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Kyrgyzstan: Fragmented Opposition Ponders Next Move After Election Defeat

President Askar Akaev (file photo) The Kyrgyz opposition says it hopes to rebound from its poor showing in the 13 March runoff parliamentary elections in time for the presidential vote, due in October. Preliminary results show the runoff ended with President Askar Akaev maintaining a loyal majority in the 75-seat chamber. With scattered protests still continuing over the election results, opposition leaders gathered today in the southern city of Jalal-Abad in hopes of agreeing on a joint presidential candidate. What are the chances the Kyrgyz opposition can effect significant political change in the country, in light of its parliamentary failure?

Prague, 15 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The Kyrgyz opposition set two major goals for the 13 March parliamentary election runoff. To ensure they were open, fair, and free. And to win at least one-third of seats in the Jogorku Kenesh.

It failed to achieve either goal.

Opposition candidates won just a handful of seats, while local independent observers reported massive fraud. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as the U.S. Embassy, said the elections fell short of international democratic standards.

So, what's next for Kyrgyzstan's opposition?

Opposition parties gathered in the southern city of Jalal-Abad today in an attempt to answer that question and work out some common tactics. RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported the congress was attended by some 1,000 delegates and many supporters.

But while the congress ended with a joint call for President Askar Akaev's resignation, opposition leaders failed to agree on a joint candidate for the presidency. They did agree to meet again -- in Osh tomorrow and in Talas the next day (17 March), both in the south.

In Jalal-Abad, thousands of opposition supporters rallied today. "The nation's foe, Akaev! Go away! Akaev, who sold out his land [to China]! Go away!" they shouted. "Akaev, who betrayed his people! Go away! Akaev! Go away!"

Opposition leaders believe the 13 March parliamentary polls should be declared invalid and that the outgoing parliament should continue to function until new elections can be held. They also say a new presidential election should be held in July.
"It seems the opposition is provoking the government to take some steps to add oil to the fire." - Baisalov

Dosym Satpaev, the director of the Kazakhstan-based Political Risks Assessment Group, spoke to RFE/RL from the Kyrgyz capital, where he has been observing the elections. He believes the opposition's demands are unrealistic.

"These goals are quite ambitious, and I believe they are unrealistic," Satpaev said. "Why was this declaration made? I believe, after the first and second round of elections to the Jogorku Kenesh, the opposition realized its defeat and therefore decided to stake everything and put out radical demands, because it knows there is no other way."

Edil Baisalov is the head of a coalition of Kyrgyz NGOs called For Democracy and Civil Society. He agreed with Satpaev, telling RFE/RL that the opposition appears to be trying to force the authorities into making a misstep.

"It seems the opposition is provoking the government to take some steps to add oil to the fire. Many believe that [parliamentary candidate] Kurmanbek Bakiev, who didn't get elected because of massive election fraud and who does not have parliamentary immunity anymore, could be arrested for his appeals to overthrow the government," Baisalov said.

Bakiev is seen as a top opposition contender for the presidency.

Baisalov said one tactic appears to be to try to limit Akaev's power to the capital. Demonstrations continued today in Talas, where people have also occupied the local governor's building and are not allowing the governor to leave his office. Other protest rallies took place in Osh, Toktogul, Kurshab, Alai, and Bakai-Ata. Bishkek has remained relatively calm.

But analysts say the Kyrgyz opposition remains fragmented. "The [Kyrgyz] opposition is an active but fragmented mass that consists of many political organizations and very ambitious leaders," Satpaev said. "Prospects of the Kyrgyz opposition depend on its ability to unite. If they manage to unite, it will become a real political force that will be taken into account -- not just a virtual political force. I believe after the second round of elections, the process of unification will start, partly because several prominent opposition members lost [the election]."

Satpaev said the Kyrgyz opposition faces a serious test. If it fails to unite, he said the opposition movement could die out, following the fates of other opposition movements in Central Asia.

Citing sources in Kyrgyz law enforcement, Russia's "Vremya novostei" daily wrote today that law-enforcement agencies are preparing for the antigovernment demonstration to grow.

But Satpaev said he's skeptical about such prospects. "At present, it's questionable if the protests will become massive and will be held in all parts of the country," he said. "We are witnessing the weakness of the Kyrgyz opposition, which is regionalism. Pickets and demonstrations are held mainly in the south and only in constituencies where opposition candidates were running. Even if there is some cooperation among them, it's very limited. Interestingly, those opposition members who won their elections and got elected told their supporters to stop their protests. So, they have short-term opportunistic tactics."

Satpaev said the opposition runs the risk of losing the major battle, which is to ensure that the Kyrgyz Constitution is not breached and that power is transferred peacefully once Akaev's term ends. Under current legislation, Akaev -- who has been in power for 15 years -- is ineligible to run for the presidency again.

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