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Kyrgyzstan: Protests Enter 100th Day

Today marks the 100th day that around 100 picketers have assembled in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. They are continuing to protest against the much-criticized parliamentary elections last February and March and the jailing of an opposition leader. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier reports.

Prague, 23 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- One hundred days ago, demonstrators turned out on the streets of the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek to protest against what they called the rigging of the parliamentary elections.

The demonstrators were not the only ones who felt this way. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, which monitored the elections, criticized them as unfair.

When opposition politician Feliks Kulov, who the OSCE says was denied a seat in parliament, was thrown in jail, the picketers added his treatment to their list of complaints. The demonstrators were moved out from the center of Bishkek. They were beaten by police. They have been all but ignored by the government. Yet still, around 100 demonstrators show up each day. And events in the next few weeks may give them even more reason to complain.

The elections that prompted the demonstrations were widely perceived as marred. Pro-government candidates won in districts where they clearly did not have the support of the local population. The seat Kulov was running for, in the Kara-Buura district, is a case in point. Despite taking the majority of votes in the first round of elections in February, Kulov, Kyrgyzstan's former vice president who is now leader of the opposition Ar-Namys Party, was declared the loser in the March run-off election.

For many inside and outside Kyrgyzstan, Kulov's case lent credibility to other charges of unfairness in the elections. Kulov had announced his intention to run for the presidency later this year. Instead, soon after being declared the loser in the parliamentary race, Kulov found himself in jail on charges dating back several years.

Tuesday next week Kulov's trial finally starts in a military, not a civil, court. Kulov's lawyer, Lyubov Ivanova, spoke to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service this week about her client and the case.

"After being familiarized with the materials of the case, I have concluded that Kulov's guilt has not been proved. Unfortunately, the trial is set for closed court hearings, and I believe that is a violation of the law. It seems to me that even to a non-lawyer, it should be obvious that Kulov's arrest was not connected with the severity of the alleged crime. The law enforcement bodies were afraid that if Kulov were free, bringing charges against him would attract more of the attention of human rights activists and other organizations."

As Kulov remains in prison, he may well be blocked from any attempt to run in the presidential election. Parliament meets next Tuesday, the same day Kulov's trial starts, and is expected to name the date for the presidential election as October 29. The Central Election Commission has already announced it is preparing for that date.

But that is several months earlier than the election is due. The last presidential election in Kyrgyzstan was 24 December 1995. The next election was to be held five years later, December of this year. Calling elections for October gives candidates only four months to register and campaign, and that puts everyone but the incumbent at a great disadvantage.

And incumbent President Askar Akaev, though he has not officially announced his candidacy, is widely expected to do so. As president, Akaev will certainly receive advantages in media coverage and should face no difficulties in registering. In recent elections all over Central Asia, however, opposition parties and candidates have faced numerous difficulties in registering for their campaigns.

That a demonstration has been held anywhere in Central Asia for 100 days is a historic event. The demonstrators' actions are not likely to influence either the court or parliament's decisions next week. But the fact that they are still out there is a testament that the fairness of elections is an issue that will not go away.