Kyrgyzstan holds parliamentary elections on October 10 amid great expectations -- for the first time, really, in post-Soviet Central Asia, there is a fresh and clean political field competing.
But the reemergence this month of a sex tape featuring the leading contender in the current race shows that dirty-tricks politics is alive and well in Kyrgyzstan.
The target is Omurbek Tekebaev, the leader of the Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party, which polls say is likely to win the most votes among the 29 parties contesting the election. If those predictions are accurate, it would put Tekebaev on the inside track to be Kyrgyzstan's next prime minister, which owing to new constitutional changes will be the most powerful position in the country.
A video of Tekebaev cavorting with a woman, naked, in a hotel room has mysteriously resurfaced nearly two years after it was first posted on the web. It shows Tekebaev using a belt to induce erotic asphyxiation on his partner and is interspersed with faux campaign slogans such as "We won't let anyone bring us to our knees" and "I'll give you democracy."
Obviously no one knows who posted (or reposted) the video, but the intent to smear Tekebaev's reputation is clear enough.
It's a mark on an election that so far has been remarkable for its lack of scandals and accusations. With no political elite ruling the country, the prospects for one of the freer and fairer polls ever seen in Central Asia are good, and seen as a positive break from the past.
Interestingly, this smear attempt comes at a time when seemingly no one is in a strong enough position to influence the results. The video appears to have had no impact on the campaign, and has not gained traction as a topic in the media or on the street.
As for Tekebaev, it is not the first time someone has tried to blacken his reputation. In 2006, customs officials at Warsaw airport detained Tekebaev after finding 695 grams of heroin in a matryoshka doll. It turned out that Janysh Bakiev, a brother of former President Kurmanbek Bakiev, had plotted to plant the heroin on Tekebaev and then inform Polish law enforcement to be on the watch for the then-opposition leader.
When the sex video first appeared last year, Tekebaev declined to comment on it and the Kyrgyz political world seemed not to want to know any more about it.
-- Bruce Pannier