Since the early 1990s, Kyrgyzstan has been called an “island of democracy” in Central Asia, a relative statement that, despite some setbacks, remains true today.
One main feature that separates Kyrgyzstan from its authoritarian, undemocratic neighbors is the country’s recent string of parliamentary elections, which have been widely judged to be largely transparent and legitimate.
There has also always been an element of unpredictability in the votes, and the October 4 elections should be quite difficult to forecast as the two parties that hold the most seats in the Jogorku Kenesh -- the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan and Respublika/Ata-Jurt -- are fractured.
So although the field is wide open, the legitimacy of these elections is being threatened.
Reports are surfacing of voters being offered money to cast their ballots for certain parties, and there are accusations of organized crime groups funding some of the parties as well.
RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, known locally as Azattyk, recently spoke with “Zhibek,” from the village of Novopokrovka, a few kilometers east of the capital, Bishkek.
She said she had been offered 2,000 soms (about $25) for her vote by a representative of one of the political parties taking part in the parliamentary elections. She did not say which party, but did say there was a group of people who “went to each home" on her street in the village making similar offers.
Those who accepted were given 1,000 soms (about $12.50) and promised the remainder would be paid after the elections, she said.
In Kara-Balta, some 60 kilometers west of Bishkek, resident Mirbek Suranchiev said voters were being offered 3,000 soms (about $37.50) for their vote.
Suranchiev did not say specifically who, but he spoke of “wealthy parties,” so it seems more than one political party may have been at work in Kara-Balta.
“In Kara-Balta, they will pay 500 soms up front, promising to give the remaining 2,500 after the elections,” Suranchiev said. “As far as I could tell, there were only a few who declined to sell their vote.”
Form No. 2
The parties' financial offers come with the condition that voters register under Form No. 2 at a polling station chosen by the parties.
Form No. 2 was first used in the presidential election in 2011. It was introduced to address the problem of growing internal migration in Kyrgyzstan and allowed eligible voters to register in the district closest and most convenient for them to cast their ballot, rather than in the district where they officially resided.
In our party, we do not have any members of organized criminal groups, [but] we see them among the members of other parties. Some of them are even candidates to be deputies."-- Zamandash leader Jenish Moldakmatov
Abdyjapar Bekmatov, the former deputy head of the CEC, explained to Azattyk that at first “any person could bring a Xerox copy of the passport of another person and fill out Form No. 2 for the owner of the passport.”
But “according to the new regulations, each voter must come personally to hand over the documents on changing their place of voting,” he said.
Such voters are fingerprinted and photographed to check their identities.
Both Zhibek in Novopokrovka and Suranchiev in Kara-Balta said one of the conditions for being paid for their votes was to register in a district specified by these unnamed parties.
“To begin with,” Zhibek said, “I would have to go and register at the polling station that was opened in a local school.”
Suranchiev said that the parties paying the money told the people which district to register in and promised transportation to take them there on election day.
“They are massively registering residents of one district in another [district],” Suranchiev said.
The independent Kyrgyz news site kaktus.media posted a report on August 22 that had photos and video taken between August 19-21 of vans bringing people to School No. 47 in Bishkek, which is also the location of polling station No. 1047.
An unknown man gives instructions to the small groups as they arrive, and they go five at a time into the school, it said. When they finish, the vans drive them away.
Kaktus reported that “among the passengers were many representatives of national minorities.”
No one wanted to talk about which parties might be engaging in this illegal practice, but one person is sure he knows some of the people who are helping some of the at least 16 Kyrgyz political parties that are registered to participate in the elections.
Omurbek Suvanaliev stepped down from his post as Kyrgyzstan’s deputy security council chief on August 23 so he could run as a candidate for the Butun Kyrgyzstan party. At the Butun Kyrgyzstan party congress on August 19, he fired an opening salvo at the government by saying it had lost the battle against criminality in the country.
Suvanaliev further claimed that a "number of political parties included in the preelection battle are sponsored by criminal boss Kamchy Kolbaev."
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) wrote this about Kolbaev:
“According to the U.S. Treasury Department, [Kolbaev] was wanted for crimes related to transnational drug trafficking and the use of weapons and explosives. More recently the department alleged his involvement in human trafficking for forced prostitution and forced labor.”
It added: “In 2007, the U.S. State Department said he was 'considered to be the leader of the most influential criminal group in [Kyrgyzstan].'"
Kolbaev, aka Kolya Kyrgyz, has served several short prison sentences in Kyrgyzstan, the last ending in 2014. His current whereabouts are unknown.
Suvanaliev connected Kolbaev to what the former Security Council deputy chief called “pro-government parties”: Birimdik, Mekenim Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyzstan party, and Zamandash.
Zamandash leader Jenish Moldakmatov said his party does not have any connection to organized crime, but he agreed the influence of criminals in the elections is growing.
“In our party, we do not have any members of organized criminal groups,” Moldakmatov said, but “we see them among the members of other parties. Some of them are even candidates to be deputies,” he added, without naming any particular party or candidate.
General Keneshbek Duyshebaev has served as the head of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry and its State Committee for National Security.
Dyushebaev told Azattyk that Suvanaliev must have some grounds for making these allegations since he served as the deputy head of the Security Council, but questioned why, if Suvanaliev had evidence of Kolbaev’s connections to political parties, he did not do something about it while he was in the Security Council.
“All the same, his statement is an alarm bell,” Duyshebaev said.
Bektur Asanov, a veteran Kyrgyz politician currently in the Butun Kyrgyzstan party, said that “buying votes and the use of administrative resources has already started,” and he suggested there was already sufficient evidence to officially ban three parties from the elections.
Asanov did not names the three parties, but said they could be considered pro-government.
In a public appeal to President Sooronbai Jeenbekov in early August, Asanov mentioned Raimbek Matraimov as being a sponsor of certain parties competing in the elections and called on Jeenbekov to take action against Matraimov and his associates.
Matraimov was the subject of an extensive investigative report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, the independent Kyrgyz media outlet Kloop.kg, and Azattyk, and a report from Kloop.kg connected the Matraimov family to the Mekenim Kyrgyzstan party. It also tied him to Matraimov's brother, Iskender Matraimov, currently a parliament deputy who abandoned the floundering Social Democrats and joined Mekenim Kyrgyzstan.
In a recent Azattyk report, a Bishkek resident named only as Kayyrbek said the owner of the apartment complex he lives in told all the residents that if they voted for Mekenim Kyrgyzstan that, in return, their apartment building would receive a new sewage system and have better water.
The reports are all very ominous and suggest the Kyrgyz government and the country's election officials should investigate and take action before the vote is held in order to preserve the country's reputation as a country with promising democratic credentials.