Kyrgyz Election Watch

by Nathan Hamm on 1/31/2005 · 3 comments

If you only read one link, make sure it’s IWPR’s update on the election. You’ll notice in most reports that the Kyrgyz government’s new line is that the country is at risk of civil war, which, I’m quite sure, is intended to turn any sympathetic members of the public against opposition groups by playing to their strong concern for safety and security.*

Presidential press secretary Abdil Segizbaev warned journalists on January 26 that any attempt to start a “velvet revolution” in Kyrgyzstan might grow into a civil war. Moves to replicate the kind of public protests that resulted in the recent election re-run in Ukraine, he said, would produce instead a situation like the one Tajikistan found itself in 1992, when constitutional crisis led to civil conflict.

According to Segizbaev, many “political agitators” have entered the republic recently, intent on fomenting popular uprisings. The first stage of their plan, he claims, would be to have newspapers smear the authorities. Then opposition candidates who lose the upcoming elections would organise demonstrations. As well as carrying a danger of civil conflict, Segizbaev warned that such an uprising would have dire economic consequences.

Other highlights include rumors of a government “white list,” the confusing status of the recent changes to the election code, fines for opposition protest leaders, and CIS and SCO preparations to give their stamp of approval.

Additionally, IWPR reports on going after the youth vote.

I also have to wonder how many times this needs to be repeated before Kyrgyzstan’s reputation officially changes from “the Switzerland of Central Asia” to “that paranoid homeless dude that hangs out by the train station of Central Asia.” I see where they’re coming from, but the cat is out of the bag. I hate talking about historical inevatibilities, but President Akayev is the one determining whether or not these nefarious outsiders are his enemy or not. If he wants to encourage democracy–Kyrgyzstan seemed to be doing pretty well back when it had a legitimate claim to being quickly on the path to becoming a pluralist, liberal democracy–he has nothing to fear. If he wants to get in the way and make Kyrgyzstan linger in the twilight, well, then damn right he’s a target. When you stand shoulder to shoulder with Islam Karimov, you aren’t doing your democratic credentials any favors.

IRIN News’ report on the election includes this little tidbit.

“The people will go to streets to protest,” Ramazan Dyryldaev, chairman of the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights, told IRIN from Vienna on Thursday, warning authorities in his homeland could resort to violence.

“Kyrgyz opposition and citizens are moving towards a Georgian or Ukraine-like revolution. I am getting information on that from various sources. At least there is already a move in that direction,” he said.

I hope he’s right about the second half, but I have my doubts about the first. If protests are small (certainly likely), then I could see the police and army cracking heads as in Azerbaijan. If they are big (less likely, but possible), well, don’t expect Kyrgyzstan to buck the CIS trend of folding in the face of protesters.

One factor to consider if there are large protests in the streets of Bishkek is what role and how much leverage the US will have in a settlement. I get the impression we don’t have much leverage, but we do have that airbase outside of town. If there is one thing I’ve noticed about US-Kyrgyz relations in the past is that, for all Kyrgyzstan’s “isn’t Russia the coolest?” fronting, money talks.

* I always found Uzbeks to be extremely skittish when it came to these matters and willing to tolerate quite a bit.

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Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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