Two major Kyrgyz opposition parties – Ata Meken and the Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) – have been experiencing extreme pressure from the government ahead of parliamentary elections on December 16.
After SDPK member Edil Baisalov’s published a sample ballot on his personal blog on December 3, the Central Election Commission (CEC) announced its decision to invalidate all ballot papers and create new ones (see EDM, December 6). The CEC erased Baisalov’s name from the SDPK party-list, and he was charged with two criminal allegations: “Impeding the implementation of voting rights and work procedures of the electoral commission” and “Causing material losses by fraud and abuse of trust” (Akipress.kg, December 11). Although no trial has taken place yet, the SDPK was slapped with a $570,000 fine. As NGO activist Toktaiym Umetaliyeva comments, the CEC’s behavior is inappropriate, as ballot papers in Kyrgyzstan are about a secret as any state memo (Akipress.kg, December 12).
According to SDPK chair Almazbek Atambayev, by publishing the sample ballot, Baisalov wanted to demonstrate to the larger public how poorly the ballots were protected against possible falsifications. According to Atambayev, Baisalov actually contributed to the transparency of the elections by revealing the sample ballot. Currently Baisalov must reside outside of Kyrgyzstan, fearing an unjust trial and possible imprisonment. While crossing the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border last week, he was arrested by Kyrgyz border guards, but was released after Western diplomatic representatives intervened into the process.
Several members of Ata Meken have been beaten in Osh since last week, while Ata Meken’s leader, Omurbek Tekebayev, was criticized by the National TV and Radio Company for his allegedly improper public behavior. According to Kyrgyz political observers, both Ata Meken and the SDPK enjoy widespread popularity in the larger cities. However, as Kyrgyz political observer Nur Omarov comments, the SDPK and other opposition parties have meager chances to win representation (Akipress.kg, December 11).
While stories of official suppression of the opposition swirl, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s Ak Zhol party is making strides across the country. Members have reported instances of voters in different oblasts voluntarily donating money to Ak Zhol in order to show their support for the president. Bakiyev also enjoys positive mass media coverage.
Meanwhile female representatives from all competing political parties have been actively promoting their political rights and organizing joint meetings. Although women running in the elections still refer to themselves as “representatives of the more beautiful part of humanity,” a Russian definition of women with some gender-sensitive undertones, they are clear about the need to increase the level of female representation in the parliament from zero to around 30%. However, the women running for parliament are generally less professional and less wealthy than their male counterparts. To meet an informal quota for female candidates, political parties have tended to recruit women with weak political backgrounds.
In effect, elections this Sunday will be a contest among three major parties – Ak Zhol, Ata Meken, and SDPK. The CEC has been the major state institution to block the participation of opposition political parties. Currently, the commission is responding to a record number of legal cases filed by different political parties.
If Ak Zhol wins a majority on Sunday, the opposition will inevitably mobilize, either immediately after the elections or in 2010 during presidential elections. As Valentin Bogatyrev, another political analyst predicts, it is quite likely that Ak Zhol will be the only party that receives the needed 0.5% representation from all voting regions across the country, especially in smaller cities like Naryn and Talas. Bogatyrev also thinks that Ak Zhol will pay more attention to precincts where known political leaders from Ata Meken and SDPK have a higher chance of winning (Akipress, December 12).
December 16 will also be the first time Kyrgyzstan votes according to a proportional representation system. This change was endorsed as a result of the constitutional referendum in October to avoid repetition of the corrupt elections on the basis of a majoritarian system in 2005. At that time, only wealthy candidates with ties to former president Askar Akayev and his family were able to win seats.
This time, the new ruling regime has learned new ways to alienate opposition forces. Opposition leaders are persecuted, while their party members are beaten up. Political parties broker informal pacts among themselves on their representation in the parliament. Bribes by individual candidates seeking a parliamentary seat reportedly have reached as much as $250,000 (24.kg, December 10). Parties also bribe voters, as happened under the majoritarian system. Consequently, the December 16 elections are likely to produce a similar pro-presidential parliament by means as corrupt as those used in 2005.