The slogan of front-runner Kurmanbek Bakiev, the country’s acting president, is “Our country’s future is in hard work and solidarity.”
That theme of the nation’s future contrasts with some of the other candidates’ focus on personality. Like the campaign slogan for Tursunbai Bakir uulu, who is currently Kyrgyzstan’s ombudsman: “Pure person -- pure power.”
Still another candidate, Akbarali Aitikeev, the president of the union of industrial workers and entrepreneurs, has an advertising campaign that compares him to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. “Aitikeev is known as Kyrgyzstan’s Putin," the ad says in Russian. "Vote for him! The Kyrgyz Putin is going to win. Today is protection, tomorrow is victory.”
So, it was interesting to see how the candidates would present themselves when they faced off in person for Kyrgyzstan’s first-ever televised debates.
Yesterday, the Bakiev-Aitikeev debate -- which was held in two languages, Kyrgyz and Russian -- started with the question, “What form of governmental system should Kyrgyzstan have -- parliamentary or presidential?”
Bakiev won the first chance to respond. “Presidential-parliamentary, in my opinion,” he said.
Bakiev’s combination answer held few surprises because many Kyrgyz politicians and representatives of civil society have been pressing Bakiev during the past months to amend the constitution to give more authority to the legislature.
But Aitikeev responded to the question in a different way. “In our country, only one form [of government system] is possible: people’s power," he said. "Without Bakiev!”
Some people in the auditorium, in turn, challenged Aitikeev. They asked whether he had permission from Putin to use his name in his election campaign. Aitikeev responded in what became an interchange with the debate moderator.
Aitikeev: “When Putin awarded me for my merits and my role in strengthening international relations with the Russian Federation, unfortunately, or fortunately, he didn’t ask my permission. Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is a person who is in the heart of every Kyrgyz citizen, including Russians, Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Belarusians, Uzbeks. Why? Because 1 million Kyrgyz work in Russia.”
TV anchor: “The question was about something different. Thanks. We understood you. Any other questions, please?”
There were, indeed, many other questions. One question for both candidates was what would be his first decree after being elected president.
Bakiev said he would sign a decree to keep the current interim government in power until the new government is appointed. Under the constitution, the interim government must resign immediately after the new president is elected. But Bakiev said this would lead to “a mess.”
Aitikeev said he would sign a decree appointing Feliks Kulov prime minister. This is interesting because Kulov is currently on Bakiev’s ticket under an agreement that if Bakiev is elected president, Kulov will become prime minister.
As campaign debates go, yesterday's face-off was not so different from similar events in other countries ahead of elections. Each candidate tried to promote his own views while sowing doubts about the sincerity and ability of his rival. But was it a success with viewers?
After the debate, many viewers RFE/RL spoke to said they felt disappointed. Some complained they had not seen a real debate over future political and economic reforms but rather a contest between politicians.
Still, Kyrgyz will have to decide on 10 July which of the candidates to support -- whether they are happy or not with the quality of the campaigning.
To get out the vote, election officials are urging people to make their ballot count and are assuring them the poll will be free and fair. As in this jingle -- now playing on the Kyrgyz airwaves:
“We protect our hands from cold,
We protect our hands from wind,
We protect our hands from germs,
Marking your thumbnail with ink will protect your choice from fraud.
We are for a fair election!”
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For RFE/RL's full coverage of Kyrgyzstan's presidential election, see "Kyrgyzstan Votes 2005"