The Kyrgyz government has become involved in a number of intrigues ahead of local elections scheduled for October 5. Among the most scandalous is the arrest of Ishenbay Kadyrbekov, a member of the Ata Meken opposition party. Several other cases suggest that President Kurmanbek Bakiyev is doing all he can to see members of his Ak Zhol party in the local governments. Control over local governments would potentially enable Bakiyev to escape organized protests by citizens from below.
Kadyrbekov was among the most active protestors against the regime of former president Askar Akayev in March 2005. He lost his 2005 re-election bid for parliament to pro-regime Karganbek Samkov. On March 23 and 24, 2005, when protests were being held across Kyrgyzstan after rigged parliamentary elections and Akayev was reported to have fled, Kadyrbekov was appointed as interim president and prime minister. After a few hours of occupying the leading position in the country, however, he was replaced by Kurmanbek Bakiyev following a vote among the opposition forces. Kadyrbekov later held high-ranking ministerial positions.
Kadyrbekov was arrested on April 25 on charges of corruption. Several MPs and opposition leaders condemned the government’s apparent desire to remove him from the political scene, especially after Kadyrbekov registered as a candidate for local government elections. His trial is constantly being postponed, and the court has announced that he will be released only on October 26. According to Kyrgyz law, the Central Elections Commission (CEC) can decide whether the registered candidate should be released to participate in elections. The district court in Bishkek, however, deprived the CEC of this right (www.akipress.kg, September 22).
This apparent collusion between the CEC and the court shows that although Kadyrbekov might have been involved in some corrupt transactions, the Bakiyev regime is using corruption charges to intimidate the opposition. Many other state officials are infamous for their corruption but are left untouched in exchange for supporting the ruling regime.
Meanwhile, the battle for local government seats is fierce. 15,139 candidates are registered for a total of 491 seats (www.24.kg, September 19). Among them, 324 are members of Ak Zhol, 201 are from the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, 94 are communists, and 55 are from Ata Meken. Roughly one-fourth of all candidates are registered for city keneshes (councils), while the rest will compete for positions on a village level.
According to local experts, even the number of candidates informally supported by the government exceeds the available positions in the local governments. One expert from Bishkek reports that there might be an active “selling” of offices going on for the local government positions. “The number of pro-regime candidates currently exceeds four times the number of available seats in Bishkek; this might signify an ongoing bargaining,” says the expert. Over 370 candidates are registered for the 44 seats available in the Bishkek kenesh. The National University is the most complicated precinct in Bishkek with a total of 61 candidates competing for four seats (www.24.kg, September 16). The university’s students are known to be easily manipulated.
The OSCE will monitor the elections on October 5 to determine whether voters are given an opportunity to express their will (www.OSCE.org/bishkek). The OSCE is correct in recognizing the importance of the local elections for the country’s political life. Representatives of city keneshes are well known to the local population and are more accessible to voters, as they are entitled to solve immediate problems. It is precisely for this reason that the Bakiyev regime is interested in consolidating the representation of the Ak Zhol party by supporting compliant candidates and intimidating the others.
Bakiyev might potentially need the direct support of the local governments if localized or nationwide protests break out. Local representatives would be able to control their precincts and direct them against or in support of opposition forces. In the coming months, the local government might play a crucial role in calming the local population if there are shortages of electricity and heating this winter, as well as inflation in the price of food.
For outside observers, local government elections are more difficult to oversee because of the high number of candidates and contested seats. The coming weeks in Kyrgyzstan are expected to be full of formal and informal competition, but the case of Kadyrbekov indicates that the government will try to eliminate the most vivid figures from local leadership.