This paper studies the institutional reform process in Central Asia from 1995 to 2006. I compare the institutional reform processes of Central Asian countries to those conducted in their neighbouring countries of Central and (South) Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. The paper identifies contemporaneous factors responsible for the persistence of poor institutional arrangements. Second, the paper identifies factors that have acted as commitment devices in order to achieve and sustain institutional change over the last decade. It is argued that deficiencies in the education system, and preferences of individuals and politicians are responsible for the persistence of poor institutional arrangements. External factors such as real and financial openness, fixed exchange rates, and international agreements have provided a disciplining effect for policy makers to improve institutional arrangements in Central Asia, despite poor initial conditions. Finally, there is some evidence that large external shocks may help to shift preferences towards more reliable institutional settings.