As the political campaign for Kyrgyzstan’s December 16 parliamentary elections intensifies, the Kyrgyz opposition is experiencing direct and indirect pressure from the government. Whereas Kyrgyz political parties show greater professionalism in designing and promoting their election campaigns, the government has crafted new techniques to curb opposition forces but avoid any legal consequences.
Ironically, three major opposition parties running in the elections – Atameken, Asaba, and the Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) – are President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s former allies that supported him during the Tulip Revolution in February-March 2005. But while most of the leaders of these parties united against former president Askar Akayev and rigged elections two years ago, this time they are divided into moderate and radical opposition groups. Indeed, political parties are more consolidated today compared with previous years, but their leaders still pursue individual ambitions and thus weaken the opposition’s ability to affect the president. Today, the three major opposition parties are the main competition to Bakiyev’s Ak Zhol bloc, as well as to each other.
In the latest row between the SDPK and the Central Elections Commission (CEC) the latter sought to eliminate one of the party’s key members, Edil Baisalov, for publishing a sample ballot on his personal blog before the elections. The CEC announced its intention to invalidate all existing ballot papers and reprint them at SDPK expense. Some members of the CEC went as far as to call for stripping the SDPK of its right to run in the election. While revealing ballot papers was an illegal act, the CEC had failed to protect the privacy of these papers in the first place. Also, the CEC’s reaction to the SDPK’s move was largely overblown, revealing its efforts to use minor cases for major actions. The commission does not have the right to remove candidates from party lists. The SDPK represents the moderate opposition, uniting a number of strong leaders, including former prime minister Almazbek Atambayev, former foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva, and the dean of the American University – Central Asia, Bakyt Beshimov.
Baisalov has been a meticulous observer of developments in Kyrgyzstan since the 2005 parliamentary elections, which led to the ouster of president Akayev. He joined SDPK as executive secretary a few months ago, becoming the 13th candidate on the group’s party-list. Baisalov has monitored the situation around the organization of the current elections on a daily basis. In one of his entries, he reported one incident where representatives of the local population had come to his stump speech expecting his party to distribute food and coal to persuade them to vote for the SDPK, instead of presenting his political platform.
Another, more radical opposition group, Asaba, led by former MP Beknazarov, called on the public and opposition forces to boycott the elections due to myriad hurdles set by the government in the run-up to the vote. Beknazarov has complained that opposition parties do not receive adequate broadcast time on the national TV channel and that his party’s activities are curtailed in almost every electoral district. He argues that the local government is involved in disrupting campaign speeches by his fellow party members. In one case, the head of a local Interior Ministry branch, according to Beknazarov, set a group of drunken men against people who came to listen to his political party’s presentation. Leaders of Atameken party, chaired by Omurbek Tekebayev, have encountered similar problems, and several party members were severely attacked in southern parts of the country.
Local courts seem to support the president’s efforts to marginalize opposition parties. On December 5 the Green Party, which will not be allowed to run in the elections, lost its case against Ak Zhol in the Supreme Court. The Greens had sued Ak Zhol for illegal actions in organizing and changing its party lists.
It is yet unclear which of the opposition parities will be able to win parliamentary representation. But following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s cynical victory in the December 2 parliamentary elections, Bakiyev gained an additional excuse to foster the election of a parliament with a pro-presidential majority. Putin’s popularity among the Kyrgyz public is perhaps as strong as in Russia, and the country is often seen as a positive example in Kyrgyzstan. Likewise, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev is also seen as a strong leader in Kyrgyzstan. If Bakiyev manages to acquire a parliamentary majority on December 16, he can surely find support among Kyrgyzstan’s larger neighbors.
(24.kg, Akipress.kg, Baisalov.livejournal.com, Gazeta.kg, December 1-5)