Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 34

On February 20, Kyrgyzstan is holding its first legislative elections on a multiparty basis. The country is Central Asia’s smallest in area and population, the least blessed with mineral resources–apart from its promising, but incompletely prospected gold deposits–and the most vulnerable from a military and security standpoint. The country stands–in the words of Prime Minister Amangeldy Muraliev–“on the brink of defaulting” on its massive external debts (see the Monitor, January 7, 19, February 2, 16).

Kyrgyzstan is unique in Central Asia–both in its weaknesses and a few encouraging aspects. It is the only country whose president–Askar Akaev–did not belong to the Communist Party’s nomenklatura and does not practice a strong-arm personal rule or demonstrate a personality cult. It also took early steps toward economic reform and became in 1999 the first post-Soviet country to gain admission to the World Trade Organization.

At stake in these elections are sixty seats in the Legislative Assembly (lower house of parliament) and forty-five in the Assembly of People’s Representatives (upper house). Fifteen of the Legislative Assembly’s seats are being allocated proportionally to parties and blocs. Nine parties and two blocs are participating in that contest. All other seats in both chambers will be adjudicated in electoral districts by 420 individual candidates, many–possibly most–of them representing parties and blocs. A number of parties and blocs failed to qualify for the proportional contest, but have entered their candidates in the single-mandate districts.

The pro-government side includes at least two blocs, apart from a multitude of individual candidates who enjoy the overt or covert support of the authorities. Those blocs are:

1. The Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), consisting of the Social-Democrat Party, the Party of Unity of Kyrgyzstan, the Party of Economic Revival and the Adilet [Justice] Party. Heading the UDF slate is the novelist Chingiz Aitmatov, probably the most famous Kyrgyz alive, who in any case enjoyed that status well before Akaev became president and is currently Akaev’s appointee as ambassador to Belgium.

2. The bloc of the Agrarian Party and the Agrarian-Labor Party, a tandem headed by presidential official Akazbek Abdrashitov.

Seemingly positioned uneasily between the pro-government and the opposition camps are:

1. The two-party Manas Bloc, named after the hero of the Kyrgyz medieval epos, and consisting of the People’s Republican Party and the Party for the Protection of the Workers of Industry and Agriculture and of Low-Income Families.

2. The El Bei Bechara [Unprotected People] Party, which claims the second-largest number of registered members among the Kyrgyz parties. This party’s slate was, on a legal technicality, denied registration in the proportional contest. Party leader Daniar Usenov, a sitting deputy in the outgoing parliament, is one of two declared candidates of the opposition in the presidential election due in November-December 2000. Usenov was arrested during the electoral campaign in disregard of his immunity, after the authorities reopened an old assault-and-battery case against him. Other figures in the same party, however, have made deals with the authorities and obtained government appointments during the course of the electoral campaign.

On the opposition side, three parties stand out:

1. The Party of Communists (POC), led by Absamat Masaliev, the Soviet-era first secretary of the Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan, with Nikolai Baylo as second in command. The POC claims by far the largest number of registered members among the parties of Kyrgyzstan. It counts on a substantial share of the “Russian-speaking” vote, but will have to compete with Feliks Kulov’s party (see below) for it. The POC advocates Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the Russia-Belarus Union. The party’s radical wing under Klara Ajibekova recently split off to form a new party under the old name, the Communist Party (CP), which did not manage to qualify for participation in the contest among parties, though Ajibekova and other CP candidates are running in single-mandate districts.

2. The Ar-Namys [Honor, or Dignity] Party, led by Feliks Kulov, who is potentially the strongest challenger to Akaev in the presidential election due by the end of this year. Kulov, 51, a Russified Kyrgyz, is a former chief of the republic’s KGB. The first name Feliks, moreover, can usually be taken as a clue in former Soviet republics to a Chekist family background. Kulov’s primary political base is among the Russian population of the capital city Bishkek, whose mayor he was after Akaev had released him from the security post. Kulov resigned as mayor last year to launch his electoral effort. He and the authorities exchanged accusations of corruption during the course of the campaign; his former ministry, State Security, is currently questioning him in connection with some corruption cases. Ar-Namys did not qualify for participation in the proportional contest because it was founded less than a year prior to the election date. Kulov and other Ar-Namys candidates are running in single-mandate districts, advocating close relations with Russia and enshrining official status for the Russian language on a par with Kyrgyz in the country’s constitution. Russians number approximately 700,000 in Kyrgyzstan’s population of 4.8 million. Kulov and Ar-Namys compete with the communists for the allegiance of Russian voters and simultaneously vie with the government in terms of vigilance against “Islamic extremism.”

3. The Party of the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan (PDMK) gave Kulov the top spot on the PDMK slate because Ar-Namys was not eligible to participate in the contest among parties. Ultimately, however, the PDMK’s slate was itself disqualified on a legal technicality, following a challenge in the courts from a dissident faction of that party. PDMK leaders Jypar Jekshyev and Viktor Chernomorets are, like Kulov, running in single-mandate districts. Ar-Namys, PDMK and the Kairan El [Poor People’s] Party are the centerpieces in a nascent left-leaning alliance which includes some smaller parties and nongovernmental organizations.

The electoral campaign was heavily dominated by polemics between opposition parties on the one hand and the authorities on the other with regard to the registration of parties and of individual candidates. The electoral code, passed in April 1999, requires parties to have registered at least twelve months prior to the election date to qualify for participation in the contest among parties. Aiming to prevent a proliferation of improvised miniparties in the runup to the election, that provision ultimately served to disqualify a few viable parties as well. In practical terms, however, this provision should be of relatively small consequence, inasmuch as only fifteen seats are being adjudicated on the basis of party slates. Of far greater consequence overall is the government’s advantage in terms of access to the electronic mass media and its ability to launch investigations against opposition candidates on corruption charges. Those charges may well have a basis in fact, but opposition parties are in vain calling for investigations against certain state officials who are corruption suspects. That long-standing communist complaint was taken up by other parties during the electoral campaign. Party programs, and the leaders’ ideas about overcoming the country’s crisis, took a back seat in this campaign.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, having snubbed several presidential and parliamentary elections in more authoritarian Central Asian states, is sending a large monitoring mission to Kyrgyzstan in anticipation of an outcome which can be accepted as valid. No fewer than 2,000 international observers will be on hand. Yet the OSCE’s initial, sanguine expectations seemed to decline as the campaign unfolded. On February 9 and 16, the organization’s Bishkek representation issued statements of concern over registration issues and what it described as limitations on citizens’ right to seek office and to elect their representatives to office (Based on electoral campaign reporting by the Kabar news agency, Bishkek Radio, Vecherniy Bishkek, Itar-Tass, January-February 2000).

The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at, by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions