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Kyrgyzstan's Presidential Challengers

  • Bruce Pannier

Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election on July 23 is unlikely to unseat President Kurmanbek Bakiev. Since coming to power in 2005, Bakiev has co-opted part of the formerly strong opposition and marginalized other prominent opposition parties and movements. But for the five candidates still in the running, their campaigns give them a platform to speak out on a wide range of issues, from charges of corruption in government to the role of women in Kyrgyz society.

RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service interviewed the five challengers on key campaign issues.

Temir Sariev is the leader of the opposition Ak-Shumkar (White Falcon) party. Sariev, 46, also has a business background and has been elected to parliament twice, in 2000 and 2005. He was briefly a deputy chairman in Atambaev’s Social Democratic Party in late 2006.

Almazbek Atambaev is the head of Kyrgyzstan’s opposition Social Democratic Party, the only opposition party with seats in parliament, and a former prime minister under President Kurmanbek Bakiev from March-October 2007. Atambaev, 52, has a business background and was the minister of industry and trade from September 2005-April 2006. He is a veteran opposition figure and has sometimes been an outspoken critic of President Bakiev, whom he referred to as a “political corpse.” Atambaev ran for president in 2000 and received some 6 percent of the vote.

Toktaim Umetalieva, the only female candidate, is running for the presidency for the second time. In the 2005 election, she received just 0.6 percent of the vote. Umetalieva is a veteran civil campaigner and has headed Kyrgyzstan’s Association of Nongovernmental and Noncommercial Organizations since 2000. Umetalieva has said she knows she is unlikely to win, but she is using the campaign to spread awareness of social issues and women’s rights in particular.

Jenishbek Nazaraliev, 48, is a physician who runs a number of clinics in Kyrgyzstan and is known outside the country for developing a successful type of drug rehabilitation therapy. He is a member of the opposition Asaba (Flag) Party. Nazaraliev famously said after the March 2005 revolution that earlier in the year he had cast some sort of spell against the regime, but the results -- the ouster of the president -- were greater than Nazaraliev himself had expected.

Nurlan Motuev is the most unconventional of the candidates. The youngest candidate at 38, Motuev became the “coal king of Kara-Keche” (Naryn Province) after seizing control of a mining enterprise in 2005, apparently without any official authorization. He was arrested in May 2006 and eventually faced 14 charges for his illegal business activities, including embezzling money from the sale of some $800,000 worth of coal. The trial of Motuev and 10 associates was suspended in June 2007 when one of the defendants became serious ill. Motuev was freed from detention but has been ordered not to leave the country.

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