THE REPUBLIC’S LEADERS SEEM TO HAVE ADOPTED BANDIT LAW
More than three months have passed since the elections to both houses of the Zhogorku Kenesha (Supreme Soviet) of the Kyrgyz Republic, yet the political heat surrounding them has not abated, but is actually rising as the presidential elections approach. The political scandals which erupted following the unlawful actions of local authorities in constituencies where members of the opposition were standing for election provoked indignation not just in the republic but also abroad. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the U.S. State Department, some U.S. Congressmen and a number of prominent deputies from the Russian Duma all voiced their concern to the republic’s leaders at the gross violation of articles of the electoral code. The crux of this concern was that in a republic which had chosen a democratic path of development, totalitarian methods of eliminating political rivals were becoming widespread.
The grave political situation is further aggravated by the fact that the parliamentary elections of February 20 and the presidential elections still to come in December this year are closely interconnected. A number of the republic’s better-known politicians who stood in the parliamentary elections then announced their intention to participate in the presidential elections too, as candidates for the post of head of state. Specifically, the leaders of the following parties declared their candidacies: Ar-Namys (Dignity)–F. Kulov; El (Popular)–D. Usenov; and Ata-Meken (Fatherland)–O. Tekebaev.
Usenov and Tekebaev were deputies of the previous convocation of the legislative assembly of the Zhogorku Kenesha, while Kulov has held positions of responsibility in the executive since the early days of the republic’s independence: minister of the interior, vice-president, governor of Chui Oblast, minister for national security, and mayor of Bishkek. In other words, for nine years Kulov was one of President Akaev’s closest associates. But after Kulov voluntarily stepped down as mayor of the capital in April last year, formed his own party and announced his intention to participate in the presidential election, the executive has subjected him to political persecution. With a gross violation of the electoral law, they barred Kulov from entering parliament, then launched criminal proceedings against him. He is accused of embezzling US$140 million through the sale of military equipment, precious metals, alcohol, and raw materials while he was vice president of the republic. Immediately after the second round of the elections, Kulov was arrested and has now been remanded in custody. Dozens of his voters from Kara-Burinsk constituency (No. 44) in Talas Oblast came to the capital and are still picketing in the city center, demanding justice. The political persecution of Kulov increasingly suggests that one of the basic principles of “bandit” law is being implemented by the state: If you’re not with us, you’re against us.
ONLY THE CURRENT REGIME CAN DESTABILIZE THE POLITICAL SITUATION IN THE REPUBLIC
Another presidential candidate, D. Usenov, was also denied access to the second round of the parliamentary elections. The local election commission revoked his candidacy on the grounds that he had not included a house, registered in his wife’s name, in his declaration of assets–though it emerged at the hearing that the house was sold back in 1993, and then resold to a third party. Nevertheless, under the pretext that the sale was not formalized by a notary, the court dismissed the suit Usenov brought against the local commission. On top of this, the Lenin District Court in Bishkek brought a case against Usenov and in May gave him a three year suspended sentence. This case had in fact been brought against Usenov four years ago. Nevertheless, and despite the fact that the plaintiff whom Usenov had allegedly injured withdrew his charge, the four-year-old case was reopened just before the presidential election. In court it emerged that the injury could easily have been caused by the son of the former Prime Minister A. Dzhumagulov, Sergei, who had been with Usenov at the time. But in order to save the then prime minister from a barrage of criticism, Usenov took the blame himself. The city court and Supreme Court are unlikely to take this version of events into account, and will uphold the verdict of the district court. This will be sufficient to debar Usenov from participating in the presidential elections.
The local authorities also tried to deny access to the second round of the elections to a third presidential candidate–O. Tekebaev–also on the grounds that he had not declared a plot of land in Bazar-Korgon region of Dzhalal-Abad oblast. However, more than 8,000 of his supporters, outraged at the actions of the authorities, blockaded the Osh-Bishkek highway. This mass action on the part of the voters in defense of their candidate alarmed the authorities, and the republic’s Supreme Court was forced to overturn the decision of the Bazar-Korgon district court. In the second round, Tekebaev convincingly defeated his opponent and became a deputy of the legislative assembly. And more recently, in May, Tekebaev was elected deputy speaker (torag) of the legislative assembly.
The elections were no less tense even in those constituencies in which members of the opposition who had no claims to the presidency were standing. As a result of illegal acts on the part of local authorities and the judiciary, opposition representatives failed to get into parliament from Issyk-Kul (No. 17), Tyup (No. 18), Batken (No. 24) and Kadamazhai (No. 25) constituencies. All these gross violations of articles of the electoral code by state structures caused psychological tension in society, and have given rise to discontent with the authorities.
CAN PRESIDENT AKAEV’S STATEMENTS BE TRUSTED?
The violations during the parliamentary elections prompted visits by senior foreign officials: U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the OSCE’s General Secretary for Central Asia Jan Kubisch met with President Akaev.
Speaking to journalists following talks with the president, Mrs. Albright said: “I am delighted that Askar Akaev has today undertaken to follow the advice of the OSCE with respect to the parliamentary elections, during the course of which problems arose. This in turn creates a basis for free and fair presidential elections, which are also to be held this year. This morning I called upon President Akaev to release Feliks Kulov before the criminal investigation is completed, in accordance with Kyrgyz law.”
Mrs. Albright was asked some questions about Akaev’s statements by a representative of the U.S. information agency: “It looks as though President Akaev has made the right noises. But he has made them before. To what extent do you, Mrs. Albright, trust his statements? And will the repercussions be if President Akaev does not carry out the OSCE’s recommendations?
“I spent a long time with President Akaev today, and we spoke about the importance of democracy for Kyrgyzstan and about the need to continue these reforms,” Albright answered. “I think that the forthcoming presidential election in this republic will determine whether Kyrgyzstan goes down the path of democracy and stability, or whether it chooses a path that will lead to chaos and instability.”
Albright’s answers received mixed reactions in the republic. While the opposition greeted Mrs. Albright’s comments with understanding and approval, in presidential circles they provoked undisguised irritation and displeasure. The governmental newspapers Slovo Kyrgyzstana and Kyrgyz Tuusu and the independent Vecherny Bishkek published articles demanding that there should be no interference in the internal affairs of the independent republic.
In this particular case, one thing is in no doubt: Akaev could easily disassociate himself from such odious articles by saying that they do not reflect his opinions. But in the presence of several journalists he refused to admit that he knows K. Sydykova, the author of the article in Kyrgyz Tuusu, though everybody knows that Sydykova has for several years headed a department in the president’s administration, and often writes articles praising Akaev himself.
If the president, as guarantor of the constitution, had kept a close eye on how the law was being observed in the republic, the political scandals at the parliamentary elections would not have happened, and senior foreign officials would not be concerned for the fate of democracy in Kyrgyzstan. But the facts suggest the opposite.
AKAEV WAS THE FIRST TO VIOLATE THE ELECTORAL CODE
On election day, after voting at his polling station, Akaev was interviewed by journalists. Asked whether he was worried by the latest opinion polls which showed that the communists were in the lead, the president answered:
“It is difficult to say at the moment who will win a majority. I can say one thing–the communists will be among the top three, and they deserve this, because they work hard with the electorate without getting involved in pre-election scandals. The communists are waging an honest, open campaign. They will be successful. But I voted for the Democratic Party of Women of Kyrgyzstan.”
The head of state’s enthusiastic comments about the communists and his open support for the Democratic Party of Women of Kyrgyzstan could only be construed as campaigning for the two parties. But according to the electoral code, on election day campaigning for any party or candidate is forbidden. Thus, in a way, Akaev’s violation of one of the main articles of the code served to sanction the loose interpretation of the law by local authorities, the judiciary, the Central Election Commission (CEC) and its subdivisions in the second round of the election.
The CEC took the baton from the president. According to the electoral code, the second round should have been held two weeks later, on 5 March, but it was actually held three weeks later–on 12 March. An analysis of Akaev’s observations reveals that he had an ulterior motive in praising the communists. On that day, a hint was dropped to the West in the classic eastern manner: The communists are still in a very strong position in Kyrgyzstan, and as the most organized party they represent a grave threat to the democratic process in the republic; only Akaev and his entourage can confront such a dangerous, organized force which is capable of changing the existing democratic structure.
WILL A SOUTHERNER BECOME PRESIDENT?
An analysis of the unlawful actions of Akaev and his closest associates attests to the fact that he intends to run for the presidency for a third time, though he is barred from doing so by the constitution. Therefore all his actions have one purpose in mind: To neutralize his strongest rivals for presidential power. The strongest were Kulov and Usenov. However, it should be noted here that both these candidates are from the north of the republic. As yet Akaev and his entourage have not resorted to such harsh measures against presidential candidates from the south. The explanation for this is that the electorate in southern Kyrgyzstan–despite the region’s backwardness in comparison with the north–is more united. Apart from this, the south is potentially more explosive. Akaev and his circle have to take these factors into account. Dividing the republic into north and south is a standard and important device in running political campaigns and events. Although there are twenty-eight registered parties and movements, it can be stated with confidence that in fact there are just two unregistered parties in the republic: north and south. There is a certain convention that has been noticed in Russia: A bald ruler is succeeded by a hirsute one, and vice versa.
In Kyrgyzstan, there is a regional slant to the transfer of power: A northerner is succeeded by a southerner and vice versa. It is now the turn of the northerner Akaev to be replaced by a southerner. Akaev and his team are now doing all they can to neutralize presidential candidates from the south. With this aim in mind they are pushing southern leaders into confrontation with each other in whatever way they can. But experience shows that southerners can unite to resolve important political matters. Recently, during the elections for the deputy speaker of the legislative assembly, there was a parliamentary crisis: Nobody could secure an overall majority. Only after the deputies from the south joined forces could they ensure the election of their man–Tekebaev. Thus, the main battle for the presidency will be between Akaev and the south of the republic. And if Akaev and his followers resort to such dirty tricks during the presidential elections as were used at the parliamentary elections, then Secretary of State Albright’s prediction may come true: There will be chaos and instability in the republic.
“Sadji” is the pen-name of a Bishkek journalist who contributes regularly to the weekly newspaper Res Publica.