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Qishloq Ovozi

The reinstatement of the Butun Kyrgyzstan has ensured that a premier opposition party will take part in the elections. (file photo)

Amid campaigning for the wide-open and unpredictable parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan, the sudden inclusion of a previously banned opposition party has raised questions and made the vote's outcome even harder to forecast.

But the reinstatement of the Butun Kyrgyzstan (United Kyrgyzstan) party in the race for seats in the country's parliament has restored a balance and ensured that a premier opposition party will take part in the elections.

The October 4 vote for a new parliament had looked as if it would have a dark cloud over it as the parties were registering.

When the Central Elections Commission (CEC) rejected Butun Kyrgyzstan's registration on September 3 -- the day before official campaigning started -- it appeared that the campaign would be conducted amid court battles and accusations of government interference.

But if that still occurs it will not be because Butun Kyrgyzstan is not participating.

On September 9, an administrative court in the capital, Bishkek, overturned the CEC decision barring the party from taking part, much to the approval of many of its supporters who gathered outside the courtroom.

The commission could have appealed to the Supreme Court -- as it just had in the case of another political party that the CEC initially excluded -- but instead Butun Kyrgyzstan was registered within a couple of hours of the court verdict and a random drawing of parties gave it the number eight spot on the ballot among 16 parties.

One controversy was avoided, but others emerged.

The Butun Kyrgyzstan Party

The party is led by Adakhan Madumarov, 55, a three-term parliamentary deputy from southern Kyrgyzstan who has also held several state posts, including secretary of the Security Council. He has led the party since founding it in 2010. The party has never won a seat in parliament.

But the two biggest parties currently in parliament -- the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan and the Respublika/Ata-Jurt group -- are in disarray and only splinter groups from these parties will be participating in the upcoming elections.

So there is no clear frontrunner in the elections and most of the parties running in the 2020 vote are relatively new or a merger of two or more parties.

Butun Kyrgyzstan leader Adakhan Madumarov (file photo)
Butun Kyrgyzstan leader Adakhan Madumarov (file photo)

Madumarov has gathered other well-known veteran politicians into his party for these elections.

Omurbek Suvanaliev, who just stepped down from his post as deputy head of the Security Council; Bektur Asanov, leader of the Egemen Kyrgyzstan party and former governor of Jalal-Abad Province; and Iskhak Masaliev, who recently resigned as head of the Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan (he's also the son of Absamat Masaliev, a first secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Kyrgyzstan).

While these three are powerful political figures in the country, where personality rather than political platforms is often more important, their inclusion is a contrast to many other parties -- including established parties like Ata-Meken (Fatherland) -- that are going with a youth movement in this vote.

There was another big name in Butun Kyrgyzstan -- Tursunbai Bakir uulu, a former deputy and long-time ombudsman -- and he is ultimately the reason the CEC originally disqualified Butun Kyrgyzstan.

Tursunbai Bakir uulu (file photo)
Tursunbai Bakir uulu (file photo)

Bakir uulu attended the Butun Kyrgyzstan congress in August and was put on the party's list of candidates. But when the party gave the list to the CEC for registration, Bakir uulu's name was no longer on it and he claims when he inquired about it, he was told he had to pay $200,000 to get a top spot on the party list.

So Bakir uulu filed a lawsuit against Butun Kyrgyzstan that would later be the basis for the CEC excluding the party from the elections. The CEC ruled that the list approved at the party congress did not match the list presented at registration in late August.

Bakir uulu's status as a noncandidate has not changed but Butun Kyrgyzstan is back in the elections.

The CEC's Role

There is now some skepticism about the reason for Butun Kyrgyzstan's return.

Was the court ruling impartial or were some government officials concerned that the absence of a strong opposition party would cast doubt on the results in October, and therefore pressure was exerted on the court to include Butun Kyrgyzstan?

And the role of the CEC has been called into question.

The CEC first accepted, then rejected the documents from the pro-government Kyrgyzstan party in late August.

But that decision was overturned by an administrative court and the Kyrgyzstan party was allowed to hand in its registration documents. The CEC then appealed to the Supreme Court which upheld the court's decision to reinstate the party.

The CEC also excluded the Aktiv party and it will not take part in the elections.

But two of three parties the CEC rejected managed to get back in the race by resorting to the court system, causing many to question the CEC's interpretation of the election rules.

Butun Kyrgyzstan In The Elections

Butun Kyrgyzstan's participation is important for the upcoming elections.

Party members Suvanaliev and Asanov have been among the most vocal politicians in drawing attention to allegations of vote-buying and the alleged funding of some parties by organized criminal groups.

It is something the government and the electorate should pay close attention to.

The party has experienced politicians within its ranks.

A downside to Butun Kyrgyzstan's participation is that, as mentioned, most of the parties competing consider themselves opposition parties.

With Butun Kyrgyzstan in the race, the votes of those who do not support pro-government parties will be further diluted among opposition parties, likely guaranteeing that while some will cross the 7 percent threshold needed to win seats, no single opposition party will win very many seats.

For now, Butun Kyrgyzstan's court case has raised the party's profile and that should more than compensate for the five days of campaigning that it lost.

They may yet be seen as the champion of the opposition, but the scandal around Bakir uulu will hang over the party as it moves forward in the campaign.

Although the coronavirus officially does not exist in Turkmenistan, the authorities have been advising citizens to wear masks due to the potentially harmful effects of "dust."

There were reports on September 7 of Turkmen officials approving an amendment to the law that obligates people who suspect they have contracted a dangerous infectious disease to seek medical treatment and also requires people in hospitals with such illnesses not to leave medical facilities.

That seems logical and hardly worth including in the Criminal Code.

Unless you had heard "the rumor."

Whose Story To Believe?

Telling citizens to seek medical help if they have been infected with a dangerous illness might seem unnecessary, especially with the coronavirus pandemic affecting almost every country in the world.

Almost every country…

Turkmenistan officially does not have any COVID-19 cases, though they have been warning of potentially harmful effects from "dust" in the air in advising people to wear masks.

But there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence that suggests the illness is raging out of control in the country.

If one believes the Turkmen authorities' claim that there is no coronavirus, or any other dangerous infectious illness present in Turkmenistan, then there should be no need for a sudden amendment to the law that not only obligates citizens to seek medical treatment, but allows punishment of two to five years in prison for those who violate the law.

Anecdotal evidence, essentially testimony from, now, dozens of people inside Turkmenistan, suggests hospitals are already overcrowded due to a sharp increase in respiratory illnesses that many believe is the coronavirus or at least the pneumonia caused by that virus.

There have been reports that Turkmenistan's health service is overloaded, even though there is officially no pandemic in the country.
There have been reports that Turkmenistan's health service is overloaded, even though there is officially no pandemic in the country.

There are no free beds, and the relatives of those who fall seriously ill must pay bribes to have their kin admitted to the hospital – and also to get them a respirator.

If one believes this anecdotal evidence, then people seem willing -- even anxious -- to be admitted to hospitals for treatment but the health-care system is overwhelmed.

Turkmen authorities have spent years trying to prevent the outside world from knowing what is truly happening inside the country and that often leaves the outside with only stories and rumors about what is going on in Turkmenistan.

It is impossible to independently verify even something like Turkmenistan's health-care system collapsing.

The Injection

There is a new rumor that has been making its way around Turkmenistan for several weeks, though it is difficult to believe because it is horrible even to consider.

The independent Turkmen.news website reported on September 1 about Major Sapa Gurbangulyev of the Vekilbazar district police.

He is said to have become ill at the end of June and eventually was taken to the regional infectious diseases hospital in Mary where he was treated for a high fever and later fluid in the lungs, though he did not seem to be in serious condition.

Gurbangulyev's condition suddenly took a turn for the worse, though, and he had breathing problems before being transferred to another hospital in Yolotan.

On July 3, he phoned his wife to tell her to come quickly and get him out of the hospital, the website reported.

His wife could not enter the hospital because of quarantine rules and called her husband to tell him.

He reportedly told her, "Then they will give me an injection now and kill me."

A half hour later someone from the hospital staff informed his wife that Gurbangulyev had died.

People from around Turkmenistan have been contacting RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, and other media outlets with similar stories.

Commuters wearing masks in "virus-free" Ashgabat
Commuters wearing masks in "virus-free" Ashgabat

Patients are admitted to hospitals with symptoms like those that come with the coronavirus.

They die within a couple of days, sometimes within a few hours of arriving at the hospital, and relatives have to sign a disclaimer saying they have no complaints against doctors or the government in order to receive the body.

Dozens of people have contacted Azatlyk about this and they all believed these patients, who showed signs of being infected with COVID-19, were given injections that killed them.

The bodies are wrapped in plastic and anyone who comes to claim one of those bodies is ordered not to unwrap the body and to bury it immediately.

Again, whether these stories are true or not, the fact is that such tales are spreading around Turkmenistan and people are now afraid to go to the hospital if they are ill, especially if they think they have the coronavirus.

The amendment that not only requires citizens to seek medical treatment if they believe they have a dangerous infectious illness but, more importantly, also forbids people from leaving the hospital without being officially discharged, will only add to people's worries that if they are admitted to a hospital and do have COVID-19, they could be killed.

The Turkmen people are sure the government is lying to them about many things, including about the absence of the coronavirus, and now they are also worried the authorities may kill them if they are unfortunate enough to actually be infected with the disease.

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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