Kyrgyzstan’s incumbent president Askar Akayev appeared headed for a landslide victory December 24 against his two remaining opponents in the country’s first contested presidential election of the post-Soviet era. According to preliminary reports, the turnout was estimated at some 80 percent of the population, with Akayev winning at least 70 percent of the votes cast. (14) The state machinery worked hard to ensure Akayev’s reelection: of nine opponents who sought the presidency, only five managed to collect the 50,000 voter signatures required in the face of administrative pressures. Three of these 5 were then disqualified when the central electoral commission and the Supreme Court retroactively invalidated some of the signatures they had collected. Following disqualification, the three candidates together with supporters staged a hunger strike in downtown Bishkek.
State television and radio openly propagandized for Akayev while minimizing the other candidates’ exposure. The president refused to debate his opponents on TV. Virtually all of the latter were either old-line communists promising to reverse the reforms, or regional candidates whose election could have rekindled latent tensions between the country’s north and south. Akayev’s reelection averts both dangers. The 51 year old Akayev, a Russian-trained engineer and physicist, was president of the republic’s Academy of Sciences before being elected head of state by Kyrgyzstan’s legislature in 1990 and by popular vote in 1991. Although a northerner, Akayev has proven adept at defusing north-south tensions and enjoys countrywide support. To maximize support among the country’s Uzbek and Russian minorities, Akayev paid pre-election visits to the presidents of Russia and Uzbekistan, Boris Yeltsin and Islam Karimov, collecting all but their explicit endorsements. Akayev was also able to point to the International Monetary Fund’s favorable assessment of his economic reforms, its recent extra lending to Kyrgyzstan, and the growth of Western investment in the mineral sector, opening the prospect of halting the economic decline next year.
Tajik Talks Adjourn in Impasse.