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Kyrgyzstan: Election Hurdle Still Standing Despite Court Ruling

'I Don't Believe' protesters are detained in Bishkek on December 18 (RFE/RL) Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court has rejected a quirky clause in the country's election law that threatened to exclude all but the ruling party from parliament following landslide elections. But election authorities' decision to ignore that verdict as they announced final results today suggests the battle over last weekend's elections is far from over.

The Supreme Court ruled on December 18 that it is unfair to disqualify from parliament all parties that fail to garner at least 0.5 percent of the vote in every province, potentially broadening the field to three parliamentary parties out of 12 that registered for the elections two days earlier. The decision left President Kurmanbek Bakiev's favored party as the overwhelming winner in the polling, which was Kyrgyz voters' first chance to pick new legislators since the public upheaval that unseated Bakiev's predecessor in 2005.

But there was hope in some circles that the decision might salve political wounds already inflicted by these elections, which were also the first under a new constitution approved by a referendum in October.

Both of the strongest challengers to the ruling Ak-Jol Eldik (Best Path Popular) Party, which reportedly received around 49 percent of the preliminary vote count but would receive an enormous boost from both the national and provincial parliamentary hurdles, have questioned the Central Election Commission's pre-election approval of the threshold and the court's wisdom in issuing its verdict soon after voters cast their ballots.

International observers have already suggested that the polling represented a "missed opportunity" for a country that has provided both high hope and bitter disappointment in a region otherwise dominated by autocrats and clannish politics.

Authorities today announced results that leave the provincial threshold in place but did not offer a breakdown by party, saying Ak-Jol won 71 out of 90 parliament seats with the remainder going the pro-presidential Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party. They noted that the main opposition Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party had been felled by the 0.5-percent requirement despite its 8.3-percent national showing according to a preliminary tally.

Devil In The Detail

The Central Election Commission had approved the provincial threshold along with other changes to the country's election laws in late October. Officials' disregard for the Supreme Court ruling striking down the provincial requirement -- which comprises the seven provinces and the two biggest cities, Bishkek and Osh -- looked sure to spark fresh protests.

The uniqueness of the 0.5-percent-in-every-province rule and the fact that the Ak-Jol party itself initiated the court challenge made it difficult to interpret the likely effect of the ruling. Ak-Jol, which was launched by President Bakiev in mid-October before he suspended his active participation to keep above the partisan fray, was a clear front-runner that reportedly benefited enormously from high visibility on state media and official connections. But even in a region accustomed to electoral drubbings for the opposition, it would doubtless prove embarrassing for Bakiev and the entire Kyrgyz political establishment to try and defend a one-party parliament like the one that emerged from the recent elections in Kazakhstan (with the exception of a tiny handful of appointments that are made by President Nursultan Nazarbaev).

One of the three possible beneficiaries of the court's verdict, Ata-Meken, had already launched protests and signaled its intention to ignore the announced results without a recount. Other parties appeared poised to join the chorus of critics as protests broke out in a number of Kyrgyz cities on December 18.

The high court's reversal was initially expected to allow Ata-Meken, as well as the less popular Communist and Social Democratic parties, to enter parliament. All three of those parties exceeded the national threshold of 5 percent.

Kimmo Kiljunen, the head of the election-monitoring team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), vented his frustration and noted the opacity of the Kyrgyz election process on December 17. "For the first time, for the first time in my history as an election observer, I find myself in a situation where by stating now to you the conclusions of the election I can't even guess, I can't even guess, the rough composition of the coming parliament or even if there will be a parliament at all," Kiljunenn said. "It's still pending on the court decision, what is the interpretation of the 0.5-percent threshold."

Not Appeased

Ata-Meken claimed to have initiated protests in Bishkek, Osh, and Jalal-Abad on December 18, and said up to 100 people in Osh and dozens of others in Jalal-Abad launched hunger strikes to protest results. The party responded to election officials' snub two days later with a new call for a recount and a vow to continue its fight.

Former Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, who leads the opposition Ar-Namys (Dignity) Party, claimed his party was cheated out of parliamentary seats by "massive falsifications" that favored the Ak-Jol Party. Kulov and senior Ata-Meken member Temir Sariev held a press conference on December 18 at which Sariev said the election commission's preliminary figures were incorrect and that his party's monitors had very different results from some districts. Sariev claimed that slightly more than half of the 1.96 million voters said to have cast ballots on December 16 actually took part in the election. He said his party had figures directly contradicting numbers from election officials, despite "stuffed ballot boxes."

Several parties and nongovernmental groups have said they intend to challenge the results in court. Some are demanding fresh elections because of what they say were massive violations.

A movement calling itself "I Don't Believe" staged a protest in Bishkek on December 18 at which police detained about 20 members. Another group of some 1,000 people was reportedly protesting in the Tong district of Issyk-Kul.

(RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report)

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