Kyrgyz authorities are tightening security ahead of their February 27 parliamentary elections. Their concerns primarily focus around security fears on the Kyrgyz border and domestic fears about the unknown strength of the opposition. Generic political fears, triggered by the recent wave of peaceful revolutions in the former Soviet Union, including Georgia and Ukraine, have left those close to President Askar Akayev and his government nervous about the future course of political development within Kyrgyzstan.
During a recent interview in Bishkek, Interior Minister Bakirdin Subanbekov promised that the Interior Ministry intends to avoid any repetition of the violent clashes between police and protesters that resulted in the loss of several lives in southern Kyrgyzstan in March 2002. Subanbekov, aware of the danger of political disorder potentially resulting in unforeseen consequences ahead of the parliamentary elections on February 27 and presidential elections in the fall of 2005, presents an image of control in order to calm public concerns about the longevity of the Akayev regime. Subanbekov observed, “Of course I hope that everything will be democratic, open, and under the control of international observers. But even if the elections are transparent, there will be many discontented people — too many people want to become MPs. This is a natural phenomenon, but those discontented may start to take people to the streets. There are people for whom this has become nearly a profession. That is where the danger lies.” It is this unpredictability that most unsettles the current regime and exposes its essentially undemocratic nature.
Indeed, Subanbekov’s January interview with the Kyrgyz newspaper Delo No revealed that a central command post had been established to ensure public security during the forthcoming elections, placed under the control of First Deputy, Colonel Raimberdiyev. Workshops are currently underway in Bishkek that will be attended by representatives of the Prosecutor-General’s Office, the National Security Service, and the Supreme Court, plus one representative of the Central Electoral Commission.
These delegates are a clear indication of Bishkek’s intention to avoid any public disorder and reveal the real trepidation felt in official circles: genuine democracy might catch fire, mirroring events elsewhere in the former Soviet space. Though Subanbekov will be a key security figure tasked with carefully steering Kyrgyzstan through these uncharted waters in coming months, he recognizes that his problems are compounded by the presence of weak internal security forces and limited intelligence on the strength of the opposition. Should people take to the streets in mass numbers to protest about the elections, the outcome could be decided beyond Kyrgyzstan’s borders. Russian policy officially supports the Kyrgyz government, while the Kremlin has sought clarification on the demands and aims of the opposition, in the unlikely event that events should spiral out of control.
External security concerns could also play a volatile role in the Kyrgyz elections, as the January 31bombing in Dushanbe demonstrated little obvious concern within Bishkek about the potential for “terrorist” activity spreading from Tajikistan during 2005 elections, though much publicity has been given to the risk of Kyrgyz extremists crossing the Kyrgyzstan-Kazakhstan border. The Kyrgyz border guard service has in fact issued strong denials of any intention to strengthen security near the border with Tajikistan. Though officials in Bishkek have highlighted the porous nature of the border with Kazakhstan, there has been no response to Kazakh proposals for additional assistance to the relevant Kyrgyz border structures.
Roza Otunbayeva, ex-minister foreign minister and leader of the opposition bloc Ata Dzhurt (Fatherland), apparently has begun to frighten President Akayev somewhat. She has experience with Kyrgyz diplomacy and, perhaps most significantly she was present in Georgia during the Rose Revolution. Otunbayeva has explained, “After the events in Georgia and in Ukraine, our authorities, our president, made out of the actual concept of ‘revolution’ their main ‘ugly monster,’ with whom to frighten the Kyrgyz people. Moreover, [they did this] rather successfully. They are convincing the people that in the Kyrgyz version there will inevitably be bloodshed, civil war, a repetition of the nightmare that neighboring Tajikistan lived through at one time.”
Akayev’s pre-election tactics, despite stating that he will not stand for re-election this fall, appear based on a plan to instill irrational fear in the Kyrgyz people; touching on the raw nerves of civil war and instability in neighboring Tajikistan in the 1990s; promulgating the concept of “revolution” as a pejorative term; looking towards Moscow for support and guidance through difficult times; and stressing the continued importance of the country to multilateral bodies with forces stationed on Kyrgyz territory. Thus, election time in Kyrgyzstan will be an uneasy period, unlikely to result in the kind of sweeping political change experienced in Georgia and Ukraine, but that may once again reaffirm the political leanings of a regime with no genuine interest in democracy. For the time being, Kyrgyz power circles raise the specter of “revolution” more often than “terrorism.”
(Delo No, January 12; Nezavisimaya gazeta, February 4; Public Educational Radio and TV, February 5; Khabar Television, February 8).