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Primer On Kyrgyz Parliamentary Elections

Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbaeva announced that parliamentary elections will be held in October.
Kyrgyzstan's President Roza Otunbaeva has announced that the government will hold parliamentary elections on October 10. The government waited to announce the election date until the situation in southern Kyrgyzstan had improved. The area was the site of violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in June, but the state of emergency has now been lifted.

RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier, who has reported from Kyrgyzstan several times in recent months, compiled this primer on the upcoming elections.

Q: Kyrgyzstan is having parliamentary elections on October 10. Why now? Didn't they have elections in December 2007?

A: Kyrgyzstan did have parliamentary elections in 2007. For the first time in the country's short history a ruling party -- Ak-Jol (Bright Path) -- that backed then-President Kurmanbek Bakiev came to power. With Ak-Jol's help, Bakiev managed to push through amendments to the constitution that transferred more power into the hands of the president.

Bakiev was ousted in a popular revolt in April this year and the new, interim government dissolved parliament. In June the interim government held a national referendum on a new constitution that transferred power to the legislative branch, effectively creating the first parliamentary system of government in Central Asia. The passage of the new constitution, plus the dissolution of the old parliament, necessitates a new round of parliamentary elections.

Q: Is the structure of the parliament changed?

A: Yes. The previous parliament was a unicameral 90-seat body. The new parliament will have 120 seats but no single party can win more than 65 seats. The idea is that no single party will be able to hold power without forming some sort of coalition with another party.

Equally important is the fact that parliament will select a prime minister who, for the first time in Kyrgyzstan's history, will be running the country. The president will become a figurehead along the lines of the political systems in Germany and the Czech Republic.

Q: How many political parties and movements are eligible to participate in the upcoming election?

A: There are 148 registered political parties and movements in Kyrgyzstan, a country with a population of about 5.4 million. Obviously not all these parties and movements will be participating. In fact, far less than half will probably be represented on election day. Most analysts predict no more than five or six parties will actually win seats in parliament.

Q: How big are these parties/movements? Do their platforms differ greatly?

A: Only a few of Kyrgyzstan's political parties or movements could claim to have even 10,000 registered members. As for party platforms, Kyrgyzstan's political culture is personality driven, meaning people tend to identify more with the individual or individuals who head the party more than with the party platform. When people vote for Ar-Namys (Dignity) they are probably really voting for party leader Feliks Kulov, for example. The same is true of other notable politicians in Kyrgyzstan -- Omurbek Tekebaev of Ata-Meken, and Almaz Atambaev of the Social Democratic Party, are other examples. The platforms are therefore somewhat obscured and one needs to rely on what the party leaders are saying to get an insight into party policy.

That said, usually parties and/or movements form blocs ahead of elections as a way of improving their chances of getting seats. Therefore I would look for some of the bigger parties to merge ahead of elections.

Q: What are the chances there will be social upheaval during the campaigning or after the election?

A: The unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan -- the clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks -- should keep the south tense during campaigning and possibly after the elections. The Uzbek community will be looking to see that some of the people elected, or subsequently appointed to government posts, are ethnic Uzbek. Ethnic Kyrgyz in the south may be looking for exactly the opposite -- that no or very few Uzbeks win seats or are given posts in the new government.

Besides this aspect there is also the problem with registration. In past elections popular political figures have been denied registration or later had their registrations annulled. Current President Roza Otunbaeva's registration was annulled at the start of the 2005 campaign for parliament, which helped the opposition boost its appeal among the people. Also, there have been instances when figures with alleged criminal ties have attempted to run for office (some succeeded) and that caused protests against their candidacies and rallies from their supporters who wanted these candidates to remain on the ballot or, if they won, in office. The case of Ryspek Akmatbaev in 2006 is a good example.

Most of the problems surrounding elections have broken out after the elections are over. There have been accusations of vote rigging and bias on the part of election officials. Otunbaeva's government is new and may be able to keep out of such controversies. But not everyone who wants a seat in parliament can win and often those who lose claim the elections were unfair and urge their supporters to take to the streets to protest.

At the very least, many of those who fail to win seats in this election can be expected to form an opposition to the new government quickly.