On Tuesday, March 22, 2005, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted the Deputy Chief of Presidential Administration of the Kyrgyz Republic, Alikbek Jekshenkulov, who spoke about "The Parliamentary Elections in Kyrgyzstan." Carnegie Endowment’s Director of the Russia and Eurasia Program, Anders Åslund, moderated the session. Two days later, Bishkek was seized by the revolutionaries.
Mr. Jekshenkulov: To ensure that the 2005 parliamentary election followed international standards, the Kyrgyzstan government passed an Election Code that was approved by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). New measures such as transparent ballot bins and fingerprinting were used for the first time to ensure a fair election and prevent bureaucratic interference.
Criticism of the election code has focused on the requirement for candidates to reside within the territory of the Kyrgyz Republic for at least 5 years prior to elections. Parliamentary deputies who wanted to limit competition passed this clause, and it should be re-examined by the next parliament.
Unfortunately, even with the new Election Code and against specific presidential orders, some bureaucrats still proceeded to interfere in the election. The government is taking action against violators; for example, after evidence proved that the head of the administration of Issyk Kol unlawfully supported the candidacy of his brother, the President revoked the brother’s candidacy. However, most of the complaints against bureaucrats are unfounded.
The media situation in Kyrgyzstan has also been heavily criticized. Undeniably, the mass media is not fully developed due to the political culture of Kyrgyz journalists, who either completely support or completely oppose the government. Also, Television as a medium has not yet been fully developed because Kyrgyzstan lacks the financial resources to create new private channels, although plans to privatize state channels are in the offing.
Despite its underdevelopment, Kyrgyzstan has the most liberal legal base for mass media in Central Asia. It is the only country in which an independent publishing house, run by Freedom House, operates. While this facility lost electric power during the election, a back-up generator allowed it to continue all of its publishing activities. Also, the earlier regulatory closure of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Kyrgyzstan is being addressed through meetings with the President of RFE/RL, Mr. Tom Dine.
Another problem in the election was the prevalence of bribery by candidates to buy support. Almost all candidates partook in some form of this practice. After the election, the losers immediately filed such allegations against the victors, forcing judges to decide the election. This unacceptable practice demonstrated the need for judicial reform.
As for the actual events on Election Day, all monitors and observers, including those from the OSCE, the Shanghai Organization for Cooperation (SOC) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), noted that the process was mostly calm and there was little opportunity for corruption. However, opposition groups still decided to protest and have seized control in five districts. The President ordered the Central Election Committee and the Supreme Courts to investigate the election process in these regions. It is possible that when the Central Election Committee concludes its investigation, new candidates will be appointed or a fully new election will occur.
Four clear conclusions can be drawn from the election results. First, people choose practical candidates with financial means over those who ran only on ideology; secondly, people choose individual candidates over parties. Two prevalent negative trends include the dominance of clans and families in the elections and the negative influence of external interference.
The first session of Parliament was held on March 22nd, and it was attended by 58 out of 71 representatives. The opposition boycotted the session, while the deputies attending supported the President’s address and his position on the uprising in the South.
In the South, opposition forces control Jalal-Abad and Osh, the second and third largest cities in Kyrgyzstan. Criminal elements (Drug gangs) and Islamic extremists (Hizb-ut-Tahrir) are believed to have joined the ranks of the rioters, although the Islamic extremists have not yet become active. There are protests in the cities of Talas and Kochkor; however, people here are rallying for their parliamentary candidates rather than to overthrow the state. There have been attempts to bus opposition groups into Bishkek, but these buses were stopped and turned around. The situation in Bishkek remains calm; the government remains in full control of all other regions.
Uprisings occurred because losing candidates, relying on the support of their families and clans, choose to engage in unlawful acts of protest. Sensing a destabilizing situation, the criminal and extremist forces joined the rioters to increase their own political power.
Rioters that burn buildings and beat people have nothing to do with democracy. The opposition has crossed the line and broken the laws. The central government is showing exceptional restraint by not using direct force against the rioters. The government understands that the political culture of all elements of Kyrgyz society needs to mature and that it must act slowly and deliberately.
The western press (Washington Post, Washington Times, New York Times) is mistakenly portraying these hooligan rioters as revolutionaries. There are three forces in Kyrgyz society: people who understand western values and who want a democratic society; people who see cheap bread and free power in Turkmenistan and who want an autocratic state; and last, there are people who want an Islamic state. In general, the Kyrgyz people are very liberal; however, religion has spread after Communism’s collapse, gaining more supporters yearly. Unfortunately, extremist Islam is also gaining strength. These three forces are in a constant struggle, and when the West interferes ignorantly, the democratic faction suffers.
Q: What is likely to happen with the uprising in Jalal-Abad and Osh?
A: The opposition will try to transfer the conflict into Bishkek, but despite the opposition forces present there, they will fail because the majority of people in Bishkek appreciate their current position and want stability. The alternative is very negative. If there are riots in Bishkek, an emergency situation will be declared and force authorized.
Q: What is the perception of the US role in Kyrgyzstan? The US ambassador had asked President Askar Akayav to step down in the next election. Do people in the South believe that the US supports them?
A: Many people believed that US ambassador’s remarks were an inappropriate interference in Kyrgyz domestic affairs. The opposition groups have their own interpretations and are using alleged American support to further their own goals. The Islamic extremists benefit the most because the more unstable the society the better off they are. Stability in Kyrgyzstan should be America’s main goal. The Democratic process needs to be planned and lawful.
Q: What concessions is the government willing to make in negotiations?
A: The opposition has two demands: for the president to resign and to hold a new Parliamentary elections. Both demands are unacceptable. Even the international community has accepted the parliamentary election results, after noting some infractions. Other issues, such as personal changes and integrating some opposition forces into the government, may be possible. The government is willing to negotiate, but the opposition does not have many ideas.
Q: Is there a dialogue with the opposition?
A: There is a dialogue, but it is not on the highest level because the ultimatums made are not in a framework suitable for the President. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are willing to negotiate, but not all opposition groups recognize them.
Q: Is US support for the opposition a fact or a perception?
A: Although America may not count it, when Kurmanbek Bakiev was invited to Washington, this was seen as American support in Kyrgyzstan. Such moral support is very meaningful to the people because US influence and power is very important to domestic affairs.
Q: Since Osh and Jalal-Abad are the South, is a geopolitical split likely to occur, and if so is there a fear that the ethnic bloodshed of the 90’s will re-occur?
A: This scenario is a huge concern for the government. Furthermore, if the Islamic extremists become active the situation will be a total nightmare. Fergana Valley has a very dense population with major social and humanitarian problems. Ethnic strife, Uzbeks versus Kyrgyz, is already occurring.