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Kyrgyzstan: Young Voters Have Their Say

  • Gulnoza Saidazimova

http://gdb.rferl.org/58D586AD-29A6-474A-8841-92D97B56BF3D_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/58D586AD-29A6-474A-8841-92D97B56BF3D_mw800_mh600.jpg On 10 July, Kyrgyz voters go to the polls to elect a new president. Just over half the population is under 30, so the six candidates are understandably keen to get the votes of young people. But how are young people going to vote?

Bishkek, 9 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- "Of course, we are going to vote," one man said.

"I can't say at the moment," said a woman. "I might vote, I might not."

"Undoubtedly, we will vote," a second man said. "We hope [the election] will be free and fair."

"No. I'm from a village but I am going to be in Bishkek [during the election]," another woman said. "That’s why I can't vote."

Young people on the streets of Bishkek gave a range of answers as to whether they'll vote in the 10 July presidential election.

But most of the ones RFE/RL spoke to were positive.

"Of course, we are going to participate in the election as citizens of Kyrgyzstan," a student said.

"Of course, we are going to vote," added another student. "Otherwise, we won't be able to say that Kyrgyzstan is our motherland and we are Kyrgyz. We will vote and elect worthy people."

But who will young people vote for? The name that comes up most often is that of the man considered the frontrunner, acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

He faces five challengers, including the country's ombudsman, a trade-union leader, and a female human rights activist.

For some voters, none of the candidates is appealing.

"I know about each candidate, I know where they worked before and what they have been up to," said Timur, a 24-year-old businessman from Bishkek. "They have been well publicized, maybe not among the whole population, but at least in some circles. Their personal qualities are also well known. And I believe none of them deserves my vote.”

Another problem is that there are some 300,000 people whose passports are expired. Authorities have been unable to issue new passports in time for them to vote.

"First of all, I don't have a residence permit here [in Bishkek]," a woman named Damira told RFE/RL. "I'm originally from a village. I haven't been able to get a [new] passport for two years. That's why I won’t vote."

Tamerlan, 28, described the attributes he considers important in politicians.

"Integrity, especially toward the [Kyrgyz] people," he said. [In addition], I think, in our conditions, we need a tough politician because based on our experience I can say that our people don't understand the word 'openness' correctly. Well, I mean, 'democracy,' not 'openness.' They turn democracy to anarchy. I believe, at this stage, we need harsher measures."

On 10 July, Kyrgyz voters are to choose a new president to lead the country for the next five years. What do young citizens expect from a new head of state?

Twenty-year-old Jyldyz says creating new jobs must become one of the main tasks of the new president.

"I'd love to see my president improve the economic situation in our Kyrgyzstan," said Jyldyz, 20. "I believe the future president will care for Kyrgyzstan's future. Our youth don't have jobs. Instead of studying, they go to Russia and Korea in search of jobs. I think youth must be provided with jobs. Elderly people shouldn't stay in retirement homes, but should live with their loved ones when they get old."

Nineteen-year old Kanyshai has a similar view. She says she wants a president who will ensure the Kyrgyz economy grows, and who will help improve living standards.

(The youth program team of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service in Bishkek contributed to this report.)

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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