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Kyrgyzstan: Will Election Be Free, Fair, And Nonviolent?

  • Gulnoza Saidazimova

http://gdb.rferl.org/6419D390-ED43-42CD-ABB2-305185A56205_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/6419D390-ED43-42CD-ABB2-305185A56205_mw800_mh600.jpg An election poster for Bakiev Kyrgyzstan’s 10 July presidential poll looks like a one-sided race in which no candidates pose a serious challenge to the frontrunner, acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev. But there are still many questions surrounding the vote, including whether it will be free and fair and non-violent.

Bishkek, 8 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The Kyrgyz authorities have assured the public the 10 July election will be free, fair, and open to international inspection.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) says some 970 observers will monitor polling stations, and more than 250 foreign reporters have accreditation to work in the country during the voting period.

But what do analysts closely watching the scene say?

Omurbek Abdrahmanov is a well-known businessman who is active in politics who describes himself as a “pro-Western liberal."

“Yes, I expect [the election will be fair] because there are no major disagreements [among candidates]," Abdrahmanov told RFE/RL. "One of them is a heavyweight, interim President Bakiev. Others are people with little significance for the society. Therefore, there is no political tension right now.”

Ishenbai Abdrazakov, a former ambassador and a former state secretary under ousted president Askar Akaev, shares this view.

He told RFE/RL that the interim government headed by Bakiev has a high stake in assuring the public sees the election as legitimate and gives the frontrunner a strong mandate.
"They understand that without officially elected president, no peace is possible in the country, there won’t be growth, life won’t get better. I believe they understand it now."


“Many voters think the result is clear and they may not vote," Abdrazakov said. "The other doubt is whether counting of ballots will be fair. But in general, I think authorities will do everything possible to announce the election valid.”

But if few observers see much reason to expect fraud in the election, some question how readily supporters of losing candidates may accept a Bakiev victory.

Michael Hall, the Bishkek-based director of the International Crisis Group’s Central Asia Project, expressed this concern.

“Hopefully, the elections will go off with enough voter participation for them to be considered valid, to be considered to have taken place officially," Hall said. "But I think really some very serious challenges for stability in Kyrgyzstan are going to come in the period shortly after the elections. I think there are several reasons for this. First of all, we’ll have to see the extent to which people will accept the results of the elections as valid, to what extent the other candidates will feel ready to accept them or contest them."

Some Kyrgyz political figures have shown a readiness since Akaev’s ouster to use street violence in jockeying for power. This has led to concerns that the election could spark demonstrations.

Most recently, several hundreds of protestors attacked the government compounds in central Bishkek on 17 June and tried to seize a key building.

Most of the protestors were supporters of disqualified presidential candidate Urmatbek Baryktabasov. The unrest was later quelled by riot police in the government’s first determined crackdown on street protests since Akaev’s was toppled.

Today, the streets of the capital are calm and no unrest has been reported elsewhere in the country. However, Hall still sees a potential for conflict.

“[It’s] hard to say if there will be demonstrations. I think there is the possibility of conflict, yes, unfortunately," Hall said. "We’ve certainly seen demonstrations in the time coming up to the election and I think we’ve seen that politicians are more and more willing to take their disputes into the streets. Not just regular politicians but also some informal authority figures. I think after the election, as the government attempts to establish control, as other forces jockey for position within the new environment, I think there is a potential that we’ll see some unrest.”

Hall notes that while the authorities now appear determined to confront protestors and use force if necessary in the capital, they still lack control over some regions.

“The question is to what extent they have the ability to respond elsewhere in the country and to what extent they really control the necessary resources and mechanisms and means to deal with unrest elsewhere in the country," Hall said. "I think, in many parts [of the country], there seems to be a real power vacuum.”

But not all analysts agree there will be trouble.

Tuiguunali Abdraimov, the CEC chairman, says the elections will be peaceful.

“People are very calm these days," Abdraimov told journalists on 7 July. "They understand that without officially elected president, no peace is possible in the country, there won’t be growth, life won’t get better. I believe they understand it now.”

Businessman Abdrahmanov also does not expect unrest. But he says tensions could arise from what he claims is uncertainty over any future Bakiev government’s economic and political direction.

“[Bakiev] is neither democrat, nor liberal, nor communist," Abdrahmanov said. "His political position is not clear. Right now, he listens spellbound to everyone, first of all, Russia, China, and America. In this regard, I think policy of the new president will be little different from the old president’s policy if we don’t pressure him."

Abdrahmanov says various civic groups have been pressuring Bakiev to implement constitutional reform aimed to extend parliament’s authority and increase checks and balances on the president.

He says those checks and balances are needed to ensure that a leader does not become authoritarian over time.

See also:

Bakiev Out Front In Presidential Race

Youth Playing Key Role In Pro-Akiev Political Movement

For RFE/RL's full coverage of Kyrgyzstan's presidential election, see "Kyrgyzstan Votes 2005"
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