurring regularly while energy prices have risen.
In January 2010 Kyrgyzstan sent a delegation to China to discuss improved economic relations. Kyrgyzstan national electric company Natsionalnaya electricheskaya syet and the Chinese Tebian Electric signed a $342 million contract to build the Datka-Kemin 500 kv power transmission lines. This would have reduced Kyrgyzstan's dependence on the Central Asian power system. The delegation was led by Bakiyev's son.
In February 2010 Kyrgyzstan had to raise energy tariffs. Heating costs were reportedly going to rise 400 percent and electricity by 170 percent.
Russia backed his government until March 2010. The Eurasian Daily Monitor reported on April 1 that, for two weeks, the Kremlin had used the Russian mass media to run a negative campaign against Bakiyev. Russia controls much of the media in Kyrgyzstan. The sudden campaign coincided with Bakiyev's failure to carry out Russia's various demands related to things such as military bases. On April 1 Russia also imposed duties on energy exports to Kyrgyzstan. It influenced fuel and transport prices immediately, and reportedly led to a massive protest in Talas on April 6.
In April 2010, after bloody riots in the capital overturned the government, Bakiyev reportedly fled to the southern city of Osh. The head of the new provisional government, Roza Otunbayeva, declared that Bakiyev had not resigned and was trying to rally support. On April 13, 2010, Bakiyev said he was willing to resign the presidency if his security was guaranteed. On April 15, 2010, at 19:00, Bakiyev left Kyrgyzstan for Kazakhstan, having signed a resignation letter. Otunbayeva stated that she would press ahead to bring Bakiyev to trial.
On April 20, the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko told his parliament that "Bakiyev and his family, four people in all, have been in Minsk since Monday evening, as guests...Today they are here under the protection of our state, and personally of the president."
On April 21, Kurmanbek Bakiyev held a press conference in Minsk and stated "I, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, am the legally elected president of Kyrgyzstan and recognised by the international community. I do not recognise my resignation. Nine months ago the people of Kyrgyzstan elected me their president and there is no power that can stop me. Only death can stop me," and called Otunbayeva's administration an "illegitimate gang".
In February 2012 it has been reported that Bakiyev was granted Belarusian citizenship in 2010.
Ata-Zhurt, a party campaigning for bringing Kurmanbek Bakiyev back to power, won 28 out of 120 seats in Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary elections of 2010, securing a narrow plurality over the other parties.
During his time as president, several Bakiyev family members had prominent positions in the government, with at least five close relatives working in the upper echelons of power. His brother Janysh Bakiyev was head of the presidential guard, brother Marat Bakiyev was Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to Germany, and another brother Adyl Bakiyev was an adviser to Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to China.
Since the overthrow, Maksim Bakiyev, the younger son of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, has been charged with embezzlement and abuse of power by the interim government. It is suspected that he transferred about $35 million of a $300 million loan from Russia into his private bank accounts. Evgeniia Bakiev (Dankin) Kurmanbek's youngest daughter had to leave the country after the overthrow and move to the United States. When the revolt took place, Bakiyev was headed to the US for a series of meetings in Washington. On June 14, 2010, Maksim was arrested in the UK when he landed at Farnborough Airport in Hampshire in a privately hired jet. The Kyrgyz government is demanding his extradition.