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Turf Battle: Kyrgyz Parties Giveth, But Taketh Away Once Ballots Are Cast

On October 14, local Labor party officials finally relented and said the artificial turf would stay.

Like kids in so many towns and villages in Central Asia, young soccer players in the dusty Kyrgyz village of Kara-Suu had always played on a hard and sometimes muddy dirt field.

So when officials from the United Kyrgyzstan Labor party announced they were going to install an artificial-turf soccer field in Kara-Suu -- not far from the famous alpine Lake Issyk-Kul -- soccer enthusiasts and townspeople alike were delighted.

But their joy turned to anger when -- two weeks after October 4 elections that gave Labor more than one-third of the vote in Kara-Suu -- the Labor party told village officials they had to return the bright green turf.

Adilet Saralaev, chairman of Kara-Suu's Youth Association, told RFE/RL that Labor party representatives said they wanted the artificial turf back because Kara-Suu voters had not supported the party. "There was no demand [when they offered us the soccer field] that villagers had to vote [for the Labor party] in order to get the field," he said.

But villagers in Kara-Suu, which has a population of 885 people, rose up and actively campaigned for the field to stay in their hamlet.

Labor party officials then backtracked. Talant Turusbek uulu, a Labor party official in the Kochkor district where Kara-Suu is located, told RFE/RL that there was a misunderstanding about the location of the field.

Saralaev said village representatives then contacted some Labor higher-ups to argue their case for keeping the soccer field.

On October 14, Saralaev said local Labor party officials finally relented and said the artificial turf would stay.

Askar Salymbekov, the head of the Labor party and a prominent Kyrgyz oligarch, reportedly gifted several new soccer fields to villages and towns in the months before the elections to attract votes.

Many parties sought to attract local voters with gifts. But did they get to keep them?
Many parties sought to attract local voters with gifts. But did they get to keep them?

Power Cuts

Unfortunately not every municipality in Kyrgyzstan was as fortunate as Kara-Suu once party officials came asking for their preelection gifts to be returned.

The townspeople in the southern town of Monok -- near Kyrgyzstan's second city, Osh -- were quite happy when a brand new power generator was set up on September 25 in a municipality that experiences energy shortages. The generator was reportedly arranged by the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan.

But just four days after the Social Democrats finished as runners-up in Monok to the Kyrgyzstan party in the October 4 elections -- despite winning the elections nationally -- the power generator was removed.

Dyikanbai Daminov, of the Oshelectro company that installed the power generator, rejected any suggestion that it was dismantled in connection with the Social Democrats' showing. "We moved [the generator] to the village of Nookat Almalyk, where there recently was a landslide [and they needed energy]," Daminov said.

He added that the generator taken from Monok had been replaced with a more powerful one. But residents of Monok say there has been no new generator brought to their village.

No Playing Around In Russia

The practice of political parties giving voters expensive presents in hopes of getting their votes only to subsequently reclaim the gifts happens in other former Soviet republics as well.

See CurrentTimeTV's report in Russian on the cynical use by Russian political parties of such gifts

In the Russian city of Yadrin, United Russia candidate Aleksandr Zharkov built a playground for children in early September, ahead of the September 13 elections.

But several days after losing the election to a candidate from an opposition party, the playground -- which included swings, a slide, and a teeter-totter -- was dug up and hauled away.

Written by Pete Baumgartner based on reporting by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service correspondent Mirlan Kadyrov