BISHKEK -- For years, Kyrgyzstan's Ar-Namys (Dignity) party opted for a simple white-on-blue pattern for its banners and flags.
But with the country preparing for key local elections later this month, the party has rolled out a new design that has critics crying foul.
The fresh look, seen on billboards and posters throughout the capital, Bishkek, shows the party's top candidate, Omurbek Suvanaliev, photographed against a striped background that bears a marked resemblance to the white-blue-and-red of the Russian flag.
Observers say the redesign is a blatant attempt to win votes from Kyrgyzstan's roughly 200,000 ethnic Russians.
Activist Ilya Lukash says it's not the first time Ar-Namys and party leader Feliks Kulov have sought to create a visual association with Russia.
"Ar-Namys has been doing things like this for a long time. [Ahead of parliamentary elections] in 2010, for example, the party used a photograph in which Feliks Kulov was shown together with Dmitry Medvedev," Lukash says.
"These things show that Ar-Namys is a pro-Russian party. So it's hard to say that the use of the Russian colors is a simple coincidence."
Flying The Flag
The image of the Ar-Namys leader with the then-Russian president proved so provocative that the Kyrgyz parliament later imposed a ban on such photographs for campaign materials.
But the ban stopped short of prohibiting other, more subtle, forms of association -- like color schemes that may or may not resemble another country's flag.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) greets Feliks Kulov, who was no longer prime minister, at the presidential residence in September 2010.
Ar-Namys, which was formed in 1999, has never made a secret of its close ties to Moscow.
United Russia, the ruling party of President Vladimir Putin, granted the party a valuable endorsement ahead of the 2010 parliamentary vote.
And Kulov, a onetime prime minister and mayor of Bishkek, is among a small group of Kyrgyz politicians to openly maintain ties with Moscow as its seeks to restore the Kremlin's historical influence in Central Asia.
Abdymomun Mamaraimov, a former member of the Kyrgyz Central Election Commission, condemned the new Ar-Namys promotional materials, saying, "it's wrong to involve another country in our own internal affairs just because of political sympathies."
Suvanaliev -- a former interior minister known as the "Kyrgyz Cattani," after the police chief hero of the Italian TV series "La Piovra" -- has dismissed any intentional resemblance between the party posters and the Russian flag.
"The Russian flag is composed of three colors: red, blue, and white. We have just two colors. Probably when they hung the posters, the borders looked white," Suvanaliev said. "And that's how the whole debate got started."
Suvanaliev accused party critics of engaging in "dirty PR," but also noted that Ar-Namys would soon change the color of its flag to white and red.
The November 25 elections will determine the composition of city and village councils throughout Kyrgyzstan.
But for most parties, the key contest is the 45-seat city council in Bishkek. The council is responsible for electing the city's mayor, and is also seen as a springboard for many politicians looking to build a career at the national level.
Written by Daisy Sindelar, based on reporting by RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service correspondent Zairbek Baktybaev in Bishkek