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Kyrgyzstan: Banned Parties Work To Compete In Elections

Kyrgyzstan has a reputation as being slightly more democratic than other countries in Central Asia, boasting a proliferation of parties and movements. But two of its three largest parties have been barred from competing in next month's parliamentary elections. RFE/RL's Bruce Pannier looks at the controversy in the parliamentary campaign.

Prague, 19 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Recent elections in some of Kyrgyzstan's neighbor countries have been less than free and fair. Now it is the turn of this small state of 4.5 million to show how it will measure up in the exercise of democracy.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which frequently monitors elections in the region, says it will send monitors to Kyrgyzstan's elections. That in itself is a small sign of confidence that at least the election has not been presumed ahead of time to be undemocratic. The OSCE did not send monitors to Uzbekistan's presidential election earlier this month or Turkmenistan's parliamentary elections last month, terming those elections "far short" of democratic.

The first signs of movement in the Kyrgyz parliamentary campaign were not encouraging. On the Justice Ministry's recommendation, the second and third largest parties -- after the Communist Party -- have been barred on technicalities from competing in the February 20 contest. The two parties are not giving up the struggle, however, and are still trying to find legal ways to field candidates.

One of the parties barred from competing is Ar-Namys (Dignity). It is the third-largest political party in Kyrgyzstan, although it was formed less than one year ago. The party's leader is Feliks Kulov, a former vice president and former mayor of the capital, Bishkek. He formed the party shortly after he resigned as mayor last spring, saying he could no longer support the policies of President Askar Akaev.

But before Kulov could register Ar-Namys, a new law on elections was passed. The law was interpreted as requiring that political parties must have been registered at least one year before they can compete in elections. Kulov's party was registered only last August, and the Election Commission ruled that the new law bars Ar-Namys from participating in next month's elections.

Ar-Namys took this decision to court, arguing that the law is vague and does not specify a registration deadline. The court case dragged on into this year, and has not been settled in time for the party to compete.

El Bei-Bechara, the second-largest political party in Kyrgyzstan, had similar legal troubles. El (the People), as the party is commonly known, was registered in December 1995, so it had no problem with the new law on party registration. Instead, the Justice Ministry recommended that El be barred because the party did not state specifically on its registration form that it would run candidates in elections.

El took its case to a Bishkek district court and lost. The Supreme Court overturned the ruling and sent the case back to the Bishkek court, but that court upheld its original decision. El was out of the race, and so was Ar-Namys. Or were they?

Ar-Namys is now trying to field candidates by joining forces with another party that was already registered for the elections -- the Party of the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan.

Democratic Movement leader Jypar Jeksheev announced the alliance early this month (Jan. 4). He said his party has much in common with Ar-Namys.

"Despite the fact the history of Ar-Namys is short, it having been one of the parties formed not long ago, it has shown itself as a real political force. In addition, it has shown its centrist beliefs without falling into radicalism. Our Party of the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan is also a centrist one nowadays. Secondly, Feliks Shashenbaevich Kulov is one of the most influential politicians on the political stage of Kyrgyzstan today."

The candidate list for the new alliance puts Ar-Namys leader Kulov at the top, followed by Democratic Movement leader Jeksheev.

For awhile, it looked as though El, too, would join in an alliance with the Democratic Movement. El's founder, Melis Eshimkanov, said at the end of December that his party would join the alliance, but the party reversed that a week later. It is probable that the party leadership's meeting with President Akaev figured into this announcement. Akaev promised to help El register by Thursday (Jan. 20), the deadline for registering candidates, if he could.

The interesting question in the days ahead is whether it is legal for a barred political party to join in a bloc with a registered party. In the run-up to elections it appears the country's court system will be as busy as the Central Elections Commission.

(Naryn Idinov of the Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)