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Kyrgyzstan: Opposition Leader Claims Political Motivation Behind Rejection Of Her Election Registration

Electoral authorities in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, have rejected the registration of former foreign minister and current opposition leader Roza Otunbaeva as a candidate in February's parliamentary elections. The registration forms for Otunbaeva, a leader of the Ata Zhurt (Fatherland) opposition movement, were initially accepted yesterday. Later, however, district election officials in Bishkek withdrew her registration. Opposition members say the decision appears to be politically motivated.

Prague, 7 January 2005 -- Yesterday afternoon, influential Kyrgyz opposition leader Roza Otunbaeva received a registration certificate from Inna Kim, an electoral official in Bishkek. The document certified Otunbaeva's official registration as a candidate for parliamentary elections, scheduled for 27 February.

A few hours later, however, the same electoral officials who had initially approved Otunbaeva's candidacy gathered for a second meeting and voted to rescind her registration. Among the reasons cited, they claim that a quorum had not been present at the first meeting.

But the facts appear to prove otherwise. Eleven of the 15 members of the Election Commission attended the first meeting, with seven of them initially voting in favor of Otunbaeva. Six of those seven reportedly changed their votes at the second meeting.

In a press conference today, Otunbaeva accused the Election Commission of acting on orders from the government.

"It seems to me the case is politically motivated, [that] it was ordered [by President Askar Akaev's government]," Otunbaeva said.

Otunbaeva is not alone in her sentiments. Other opposition figures say the decision was illegal and that they, too, believe the case is politically motivated.

Mambetjunus Abylov, a former Kyrgyz ambassador to Malaysia, spoke to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service in Bishkek about Otunbaeva's case.

"In accordance with the law, the local Election Commission does not have the right to withdraw its previous decision," Abylov said. "If there was a wrong decision by the local commission, then only a court and the upper level Election Commission can reject such a decision."

Zamira Sydykova is editor in chief of the Kyrgyz opposition daily "Res Publica."

"It's absolutely illegal because only an upper body like the city or the Central Election Commission or a court has a right to reverse a decision by the district Election Commission," Sydykova said. "According to the electoral code, the [district] Election Commission cannot reverse its own decision."

The Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, a nonpartisan coalition of NGOs that is monitoring the election campaign, issued a statement today objecting to the withdrawal of Otunbaeva's registration. It also accused Kyrgyz authorities of pressuring members of the district Election Commission to make the decision.
Many opposition figures say the decision to reject Otunbaeva's registration is illegal and politically motivated.

President Akaev's daughter Bermet plans to run for a seat in parliament as a candidate from the pro-government party Alga, Kyrgyzstan!. Observers note that she plans to run from the same electoral district in which Otunbaeva initially received her registration and that a campaign to collect signatures for her candidacy has been ongoing there.

"I don't understand this hysteria," said Sydykova of "Res Publica." "I don't understand why [the authorities] decided to throw out Otunbaeva from a competition with Bermet, because Bermet already has a huge administrative resource. As they say, 'the eyes of fear see danger everywhere.' I think, through this case, the authorities gave themselves away completely."

Officials say Bermet Akaeva has not yet applied for registration.

As further defense of their decision, Kyrgyz electoral authorities also note that the Kyrgyz Election Code, amended in 2003, prohibits Otunbaeva, a former diplomat, from running for parliament or the presidency. The code says former diplomats who have not lived in Kyrgyzstan for up to five years before an election cannot be registered as candidates.

In December, three former Kyrgyz diplomats -- including Abylov; Medetkan Sherimkulov, an ex-ambassador to Turkey; and Usen Sydykov, a former envoy to the Commonwealth of Independent States -- were refused the right to register as opposition candidates in the election.

Suleiman Imanbaev, the head of the Central Election Commission, explained the decision:

"The Central Election Commission does not write the constitution. It does not adopt any law. The Central Election Commission carries out the law," Imanbaev said. "The Kyrgyz Constitution says that only a citizen who has been permanently living in Kyrgyzstan in the last five years [before an election] has the right to be registered as a candidate for a deputy of the Kyrgyz Parliament. It did not give any legal priority to anybody. The constitution did not mention any word such as ambassador or scholar and so on."

Sherimkulov, the former ambassador to Turkey, was one of the signatories of a petition objecting to the December ruling.

"I handed in my application to the No. 64 Shopokov constituency Election Commission in the Sokuluk District [of Chui region]," Sherimkulov said. "The local Election Commission issued a decision [on 31 December] that says I don't have a right to be registered as a candidate. I appealed to a court against the decision. I think all the people see and understand that this kind of decision was made at the top levels of power."

At a press conference today, Otunbaeva said Ata Zhurt intends to fight for her rights.

"Undoubtedly, we will adequately respond to every action of the government," Otunbaeva said. "They should not blacken and slander us. We are going to act within legal frameworks, the frameworks of the constitution."

Otunbaeva served as Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to the United States and Britain and was foreign minister from 1994 to 1997.

(Tyntchtykbek Tchoroev, director of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, and RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek contributed to this report.)