On October 5 Kyrgyzstan held local government elections in which 491 seats were contested. The competition was most fierce, with the Chair of the Central Election Commission (CEC) Klara Kabilova scandalously resigning just days before the vote (see EDM, October 1). Both local and international experts insist that the elections were largely falsified with mostly government-favored candidates able to win seats. Neither the opposition forces nor local NGOs seemed able to influence the election’s outcome.
The CEC’s new chair Damir Lisovsky denies allegations of election fraud. Kyrgyz ombudsman Tursunbek Akun has declared that the vote was clean and lawful. While the CEC reported a 61 percent turnout across the country, Akun said that the younger population was especially active in casting their votes (www.akipress.kg, October 8). Civil society observers, in contrast, have argued that at best the population is passive about local elections. Several NGOs insist that most citizens did not show up at the elections polls because of their diminished trust in the government, especially after Kabilova’s revealing of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s continuous pressure on the CEC.
Members of a shadow parliament, formed by opposition leaders in the aftermath of the December 2007 parliamentary elections, were especially active in declaring the election illegitimate. According to opposition forces, the government promoted members of the pro-regime Ak Zhol party, as well as its favored independent candidates, to win seats in the local governments. While several renowned political leaders lost the election, a flock of unknown candidates took the seats. In one such example, a 21-year-old candidate won over a two-time local government member Abdygul Chotbayev at a voting precinct in Bishkek (www.24.kg, October 7). Ironically, in some cases allegations of vote falsifications were voiced by pro-regime candidates who contested election results with fellow members of their own party.
Only local observers were allowed to be present at voting precincts on the day of the election. International observers, including from the OSCE, were denied access because their applications were allegedly submitted late to the CEC. Roughly 24,000 local observers were present at the elections, with the bulk of them picked by the candidates themselves. However, as one Kyrgyz analyst from a university in Bishkek commented to Jamestown, “The falsifications were so obvious and widespread that observers were not able to report all cases of fraud.” Furthermore, since most voting precincts were located at schools, teachers were mobilized to support pro-government candidates. Elena Voronina from Interbilim NGO claims that the election observers themselves largely contributed to the falsification of results along with the CEC. She concludes that the government is trying to “eradicate the institution of independent observation of elections” (www.24.kg, October 6).
With elections largely falsified, the local government is thwarting its professed goal of encouraging greater engagement by the populace in the democratic process. The system of local government was first introduced in 2000 by former president Askar Akayev and was largely lauded by the international community. Since then, the local government has proven to be an important part of the political system in the country. Local government representatives are often concerned with the most immediate issues of the people and are, in turn, able to maintain order locally at times when the central government is weakened. For a few hours when Akayev was ousted on March 24, the local governments were virtually the only political force to retain their full authority. But under both Akayev and Bakiyev, local government was beset by numerous intrigues, with some political leaders resigning from their positions in fear for their own safety.
With the local governments comprised of mostly pro-regime candidates, Bakiyev managed to seat loyal supporters in every state institution. The parliament, government, and security structures are saturated with Ak Zhol members.
Meanwhile, the public’s attention has been diverted by the recent earthquake that killed 75 and injured 100 in southern Kyrgyzstan. Furthermore, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Bishkek on October 8. The local governments will most likely commence functioning as planned with the election results recognized. If, however, Kabilova reveals more facts about intrigues surrounding the October 5 elections and the parliamentary vote in December 2007, the opposition might be armed to raise greater public concern about the falsification of future elections. The next round of presidential and parliamentary elections is planned for 2010.