Kyrgyz opposition parties have announced that they will not recognize the official results of the October 4 parliamentary elections, after preliminary figures showed that four parties -- three of them with close ties to the government -- are set to gain seats in the 120-member Jogorku Kenesh (Supreme Council).
Shortly after the polls closed at 8 p.m. local time, opposition supporters gathered for peaceful rallies in the capital, Bishkek, and the northwestern city of Talas to protest what they described as widespread irregularities in the vote. Protesters later dispersed, but opposition leaders said more rallies will take place on October 5.
Out of the 16 parties in the race, pro-government Birimdik, Mekenim Kyrgyzstan, and the Kyrgyzstan parties, as well as the opposition Butun Kyrgyzstan party, have surpassed the 7-percent threshold to enter the parliament. The final results are expected on October 5.
Opposition Ata-Meken party leaders called the vote "the dirtiest elections" in the country's history. The party officials said they have recorded mass irregularities in all polling stations across the country.
They said the party was to submit their findings and demand the election authorities to annul vote-count results in some districts of the southern Osh Province.
Opposition monitors said that they noticed minibuses transporting the same groups of people to several polling stations to cast ballots. In some areas, they have reportedly seen people holding apparent lists of candidates to give to voters.
Reforma party leader Klara Sooronkulova said that she was attacked by an unknown man at a polling station in Osh.
"There were no signs of the government, state, or police there," Sooronkulova said, adding that all polling station in Osh have been controlled by “members of criminal groups.”
Supporters of Reforma and Social Democrat parties gathered in Bishkek for several hours in the evening on October 4, for what they called a peaceful protest. Opposition Respublika party supporters staged a protest rally in Talas.
By noon, the Central Election Commission (CEC) received 21 complaints, mainly about voters being ferried in buses to polling stations, people escorting voters into polling stations, and watching them casting their ballots.
The CEC said it is investigating complaints that members of criminal groups are putting pressure on voters.
"Criminals are putting pressure on our citizens; the state does not allow violation of citizens' rights. The complaints are being investigated," Tynchtykbek Shainazarov, a member of the CEC, told RFE/RL at a news conference in Bishkek.
Shainazarov was speaking after Ata-Meken candidate Zhanarbek Akaev complained about violations during the vote, including the appearance of athletic-looking men in villages where they were pressuring voters.
Kyrgyzstan’s electoral laws stipulate that no single party can take more than 65 seats in the legislature, a departure from a trend in Central Asia where ruling parties dominate rubberstamp parliaments.
'Island Of Democracy'
Since the early 1990s, Kyrgyzstan has been called an “island of democracy” in Central Asia. Still, like all of the country's election campaigns, this one has had its share of controversies. But it has also shown once again how very different the country's elections are compared with its authoritarian, undemocratic neighbors.
RFE/RL correspondents reported that in some areas, people waiting outside the polling stations on October 4 were marking what appeared to be lists of names and handing envelopes to voters.
In Talas, an RFE/RL correspondent reported that a woman in the voters' queue hit her camera and demanded that she stop filming.
In Osh, two journalists from the independent news outlet Kloop.kg, reported that athletic-looking men attacked them, beat their cameraman, and took their phones, while police officers there ignored the incident until they were urged to intervene.
The election campaign was also marred by allegations of violence when at least 12 people were hospitalized, and several vehicles set on fire after a scuffle between supporters of Mekenim Kyrgyzstan and Birimdik in the southern Osh Province.
On October 1, the Respublika party claimed that one of its activists had been stabbed to death by a supporter of another unspecified political party in the southern district of Uzgen on September 30.
Criticism of President Sooronbai Jeenbekov and the Kyrgyz government has been heard frequently on the campaign trail and in the many debates that are held on prime-time television almost every night on a range of topics and with pro-government and opposition candidates taking part.
Smaller parties have accused Birimdik, widely considered loyal to Jeenbekov, of using administrative resources to promote its candidates, an allegation the party denies. The president’s brother Asylbek Jeenbekov and several high-ranking members of the current parliament are among the party’s candidates.
Mekenim Kyrgyzstan is closely associated to the wealthy and influential Matraimov family.
The clan’s figurehead, Raiymbek Matraimov, a former top customs official, was the target of large protests in November and December last year, with demonstrators demanding a probe into allegations of corruption and massive outflows of cash from the country.
Some of the new parties in Kyrgyzstan are, according to professor and columnist Asel Doolotkeldieva, only a cover for "long-standing, informal elite political and economic networks."
Meanwhile, Birimdik party chairman, Marat Amankulov, drew criticism and even a protest rally after a video -- from several months ago -- emerged that shows him saying it was time for Kyrgyzstan to reconsider its independence and “return” to Russia’s fold.
In the leaked video, Amankulov added that the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union, which includes post-Soviet states Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, should become a single country.
Russia hosts hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from the impoverished former Soviet nation of some 6.5 million. The COVID-19 pandemic and measures to contain it have dried up work for migrants in Russia, reduced remittances, and led to a rise in unemployment in Kyrgyzstan.
The election comes as Kyrgyz authorities warn of a rise in COVID-19 infections, with some regions reimposing restrictions on people’s movements.
Political parties mostly defied warnings by health authorities and held large gatherings with supporters.
Election officials said that almost 54 percent of the 3.5 million registered Kyrgyz voters cast their ballots in 2,475 polling stations, including 45 abroad.
The election is being monitored by more than 270 observers from 43 countries and 33 international organizations.