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Kyrgyzstan: Election Of Alleged Crime Figure Sparks Legal Debate, Popular Outcry

  • Bruce Pannier --> Rysbek Akmatbaev during a March 31 rally in Bishkek in support of him (RFE/RL) The election of Rysbek Akmatbaev to parliament on April 9 sparked debate over the legitimacy of his election. Kyrgyz officials are scrambling to get a ruling on the legality of Akmatbaev sitting in parliament, while civil groups are unhappy that there is a chance for a reputed criminal figure to become a deputy.

PRAGUE, April 11, 2006 -- Akmatbaev, who is Kyrgyzstan's most famous criminal suspect, is waiting to find out if he will be able to sit in the parliamentary seat he won in a by-election on April 9.

Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairman Tuigunaly Abdraimov said today that he received a threatening phone call from Akmatbaev last night because of the delay by the CEC in making an official announcement about Akmatbaev's claim to the seat.

The day before the by-election, some 5,000 people demonstrated in Bishkek with a clear message of wanting to keep alleged criminals out of the government.

Death Threat?

"Yesterday April 10, after my press conference was shown [on local TV], as I was sitting in the office of Education Minister Dosbol Nur-uulu, [Rysbek] Akmatbaev called my mobile phone and threatened to kill and destroy me," he says. "I recognized his voice. However, I need to say that despite such threats, we will act within the framework of the law."

Akmatbaev received nearly 80 percent of the vote in the Balykchy District. Earlier yesterday, CEC chairman Abdraimov announced the results.

"There will not be a runoff in the Balykchy constituency," he said. "Akmatbaev Rysbek has won in the first round. All of these [voting tabulations] are just preliminary results."

Previous Convictions

But it is not so easy. Akmatbaev has a criminal record in Kyrgyzstan. He was jailed twice in the 1990s for robbery, assault, and other offenses. He was accused of killing a policeman but was acquitted of those charges earlier this year. The family of the murdered policeman are appealing the acquittal. That means there is still an investigation in progress and, according to Kyrgyzstan's election laws, Akmatbaev should not be able to run for public office.

The CEC rejected his candidacy once, on the grounds he has not resided in Kyrgyzstan for the last five consecutive years. That sparked protests by Akmatbaev's supporters in the Balykchy District who traveled to Bishkek to demonstrate. A Bishkek city court heard Akmatbaev's appeal and overturned the decision banning him from running. A few days later, the Supreme Court upheld that decision.

The issue of Akmatbaev's criminal record and the outstanding criminal case against him somehow eluded officials until April 10, after the announcement of preliminary-election results. CEC head Abdraimov tried to explain the complications.

"According to Article 28, his case cannot be considered in court because he is a candidate," he said. "This is the contradiction we are facing. We will ask the parliament for clarification of this legal discrepancy."

Simply put, if Akmatbaev is officially a candidate for public office then he enjoys immunity from investigation or prosecution. But, if he is still under investigation on the murder charge he should have been rejected as a candidate.

Abdraimov and the CEC have turned the matter over to the parliament for a ruling. But that is still not the end of the story.

NGOs And Public Protest

Nongovernmental organizations have been protesting Akmatbaev's right to run for a seat in parliament. On April 8, the day before the by-election, some 5,000 people demonstrated in Bishkek with a clear message of wanting to keep alleged criminals out of the government.

Other NGOs are saying they will resist Akmatbaev's attempts to take a seat in parliament. One is the director of Inter-Bilim Center, Asiya Sasykbaeva, who told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service today.

"Today we met with [U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard] Boucher," she said. "We told him about the current [political] situation. The people don't support criminality today, as you know. They are supporting [reputed criminals] out of fear. About 13,000 voters in the Balykchy [constituency] elected [Rysbek Akmatbaev] simply out of fear. I think, 50 percent of the voters there came to vote because they were frightened."

NGOs and political parties plan to have another Bishkek rally against criminality in government at the end of the month.

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