On Sunday, December 16, Kyrgyzstan held snap parliamentary elections, following the constitutional referendum of October 21. Twelve political parties competed for 90 seats, to be distributed on the basis of proportional representation. As expected, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s Ak Zhol political party won the elections with 48.82% of the vote, while only one opposition party – Ata Meken, led by former MP Omurbek Tekebayev – was able to surpass the 5% threshold.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and local observers harshly criticized the elections for widespread falsification, mainly in favor of Ak Zhol. Across the country there were reports of busloads of voters transported to multiple precincts, imperfect voter lists, agitation during election day, and pre-marked ballots being stuffed into ballot boxes.
Kyrgyzstan’s current political situation remains very tense, with at least two political parties – Ata Meken and the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) – planning to stage mass protests. Together the two parties can mobilize tens of thousands of protestors across the country. The government, on the other hand, seems prepared to curb large-scale protest in the capital city, Bishkek.
However, it is unlikely that the scale of these protests will match those in February-March 2005 when former president Askar Akayev was ousted following rigged parliamentary elections. As with the February-March 2005 parliamentary elections, this time only a few known opposition leaders were able to win, but the elections themselves were less volatile than two years ago. Should Bakiyev refuse to accept at least some of the opposition’s demands, he will only trigger stronger consolidation among the opposition.
Although less than half of voters showed their support for Ak Zhol, the pro-regime party is likely to occupy over 50% of parliament’s seats. Ata Meken will occupy only a fraction of seats, since it took only 8.7% of the vote. The SDPK, Communist Party, and the Turan Party, led by former prime minister Almazbek Atambayev, were not able to muster the required 5%. The final decision on the ratio between these two parties will be made in the next few days, but it is evident that the next Kyrgyz parliament will essentially be a one-party structure. Ak Zhol will be able to appoint the prime minister and thus the entire government. More scandals are expected to erupt, as the parliament increasingly merges with the executive brunch.
According to the new electoral law, at least 30% of parliament members must be women, 15% must be ethnic minorities, and 15% must be under 35 years old. Most parties preferred to appoint young females with non-Kyrgyz (mostly ethnic Russian) backgrounds to meet all three requirements.
Except for few candidates, most of the new MPs are new faces, previously unknown for their political activities. However, it is too early to claim that this wholesale turnover in fact represents a change of political elites in Kyrgyzstan. The majority of the new Ak Zhol MPs has little experience in political or economic issues on a national level. Its top five candidates include the former chair of the Constitutional Court, Cholpon Bayekova, renowned surgeon Ernest Akramov, and Vladimir Nifad’yev dean of the Kyrgyz-Slavic University. Few of Ak Zhol’s candidates are wealthy, and some are as young as 26 years old.
In effect, the 2007 elections demonstrated that the fully proportional system endorsed at the October 21 referendum failed to eradicate the weaknesses of the majoritarian system. While voters still associate political parties with their leaders, wealthy candidates have more chances of winning.
Today, it is a question of whether opposition leaders such as Atambayev and Omurbek Babanov from SDPK, Azimbek Beknazarov from Asaba, Felix Kulov from Ar-Namys, and their numerous supporters will be able to recover from this electoral setback. The opposition could still call for another parliamentary election in the coming months.
On the positive side, the current elections fostered the formation of political parties in Kyrgyzstan, making them visible to the broader public. Future elections will still be held according to the proportional system, but the guidelines likely will be modified.
So far, Kyrgyzstan’s elections produced results similar to those in neighboring countries. But unlike his counterpart in Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, for example, Bakiyev is still a weak president, and his Ak Zhol political party – formed just three months ago – might quickly disintegrate in a crisis.
(24.kg, Akipress.kg, Channel 5, December 16-17)