Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Kyrgyzstan Elections: Feeding the Body Politic

2005 promises to be a big year in Kyrgyzstan politics. For the first time since 1990, when Askar Akaev was ushered into the presidency as a “compromise candidate”, the Kyrgyz people might have the opportunity to elect a new leader. While many Kyrgyz believe that Akaev will run again—despite the constitutional ban on another term—President Akaev has repeatedly promised the people (beginning in 2002) and the international community (Richard Armitage in July, 2004 and Colin Powell in September, 2004) that he will step down.

Though Akaev’s intentions may be to turn over the reigns, the question that lays in wait is who will pick them up. In talking with everyday folks in both the north and south, a lot of people seem to think this horse, known as Kyrgyzstan, is not worth riding. Others still herald Kyrgyzstan as the nicest democratic pony in Central Asian politics, but their praise has been slowing as Akaev pulls back on the very freedoms that he rode into power on.

(An excellent report concerning this period of political transition can be found at ICG’s website.)

One recent example of Akaev’s duplicity is his denouncement of the recent peaceful political protests in Bishkek. These protests, spawned by the parliament’s refusal to certify Roza Otunbaeva as an opposition candidate, may mark the beginning of Kyrgyzstan’s own “velvet revolution”. Akaev, who proudly stumps for press freedoms said the protests were “…unruly, irresponsible and overall libel…I understand when the opposition and their criticisms are constructive, but there are lies in the newspapers. I try to be patient because progress in my country is important for me."

Otunbaeva, recently served as both a former Kyrgyz ambassador in the United Kingdom and as a foreign minister. Now a member of the Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) party, an opposition party that is competing for the same parliamentary seat as Bermet Akaev (the president’s daughter), Ms. Otunbaeva hoped to be certified as an official candidate in the Jogorku Kenesh elections on February 27th. Initially the Election Committee granted Otunbaeva permission to run, however, that permission was later revoked due to “restrictions on former ambassadors.” See Eurasianet article

In fact, the Election Committee didn't cite to “restrictions on former ambassadors” but, rather, to a five year residency rule. The rule is located in Article 69 of the Code “On Elections in the Kyrgyz Republic”.

Article 69. Fixing Elections of Deputies to the Jogorku Kenesh of the Kyrgyz Republic

Provides that:

1. Any citizen of the Kyrgyz Republic, who on the election day has reached 25 years, having the right to participate in elections and who has been permanent resident in the Republic for not less than 5 years before his/her nomination as a candidate for deputy may be elected a deputy of the Jogorku Kenesh of the Kyrgyz Republic.

Currently, Otunbaeva appears to be promoting the argument that since she was serving as diplomat, and acting with the full authority of the laws and procedures of the Kyrgyz Republic, she in fact continued to hold residence in Bishkek (the capital and origin of her country’s laws) while serving as ambassador and foreign minister.

One of the amazing things thus far, is the fact that Otunabaeva and the demonstrators have maintained press coverage and received a presidential rebuke. Nothing legitimizes and propels a movement like Authority and the Media. Though many see the average Kyrgyz voter as lacking the appetite of those in the Ukraine and Georgia, the prospect of political starvation--viz. being dished out another low calorie Akaev--has started a few people drooling over the idea of new entrée… With an entire buffet of opposition candidates competing for the political platter, I just wonder how hungry the average citizen really is.


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