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Kyrgyzstan: Election Inspires Little Hope Of Change

  • Bruce Pannier

The first round of Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary elections on 20 February, though flawed, showed some improvement in the country's electoral practices. But with President Askar Akaev holding out the new parliament will probably not play any important role in government, and RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier says there is little likelihood of a move toward greater democracy.

Prague, 23 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has said that the first round parliamentary elections on Sunday were encouraging, although not entirely free of flaws.

Mark Stevens, head of the OSCE's mission in Kyrgyzstan, says the number of violations reported to his staff did not exceed the average international level. But, he said, there were problems during the campaign, and examples of violations on election day are just now beginning to emerge.

Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev gave his own carefully worded response to a question about reports of violations prior to the polls:

"I am not worried. On the contrary, I am glad there is so much noise here in Kyrgyzstan and from abroad. I want to emphasize again that in today's (Feb. 20) elections all the opposition leaders took part without exception. I can name Absamat Masaliyev the leader of the Communist Party, the leader of Ar-Namys Feliks Kulov, the leader of People's Party Usenov, the leader of the Democratic Movement Jeksheev, the leader of the Ata-Meken (Fatherland) Party Tekebayev."

While Akayev named opposition leaders Kulov, Usenov, and Jeksheev, he failed to mention that the three political parties those men lead were barred from the elections. The three men competed as independents. The barring of parties and the bringing of court cases against individual candidates were among the problems noted by the OSCE.

In this election, for the first time, 15 of the 60 seats in the Legislative Assembly were selected by party lists. Early returns from the polls show the Communist Party will take one-third of those seats. The other four parties likely to win seats by party lists are all pro-government. One pro-government bloc, the Union of Democratic Forces, received heavy and positive coverage by state-run media. Two others -- the Democratic Party of Women and the Afghan War Veterans -- were virtual unknowns and it is not clear why they did so well.

Some observers cited specific irregularities. Altynai Omerbekova, an observer from the opposition Ar-Namys Party, said she saw voters turned away from the polls.

"Many people [who came to the polls] did not vote because when they arrived at the polling area they could not find their names on the registration list."

Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency reported (Feb. 21) that at one polling booth, officials were filmed on videotape ripping up ballots. The OSCE statement said students at universities in Bishkek and Jalalabad were forced to vote for their rectors.

But the head of Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission, Sulayman Imanbayev, today rejected OSCE and other criticism. Imanbayev said Kyrgzystan's elections are strictly an internal matter:

"We received a report from the OSCE, which sent people from their headquarters to us, and from the National Democratic Institute, which sent us a statement. I say again, elections and conducting elections are an internal affair of state. We did everything that was in our power -- taking into account the current situation in our society -- to hold honest, fair, and open elections."

The elections are not likely to change the political situation. President Akaev said on Sunday that the country is not ready for a dominant parliament and needs a "strong authority" to further economic and political reforms. He has opposed a strong parliament in the past -- in 1994, when the first parliament in independent Kyrgyzstan moved to limit his powers, he dismissed it.

Since run-off elections are necessary in the majority of districts, it will not be clear how both pro-government and opposition parties fared until after March 5. Yet as the parliament will have limited power, even a stronger showing by the opposition will not be likely to result in a different government policy.

(Naryn Idinov of the Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)