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Kyrgyzstan: Runoff Elections Reach New Low

  • Bruce Pannier

Sunday's second round of parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan was not only flawed. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, it was even worse than the much-criticized first round. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier reports:

Prague, 14 March 2000 (RFE/RL ) -- Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev and representatives of the country's Central Election Commission called the runoff elections held on 12 March to be democratic. But that was decidedly not the view of observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, who pointed to important democratic flaws both in the voting and in the campaign that led up to it.

Presidential spokesman Osmonakun Ibraimov expressed Akaev's view of the election after the polls closed Sunday:

"President Akaev deems, with great satisfaction, that the elections took place in a democratic spirit without major violations."

The OSCE's criticism came in a preliminary evaluation Monday that listed what it called "negative trends." The report described the manipulation of the legal system for political advantage, including court actions by electoral officials that barred nine opposition candidates from running. The OSCE also mentioned other democratic deficiencies, such as the lack of independence of election commissions, bias in the state media and interference by state officials in the electoral process. Its statement concluded by recommending that these problems be addressed before Kyrgyzstan's presidential election at the end of the year.

Fairness aside, Sunday's elections were certainly complicated. To begin with, the Central Elections Commission failed to announce official results of the first round of voting last month. That failure probably perplexed many Kyrgyz voters, and it certainly confused the international press. Accounts by news agencies of seats left unfilled after the February 20 vote ranged from 87 to 76. RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service estimated only 68 undecided seats.

There are 105 seats in Kyrgyzstan's bicameral parliament -- 60 in the upper house and 45 in the lower. Fifteen of the 105 seats were allotted by party lists, and all of those were filled last month. But for more than two weeks after that round, only three of the remaining 90 seats from single-mandate districts were known to be filled. While the Election Commission said it was still counting votes, some eligible second-round candidates had dropped out, and others were in the meantime barred from competing.

At the beginning of this month, the Election Commission did release preliminary first-round figures to those who asked for them, but never announced them publicly. The figures help understand what happened to opposition leaders during both rounds of the election.

According to the Election Commission figures, Daniyar Usenov -- the head of the leading opposition El Party, the second-largest party -- received 28 percent of the vote in the capital Bishkek's Togolok-Moldo district. His opponent won only 12 percent.

State-inspired legal action against Usenov had sought unsuccessfully to keep him out of the first round. But after the February round, his electoral opponent produced evidence that Usenov had not declared all the property he owned to the Election Commission. Usenov contested the charge, but both a district court and the Supreme Court later upheld the commission's decision to disbar him.

But Monday's OSCE statement says that Usenov actually received more than 50 percent of the votes cast in his district in the first round. That means he should have been declared the outright winner in February.

Another constituency that received considerable OSCE attention, this one in the northwestern Talas area, was contested by Feliks Kulov, the former mayor of Bishkek and an outspoken critic of President Akaev. The Election Commission's preliminary results show Kulov having won 36 percent of the vote in the first round, compared with his chief opponent's 18 percent.

The OSCE said its observers faced obstacles in trying to monitor the Electoral Commission's work in the Talas area. It said the chairwoman of the commission there acknowledged that irregularities were taking place. The OSCE statement noted: "She was later forced to resign under pressure from state officials in Talas."

The OSCE found other democratic flaws in Sunday's vote in Talas as well. Its statement cites "a significant number of advance voters, reports of pressure on voters and numerous violations of the procedures for tabulating results." All these abuses, says the organization, "raise serious questions" about the Talas result -- which showed Kulov's opponent, who failed to gain 20 percent in the first round, receiving over 50 percent in the runoff.

Early Sunday, Usenov supporters gathered in his constituency to protest against his being barred from running. Kulov's supporters began protesting Sunday night, when it was already clear he would officially -- but unexpectedly -- lose.

The Kyrgyz parliament actually has little political clout. It is the president who holds the real power in the country. Ten years in office, President Akayev is now expected to run for a new term. Two opposition figures who have said they will run against him are Daniyar Usenov and Feliks Kulov.

Kyrgyzstan once had the reputation of being an island of democracy among the repressive governments of Central Asia. If that was ever true, the two rounds of its parliamentary elections this year have demonstrated the contrary.

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