"We would vote for any party that promises to solve our problems along the border with Tajikistan," two women in the village of Kok Tash tell me. Standing on the side of the road, we can all see the Tajik border a few dozen meters away as we speak.
The two are friends of Raziya Osorova, the "rais," or head of Kok Tash. I had just asked Osorova about problems in Kok Tash and what she wanted the political parties running for seats in upcoming elections to know about -- and do -- for the people of her village.
The elderly bureaucrat was cautious about answering, but these two women who approached and inserted themselves into our conversation are not. And they are not the only people who view the upcoming parliamentary elections with an expectation that the new government will resolve what for them is the most important issue.
Kok Tash is one of several villages that have been part of violence between Kyrgyz and Tajik communities that straddle the winding border of the two countries. There have been cross-border shooting incidents at least a dozen times during the last few years and people have been killed and wounded. My Kyrgyz driver did not want to approach the Tajik exclave of Vorukh. "They throw rocks at your car," he tells me (though later I walked up to that border and took pictures and no one bothered me).
Vorukh is next to the Kyrgyz village of Ak Sai. The local rais here is Ergesh Niyazkulov and he also named border problems as the No. 1 issue he hopes the next Kyrgyz government can resolve. But he adds that the question of water distribution is an integral part of any border solution.
It's About The Land
The reasons for the border problem are not difficult to understand. Driving to Ak Sai we passed back and forth between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan a half dozen times. We drove right next to a small Tajik Army post; then, a few minutes later, drove past a small Kyrgyz Army post. It was often unclear which country we were in as we made our way between the sharply descending hills on either side of us.
There is no industry here except agriculture, so the question of who gets the arable land and access to water from the lone river that cuts through the area is of paramount importance to the people living here. It is also an issue that politicians in the Kyrgyz and Tajik capitals -- far from this place -- will have a difficult time resolving.
In Samarkandek, the third of the border villages I visited, the people also hoped for some solution to the border problem. Samarkandek is lucky, there is an artificial canal running through the village and agriculture here seems well-sustained. But speaking with the small crowd that gathered around me it was apparent there was anger that these border conflicts are repeated so often and frustration that politicians have been unable to end them.
In all three villages, voters were consumed by the border problem. Sometimes someone mentioned the water problem but when I asked about economic conditions and possible improvements in infrastructure, people didn't seem very interested.
The solution for now, as was easy to see, is to construct more fortifications and observation towers. Though there was work being done on paving the main road through this area (not the roads leading to Ak Sai or Samarkandek), the only other obviously new additions to the region were lookout towers and army posts along the frontier.
I've painted a grim picture but I'm following the campaign and it's necessary to understand what the electorate wants from the members of the next parliament.
'We Have Democracy'
There is good news. Despite the problems in the Kyrgyz villages along the Tajik border, campaigning is in full swing. Banners and posters from various political parties were visible in all of these places. In Ak Sai I was present at a rally for the Kyrgyzstan party where three party activists addressed a crowd of about 40 people (Ak Sai is a small village) in an open lot off the side of the road.
Ak Sai chief Niyazkulov told me that activists or candidates from any party were free to come to his village and speak with people or hold rallies. He said there had not been and would not be any interference in such activities.
It was the same thing Osorova told me in Kok Tash and, like Ak Sai, there was an abundance of campaign posters from the various political parties.
The same was true in Samarkandek and although I did not meet the rais there, the people I did speak with said all parties were welcome to come and meet with the villagers and some had already done so.
So even in these small places voters are watching the campaign and listening to what the parties are saying. On this day (September 21) I met with more than 100 people, obviously briefly, but they all said they were planning on voting. As was true with the voters I mentioned in the previous article, the people of Ak Sai, Kok Tash, and Samarkandek were eager to confirm they would cast ballots but reluctant to tell me which party they would support on election day. I liked Ak Sai chief Niyazkulov's answer when I asked him which party he intended to vote for. "We have democracy in Kyrgyzstan. My vote is my secret."
I'm headed back to Osh but along the way I'll be paying special attention to something I noticed coming down here -- the political battle on the hillsides of southern Kyrgyzstan. You can find out about that next.