Two weeks before Kyrgyzstan’s December 16 parliamentary elections, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev abruptly sacked Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev. Atambayev represents the moderate opposition in the government and his Social-Democratic party has been rapidly gaining ground in the run up to the elections.
Atambayev was also vocal about Bakiyev’s rather questionable efforts to propel his Ak Zhol party into a major victory in the elections, hoping to secure up to 90% of seats in the new parliament. According to his fellow party members, in private and in public Atambayev was pressuring Bakiyev to hold fair elections and thus became a major obstacle to the president’s attempts to use administrative resources in the regime’s interests (24.kg, November 28).
The list of political parties competing on December 16 shrank from 22 contenders to 12 last week, far lower than the initial list of some 50 parties issued a month ago. After the Central Elections Commission’s random draw, the parties will be listed on the ballot papers in the following order (Akipress.kg, November 26):
1. Ata Meken
3. Democratic Party of Women and Youth (Novaya Sila)
4. Democratic Party Turan
5. Ar Namys
6. Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan
7. “Erkin Kyrgyzstan”
8. “Glas Naroda”
9. Party of the Partyless (Aalam)
10. Party of National Renaissance (Asaba)
11. National Party (Ak Zhol)
12. Communist Party
The remaining ten parties that applied to participate were denied registration, typically for not having the required quota of female and youth candidates.
Since these political parties are still known more for their leaders than their platforms, the upcoming elections have the potential to indicate the popular approval rating for each of the political leaders competing at the elections, including President Bakiyev. However, the noticeable increase in the professionalism and consolidation of the Kyrgyz opposition parties suggests that the election’s outcome will provide a victory for both pro-regime and opposition forces.
However, while these 12 parties are competing in a relatively open political environment, Ak Zhol’s desire to dominate the parliament is obvious. According to Jamestown’s interviews with some members of Ak Zhol, many smaller parties were forced to join the pro-regime bloc. Allegedly, leaders of smaller parties were threatened with violence if they refused to merge with Ak Zhol. Some political leaders also complained about indirect limitations that the government set for using mass media outlets before the elections.
The 0.5% regional threshold imposed by the Central Elections Commission after the constitutional referendum on October 21 on top of the 5% nation-wide barrier represents a significant hurdle for most parties. This extra threshold requires political parties to win at least 0.5% of the total vote (about 13,500 votes) in each electoral district.
According to RFE/RL analyst Naryn Aiyp, the 0.5% threshold has forced political parties to concentrate on the smallest electoral precincts to secure a general victory and fewer than four out of these 12 parties have a real chance of winning the elections. Aiyp also argues that the next parliamentary speaker will most likely be someone from the president’s team, possibly former state secretary Adakhan Madumarov or the chair of the Constitutional Court, Cholpon Bayekova. Both politicians were instrumental in passing Bakiyev’s constitutional referendum in October (Kyrgyz Weekly, November 20).
If Ak Zhol actually does win over half of the seats in the new parliament, its actions will provoke tensions, especially if political leaders such as Omurbek Tekebayev, Kubatbek Baibolov and Temir Sariyev of Ata Meken, Asaba party chief Azimbek Beknazarov, Atambayev, Asaba members Omurbek Babanov and Bakyt Beshimov, and a few other well-known politicians are shut out of parliament. Importantly, two opposition parties, Ata Meken and the Social Democrats, have shown significant progress in their internal consolidation and the methods they are using to campaign across the country. The parties regularly meet with voters, hold press conferences, and publish official statements. A few known activists from the NGO sector are also active in the opposition.
If Ak Zhol members dominate the next parliament, their bloc will likely include former members of Alga Kyrgyzstan, a party supporting former president Askar Akayev, a few known public figures without significant experience in politics, and a few businessmen. Both the parliament and government structures will therefore suffer from a lack of political will and experience. However, these state structures will also face a fierce opposition that is far better consolidated and undeniably superior in professionalism.