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Kyrgyzstan: Difficulties Grow For Second Round Of Voting

Kyrgyzstan's second round of parliamentary voting this Sunday will determine the composition of the country's restructured, bicameral parliament. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier looks at the problems that still plague the Central Asian nation's electoral system.

Prague, 9 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Voters in Kyrgyzstan return to the polls on Sunday. For the second time in less than a month, they will be voting for deputies to the restructured two houses of parliament. Run-off elections are needed in from 85 to 90 districts -- Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission has not yet made an exact determination

The first round of parliamentary voting last month proved disappointing. It drew criticism from a number of international organizations and individual states about an apparent pro-government bias in the media and by election officials, and a more apparent bias against leading figures from opposition parties, several of whom had dubious charges brought against them in court. The three largest opposition parties after the Communist Party were barred from competing. But the situation has grown even more difficult as the second round approaches.

Fifteen seats in parliament were approved through party-list voting in the first round, on February 20. The Communist Party took the biggest share of these, gaining five seats in the lower house of parliament. Other parties that won party-list seats have been mired in internecine fights.

The Afghan War Veterans group, which emerged from almost total obscurity to win two seats, is an example. When the top man on the party list, General Abdygul Chotbaev, and the number two man on the list, Akbokon Tashtanbekov, discussed dividing up the seats, they ended up in a fist-fight. Tashtanbekov says Chotbaev twice punched him in the face.

Similarly, in the Women's Democratic Party, which won three party-list seats, the number-four woman on the list is now suing the number-one and two women. Tokon Shailieva, who is also the party's chairwoman, says Roza Aknazarova and Lyubov Kommissarova illegally raised funds for their campaigns.

So much for some of the outright winners.

Members of opposition parties who passed through to the second round are now experiencing a second round of obstacles. To begin with, the first-round vote count was painfully long, and opposition candidates say that election officials were taking that extra time to forge ballots to favor pro-government candidates. Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission first promised results the day after voting, then by February 28 -- eight days after the elections -- then delayed the final result again. It is still not clear who all the candidates competing on Sunday will be.

These difficulties are all reflected in the case of Daniyar Usenov, leader of the opposition El party. His party was barred from competing on a technicality: it did not specify on its registration forms that it would run candidates in elections. The party then went to court to be allowed to compete in the elections.

During this already protracted process, some high-ranking El members were offered and accepted positions in the government. Usenov himself ran in a single-mandate district, but was distracted when he was summoned to court to face charges he had already faced years ago. He nonetheless passed through to the second round -- but now he may not be allowed to compete.

Usenov's opponent in Sunday's runoff has submitted evidence to the election commission alleging that Usenov failed to declare certain property on his income forms. Usenov denied the charges and sought to submit his own evidence, but the commission rejected that request and barred him from competing. Usenov is suing the election commission, but no decision is expected until Thursday, just three days before the run-off election.

Usenov gave RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service his view of the case:

"I do not resent the Central Election Commission's decision. It is simply following the orders of the government. I'll take the commission to court, but who knows what will happen? I do not know if the verdict will be fair. The decision to bar me from elections was illegal. I asked the election commission concrete questions, and they could not give me answers. I asked them on what authority could they bar me from elections? They could not answer me."

Usenov was one of 11 opposition candidates who at the end of last month (Feb. 29) pledged to tour the country before the second round of elections. The Central Election Commission quickly prohibited them from doing so, saying they had to wait until official results of the first round were made public.

About this same time, the commission said it was not sure elections in some districts had been conducted properly. In places such the northeastern Issyk-Kul's district 17, elections will have to be held again.

Former vice president and current second-round candidate Feliks Kulov also faced a number of problems prior to the February vote. He, too, had an old court case dredged up weeks before the first-round election. And his opposition Ar-Namys Party, barred from competing in elections, has raised concerns about interference by election officials and members of the government. Kulov says the government is using the court system and the election commission to harass opposition candidates.

"The authorities are doing everything not to allow members of opposition parties into the parliament. The far-fetched pretexts against Daniyar Usenov and the illegal decision to prohibit him from running are examples. ... The authorities are no longer afraid to violate the constitution to achieve their goals."

For all its problems, Sunday's second-round balloting will be a bellwether to watch. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says Kyrgyzstan had made progress in its elections, although it is still short of international standards. But the fact that run-off votes are needed in nearly all the districts may be an indication that election officials realize they are now under scrutiny.

True, there have been charges of cheating, ballot forgery, pressure by local officials on voters, and even buying votes with money or alcohol. But despite all of these alleged dirty tricks, there were few clear winners in the first round, as there would have been had the elections been completely rigged. And many of the international observers who will return to monitor polling areas Sunday are trained to watch for exactly these tricks.

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