Kyrgyzstan holds parliamentary elections in less than two weeks, but the number of parties allowed to compete is dwindling. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier reports that the court system has delivered legally questionable rulings that hamper the political opposition.
Prague, 10 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev on Tuesday called on his nation to make the upcoming parliamentary elections what he called "a festival of democracy and freedom -- not just in words, but in deeds." But Akaev coupled his appeal with a warning that was not quite in the same democratic spirit.
Akaev said Kyrgyzstan's law enforcement agencies are guilty of procrastination in pursuing criminal investigations into people who are now candidates for parliament. Elections are less than two weeks away (Feb. 20), and Akaev said that any criminal cases involving candidates "should have gone to court before the start of the election race."
Several candidates and parties have indeed been in court, and several have already lost their cases.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, criticized these court decisions in a statement this week (Tuesday). The OSCE said it is concerned that in recent weeks a number of political parties and prominent candidates have been effectively prevented from competing on a fair basis in the election. The organization says this follows legal decisions denying them registration.
One of those parties was the Party of the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan, or PDMK. Last week, it was barred from running candidates by party list. With the country's second- and third-largest political parties (El Bei-Bechara and Ar-Namys), already barred from competing in the poll, the PDMK had emerged as the leading opposition party in Kyrgyzstan still allowed on the ballot.
But three PDMK members took their party to court because they claimed they had not been invited to last month's nominating convention. One of the three, Kazat Akmatov, explained his action to RFE/RL:
" I was not invited to the convention, although I am a member of its political council. [Other party members called me] to ask why they [also] were not invited to the convention. The party needs consensus to select delegates, but they simply met behind the scenes. Eighty people assembled, mainly those from Bishkek, and from them 71 people picked the delegates."
The complaint by Akmatov and the others opened the door for further examination by the court. The judge produced a list of party delegates to the convention and asked PDMK official Viktor Chernomorets to show the court the names of those who actually had attended the convention. Of the 83 names on the list, Chernomorets could only remember 57 who had attended.
The court then ruled that 59 delegates were needed to constitute a quorum. Therefore, it said, the convention was not legitimate, and the PDMK was disqualified from the election race. Nurkamil Abdyvasiev of the Kyrgyz Central Electoral Commission -- which had validated the PDMK -- then said that the court's decision took precedence over the commission's own regulations.
PDMK party chairman Jypar Jeksheev and his lawyer attempted to introduce their own evidence to show that 71 delegates attended the convention, but the court refused to accept the evidence. PDMK lawyer Sovet Urmatov explained the party's objections to the court process:
"We believe this decision is, first, without basis and, second, simply illegal. Why? Because the complaint was based on article 55 of the Kyrgyz republic's election code, [which allows] direct complaints against an elected official if there has been a violation of electoral regulations. In this situation, however, [there has not yet been an election so] there have been no violations of Kazat Akmatov's election rights."
PDMK chairman Jeksheev also said the court process was just an excuse to bar the party. He asked:
"Are the internal affairs of a party the business of [judicial] institutions? This [anti-DMK] campaign was strongly influenced by the union of the Ar-Narmys Party with our party [after Ar-Narmys was banned in November]."
The Ar-Namys Party, chaired by Feliks Kulov, was barred from competing in the elections on a technicality. That party merged with the PDMK last month, and Kulov's name now tops the list of candidates from the PDMK. Kulov -- who is a likely candidate in presidential elections scheduled for late this year -- is also facing charges of abuse of power dating back to the time when he was the governor of Kyrgyzstan's northern Chu Region.
In the second such recent case, another member of parliament facing charges -- Daniyar Usenov, the chairman of the El party -- was similarly banned from running in the upcoming elections. Usenov was summoned to court to face charges that he beat up businessman Kengesh Mukaev in 1996. At the time, Mukaev sued Usenov, but he now says the case is long over. Mukaev says the reopening of the case looks to be politically motivated.
"This is a real political game. Otherwise, this all would have taken place in June 1996. It was then I appealed to the president and the prime minister, asking help in order to punish this deputy. No one listened to me or even paid attention. Years have passed since then."
Last week (Feb. 4), a delegation from the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI), a monitoring group, finished a week-long review of Kyrgyz electoral conditions and the political environment for the elections. While it praised Kyrgyzstan for progress toward democracy, it also noted: "Use of judicial proceedings for political purposes [and] denying candidates the opportunity to fully compete in the election campaign undermines the rule of law and taints the elections." The institute added that the problems could still be resolved before elections if the government adheres strictly to the constitution, the election law and international electoral norms.
(Naryn Idinov of the Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)