In most Central Asian countries, the Central Election Commission does not do very much.
In countries such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan, the election commission chief will announce the date of the elections, when the polls open and close, provide a running count of the percentage of voters who have voted, and announce when the requisite number of voters have participated for the election to be valid.
The next day the commission issues a preliminary vote count and usually one to two weeks later the official, final tally in an election that will be deemed neither free nor fair by Western-based election-monitoring groups.
The election commissioner's role is barely noticed and quickly forgotten after the elections are held.
But in Kyrgyzstan, the role of the Central Election Commission (BShK) is very different and, with just weeks remaining before the country conducts its November 28 parliamentary elections, this is evident once again.
Candidate No. 7
Talant Mamytov is the speaker of Kyrgyzstan's parliament -- or at least he was -- and when he was and wasn't is the problem right now.
The Yntymak (Unity) party held its nominating congress on October 12 and Mamytov was recorded as candidate No. 7 on the party's list. He was also the "toraga," or speaker of parliament at that time.
On October 24, which was a Sunday, the BShK approved the Yntymak party list except for Mamytov.
The BShK determined that Mamytov was ineligible to be a candidate because he was the toraga and, according to the law on elections, "a candidate, from the moment of nomination, ceases to exercise official powers if he or she is serving in a public office."
That includes the toraga.
The BShK applied the law to Mamytov and disqualified him from being a candidate.
Anyone who has followed Kyrgyzstan's elections for the last 30 years has seen that it is possible to contest a BShK ruling in court and have it overturned. And so it has been with Mamytov.
On October 30, Yntymak accused the BShK of violating procedural rules and also questioned why the BShK met on the weekend, in the absence of a quorum, and released this "loose interpretation of the law" disqualifying Mamytov late on a Sunday evening.
Yntymak also claimed that Mamytov had stepped down as toraga and handed over the responsibility to deputy speaker Aida Kasymalieva.
Yntymak took the case to the Bishkek Administrative Court. On October 28, the court overruled the BShK decision on Mamytov. The BShK then filed an appeal against the court's ruling.
Mamytov was obligated to step down as toraga on October 12, when he was officially included on the Yntymak party list, but he did not hand over his duties to Kasymalieva until October 22.
Deputy speaker of parliament Talant Sydygaliev is also running as a candidate from the Ishenim (Belief) party, and he did relinquish his post when he was included as a candidate.
Yntymak countered that Mamytov was also a deputy in parliament and the same law that forbids someone serving in public office ends by saying "...with the exception of members of parliament or the president."
On November 2, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal from the BShK because of the "power of attorney [was] not properly certified and therefore it was not possible to establish its authenticity and accept it as evidence."
The BShK returned the appeal the same day after correcting the problem.
On November 4, the Supreme Court again returned the appeal to the BShK, this time because the application deadline had expired.
Mamytov will almost surely be a candidate when election day arrives. He has friends in high places.
In 2013, Mamytov was on trial with current President Sadyr Japarov and the current head of the State Committee for National Security, Kamchybek Tashiev, for creating public unrest and trying to overthrow the government in October 2012.
They were all convicted in late March 2013, with Japarov and Tashiev receiving 18 months in prison and Mamytov one year. They were all released in June 2013.
Mamytov was named parliament speaker on November 4, 2020, and on November 14 he became acting president after Japarov, who had been in a prison cell one month earlier after being convicted on a kidnapping charge, stepped down as interim president so he could run for president in an election in January 2021.
Mamytov, Japarov, and Tashiev's sudden rise in position came after gross violations preceding and during the last parliamentary elections, on October 4, 2020, sparked unrest in Bishkek on October 5 that quickly brought down the government.
The BShK was busy ahead of those elections also. In July 2020, there was a problem over which faction of the splintered Social Democratic Party could register and eventually the Supreme Court overruled a BShK decision.
In late August there were problems over the registration of the Kyrgyzstan party, which the BShK said submitted its registration forms three minutes after the deadline had expired and that the party's authorized representatives were not the people who submitted the documents.
Then a candidate from Butun (United) Kyrgyzstan, Tursunbai Bakir-uulu, complained to the BShK that his name was on the list of candidates approved at the party congress but was not on the list of candidates submitted to the BShK. The BShK disqualified Butun Kyrgyzstan for having two different lists.
But courts overturned the BShK decisions and both parties competed in parliamentary elections and won seats, or would have won seats -- but since the unrest brought down the government, on October 6 the BShK annulled the election results. Japarov's interim government then thwarted several attempts by the BShK to reschedule the parliamentary elections.
A Barometer For Election Problems
The actions that have been consistently taken by the BShK make it an interesting facet of the country's election process in that unlike the other election commissions in the region, it seems to function as it is supposed to.
The composition of and the selection process for the BShK has changed over the 30 years the country has been independent, but the body regularly calls out violations -- including ones that upset the government.
Article 19, Section 11 of the Law on Election Commissions to Conduct Elections and Referenda says BShK decisions "can be canceled...through judicial procedures," and most of the BShK's rulings in controversial cases -- which have been many over the years -- were overturned by the courts.
And the independence and impartiality of Kyrgyzstan's court system has been called into question many times since the country gained independence in 1991. But BShK decisions set the stage for how voters see the conduct of elections – and that is the case in the recent controversy over Mamytov's candidacy.
Political analyst and American University of Central Asia in Bishkek professor Emil Joroev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, known locally as Azattyk, that "this situation [regarding Mamytov] has a political context."
"The BShK could have just registered [Mamytov] and no one would have noticed," Joroev said. "The decision by the election commission to deny registration to a person who is a political heavyweight, close to the authorities, gave hope that the elections will be honest."
"But due to the cancellation of the BShK decision," Joroev continued, "the impression is that the voters were deceived."