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Ak-Shumkar Wastes No Time In Kyrgyzstan's Parliamentary Race

Temir Sariev was among the first to declare his intentions.

Temir Sariev was among the first to declare his intentions.

No sooner had Kyrgyzstan officially announced the date for parliamentary elections on August 10 than Temir Sariev, the head of the Ak-Shumkar (White Falcon) party, was already laying out his party's platform.

It's not surprising the Ak-Shumkar leader was in such a hurry to get his message out. Parliamentary elections have never been more important in Kyrgyzstan.

The constitution, approved by referendum at the end of June, changes the political system from the traditional presidential to a parliamentary system of government. For the first time in Kyrgyzstan, winning seats in parliament means holding power.

And parliament names the prime minister who will, also for the first time in Kyrgyzstan, be the leader of the country instead of the president. Prime Minister Temir Sariev, perhaps?

He has, potentially, scores of rivals -- another reason to start campaigning as soon as possible. But Sariev has offered up an early look at some of the "hot button" issues ahead in this campaign.

Sariev mentioned what will surely be one of the most common issues raised by candidates in the coming days -- the arrival of OSCE police to southern Kyrgyzstan. Their deployment is already being resisted, especially in the south.

The interim government agreed to the deployment of 52 unarmed OSCE police officers in Osh and Jalal-Abad, where ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks clashed in June, leaving nearly 400 people dead (officially), temporarily displacing hundreds of thousands of others, and causing widespread destruction.

The police are not there yet (they're tentatively due to arrive in mid-September) but there have been several protests in Osh and the capital, Bishkek, against the presence of these OSCE police.

Sariev has said the government should reject the police being sent to Kyrgyzstan. Previously acting deputy prime minister and finance minister in the interim government before he resigned to run in the elections, he said he had originally voted in favor of having OSCE mission when he was in the government. But "insofar as the people do not want the introduction of OSCE police, we should decline and count on our own forces to extricate [the country] from this complicated situation," he said.

Sariev is tapping into a sentiment that is increasing in popularity daily among a certain section of the population. He won't be the only candidate bringing that topic up at rallies and press conferences.

Sariev also unveiled his anticrisis program, "seven first steps," dealing mainly with getting long-term credits, reforming the tax system, and other such issues. But the program emphasizes giving a bit more power to the business community. Most parties and their candidates will need a lot of financial help in this campaign, and contribution from the business community should go a long way in gaining influence after election day in October.

Sariev also hit on some of the usual points -- society's lack of faith in the government, the need for free and fair elections, especially fulfillment of guarantees that no "administrative resources" interfere with campaigning or the election. Heard it before (never worked) and we'll hear it again from other candidates as we near October 10.

Sariev and his party are genuine contenders in the upcoming poll. Ak-Shumkar is a relatively new party in Kyrgyzstan but Sariev has been elected to parliament twice (2000 and 2005).

He will not be the only candidate participating in the October elections to have been in previous governments that were chased from power. But he does get credit for being the first to throw his hat in the ring in this election.

-- Bruce Pannier