Kyrgyz voters went to the polls on October 10 to vote in a new parliament to lead the troubled country forward, but preliminary results point to a return to the past and the potential for legislative paralysis.
With votes from all districts in and tabulated, it's the Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) party -- riding its support base among ethnic Kyrgyz in the south and led by former officials from the government ousted just six months ago -- that has emerged with 8.69 percent, enough for a narrow plurality. The Social Democratic Party, one of the architects of the new constitution that hands additional powers to the incoming parliament, is second with 8.13 percent of the vote.
Overall, just five parties passed the 5 percent threshold for representation in the 120-seat parliament, signaling complications in forming a coalition government that would have to bring three of the five together. Final results are expected to be released before the end of this week.
Ata-Jurt was expected to win seats in parliament, but none of the surveys taken during the campaign indicated the party would come out on top. The party has campaigned on a strongly nationalist platform and its leadership has been critical of recent changes instituting a transformation from a government dominated by a president enjoying a rubber-stamp parliament, to what has been touted as Central Asia's first parliamentary democracy.
The change came via a referendum initiated by the interim government in late June, two months after President Kurmanbek Bakiev was ousted by angry crowds in April, and just weeks after interethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks broke out in some areas of the south.
Ata-Jurt is led by Bakiev's former minister of emergency situations, Kamchibek Tashiev, former Bishkek Mayor Nariman Tyuleev, and former tax police chief Akhmat Keldibekov. As recently as last week, relatives of people killed by government forces in April vandalized the party's headquarters in the northern capital, Bishkek.
Kyrgyz political analyst Mars Sariev says that Ata-Jurt managed to overcome its unpopularity in the north due to its support in southern Kyrgyzstan, a Bakiev stronghold.
"We have a new phenomenon of regional clans' strength now," Sariev says. "And if one considers [election results] from the south-north angle, the Ata-Jurt party got most of the votes in the south. As you understand, even though there are different political parties in Kyrgyzstan, southern regional elites consider [this election] as revenge, in my opinion."
Ata-Jurt's strong showing presents Kyrgyzstan with a dilemma, and efforts to form a coalition will likely be a good indicator of what to expect from the parliament. Omurbek Tekebaev, leader of the pro-reform Ata-Meken (Fatherland) Socialist Party headed for a fifth-place finish with 5.71 percent of the vote, summed up the situation during a press conference the day after the vote.
"For the first time, we will have a coalition government in Kyrgyzstan," he said. "The composition of this government is still unclear."
The potential kingmakers are the Ar-Namys party, which finished third with 7.64 of the vote, and Respublika, fourth with 7.04. The two are seen as potentially coming together in a coalition government headed by Ata-Jurt.
Ar-Namys (Dignity) party head Feliks Kulov, a former prime minister under Bakiev, has said the country needs to return to a strong presidential system to solve the numerous problems it faces. The Respublika party is made up primarily of businessmen; leader Omurbek Babanov was a deputy prime minister under Bakiev.
Central Asian expert Erica Marat, author of the annual "Nations In Transition" report on Kyrgyzstan for the U.S.-based democracy watchdog Freedom House, suggests another scenario that would unite the two finishers with either Ar-Namys or Respublika.
"There is a likelihood that Ata-Jurt, the leader of this election, will form a strong coalition with the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan and probably will keep pushing ethno-nationalist identity in Kyrgyzstan," Marat says.
Analyst Sariev suggests a third possibility that would exclude Ata-Jurt, in which the Social Democrats and Ata-Meken build a coalition with Respublika, or even with Ar-Namys.
Campaign Deemed Fair
Muddying the waters is that none of the top five finishers garnered a large percentage of the vote, meaning that many will be represented by parties for which they did not vote. Kyrgyzstan has roughly 2.3 million eligible voters, less than 60 percent of whom cast ballots. That means that Ata-Jurt received fewer than 250,000 votes in a country of 5.4 million. Nearly 500,000 votes, more than one-third of the ballots cast, were split among the 24 parties that failed to win seats.
Sariev says that Russian media coverage, readily available in Kyrgyzstan, had a clear effect on the outcome. Meetings of Ar-Namys leader Kulov with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, for example, appear to have boosted the party's results at polls, while negative coverage of Ata-Meken leader Tekebaev may have cost that party some votes. Many analysts expect the new government to have a very pro-Russian foreign policy.
But by and large, international and local observers assessed the campaign and vote as meeting the basic requirements of a free, fair, and democratic election.
"Political pluralism, a vibrant campaign, and confidence in the central commission for elections or referenda characterized these elections," says Morten Hoeglund, coordinator for the observer mission overseen by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. "Fundamental freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association were generally respected."
U.S. President Barack Obama praised Kyrgyzstan for holding orderly elections, saying the vote showed "positive attributes of a genuine democracy." In a statement, Obama said the vote "renews our conviction to help the courageous people of Kyrgyzstan consolidate their democracy, jump-start their economy, and maintain peace and security."
The campaign and election proved to be, arguably, the fairest election held in post-Soviet Central Asia. But the victory of nationalist elements may yet lead to further division in Kyrgyzstan, and it remains unclear what percentage of minority groups cast ballots. This is an especially important question for the large Uzbek population in southern Kyrgyzstan, involved in deadly clashes with ethnic Kyrgyz in June that left more than 400 people dead.
Venera Djumataeva, director of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, contributed to this report