PREVIEW: Kyrgyzstan on edge ahead of uncertain parliamentary vote
By Ulf Mauder Oct 7, 2010, 12:21 GMT
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan/Moscow - Kyrgyzstan is set to elect a new parliament on Sunday in a mood of anxious uncertainty following deadly interethnic clashes this year. Peace remains fragile in the mountainous Central Asian nation, which borders on China, as tensions between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks continue to simmer.
The recent explosion of violence around the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad is thought to have claimed some 2,000 lives. A larger number of people were injured and hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks fled their homes, many into neighbouring Uzbekistan.
Kyrgyz nationalism, not ethnic reconciliation, has held centre stage in the ongoing election campaign.
'The current leadership neglected to provide stability during the past half year. Chaos reigns instead,' said Kamchybek Tashiyev of the opposition party Ata-Zhurt.
Like almost all of the 29 registered political parties, Ata-Zhurt has no real programme. So personal sympathies will probably guide the choices of most of Kyrgyzstan's 2.8 million eligible voters.
Many of the leading candidates are well-known ex-government officials who served under authoritarian president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, ousted by a bloody uprising in April that left more than 100 people dead, and/or his predecessor, Askar Akayev, swept from power by a popular revolt in 2005. Bakiyev is now in exile in Belarus.
Kyrgyzstan's interim president, Rosa Otunbayeva, at the country's helm since April, has left the hopes of many of her countrymen unsatisfied despite having always insisted that hers was just a caretaker government. But then, there was always scepticism that this patriarchical region, long dominated by dictators or semi-dictators, would bend to the will of one woman.
With opinion polls unreliable, political observers say the election outcome is uncertain and predict a coalition government. Neither Ata-Zhurt, nor Ata-Meken - the party instrumental in deposing Bakiyev - nor the Social Democratic Party - to which Otunbayeva belonged before becoming president - can expect to win an absolute majority.
According to election observers for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the election campaign has been lively and all parties have been able to campaign freely so far.
Previous elections were marred by allegations of irregularities, and this time, too, there have been rumours that various clans in Kyrgyzstan, which is deeply impoverished and home to numerous nomads, are massively buying votes in the run-up to Sunday's balloting.
As for the candidates themselves, they are promising what the Kyrgyz want most after the tragic events of recent months, namely stability, more jobs and an economic upswing.
Foreign policy issues are taking a back seat in the campaign, including the controversy surrounding the US air base at Manas, used to supply troops in Afghanistan. Following criticism of the continued US presence in its backyard, Russia said recently that it wanted to boost its own military force in Kyrgyzstan and create a new base in the south.
Opinion leaders in the Kyrgyz election campaign have made repeated overtures to the Russians in recent weeks. In September, former prime minister Feliks Kulov met in Moscow with Dmitry Medvedev, promising the Russian president to hold a new constitutional referendum that could reinstate strong presidential powers should he be elected.
A constitutional referendum held in late June under Otunbayeva established a parliamentary democracy modelled after Germany. Hardly any of the front-running candidates favour a parliamentary democracy, though. Medvedev is also strictly against one.
Meanwhile, international organizations are concerned about the lack of a convincing investigation into the violent clashes in June. Ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks continue to blame each other for the bloodshed. In August, Human Rights Watch said that government forces had been partly to blame for attacks on Uzbek neighbourhoods.
The foreign fingerpointing is likely one of the reasons for protests recently against the planned deployment of OSCE police advisors to southern Kyrgyzstan. Fearing for the lives of its personnel, the OSCE has since cancelled the mission.