All Eyes on Kyrgyzstan

by Nathan Hamm on 2/26/2005 · 6 comments

[If you’re coming directly to this post from elsewhere, see today’s summary for the latest news]
[Be sure to see the latest news near the bottom of the post]

As the actual vote quickly approaches, here is a roundup of what various media outlets are reporting:

All of the above stories from outlets that don’t typically cover Kyrgyz politics are a great sign. At the very least, it should make the Akayev government be a little more cautious (though one could rightly argue that the damage has already been done). One of my pet peeves as those who check in often have no doubt noticed is the press getting things hopelessly wrong about Central Asia. That is why I must commend the Wall Street Journal, who I hear are doing one helluva job accurately reporting the news from Kyrgyzstan.

One of the most counterproductive ways of reporting the story of the election would be to cast the affair as two cleanly defined sides fighting for power. On the one side there would be the local and foreign NGOs working together, allied with Western governments and protected by OSCE observers. On the other would be the CIS bodies, the Kyrgyz government, and its allies all working in concert. Sounds nice, but that’s not how it actually works. Not on the NGO side of things anyway. And, Transition Trends says that the WSJ is getting it right. [See here for an example of getting it wrong, probably the result of laziness.]

NDI, NED, Freedom House, USAID, OSI, and thousands of local civic groups… It’s all there, it’s all in the open, and it’s all working overtime – and not exactly in harmony by any means, but that’s OK. There is no “international revolutionary organization”, and it’s not an international conspiracy as a few ignorant western commentators will no doubt ineptly describe it if we see changes in Kyrgyzstan this weekend. It’s a web of international support for home-grown civic movements. You could describe this as, “people who give a shit helping out other people who give a shit.”

Nice job, Journal.

If any readers find anything else worth passing on, add it in the comments.

Click on Manas (red) for the Kyrgyzstan archive or the crown (green) for the Tajikistan archive

UPDATES: If you can read German, Ben of Thinking-East.Net has posted some stories from the German-language press in the comments.

9:55 p.m. EST–More news from the European press in the comments and the AP has another story that mentions voting will be delayed for two weeks in the Tonsk region because ballots were never delivered (which is being blamed on protesters blocking roads).

A couple new stories with excerpts are in the extended entry.

Washington Post:

Five groups from the previously fragmented opposition have formed a coalition in the campaign, a possible step toward backing a single candidate for president.

“I hope that after the parliamentary elections, we will sit down and begin planning our strategy for October,” said Roza Otunbaeva, head of the Fatherland movement and a former ambassador to the United States.

“People have this protest energy, and it’s growing,” said Zhypar Zheksheev , a candidate running against the president’s son. “They will not give up their democracy.”

Officials bristle at international allegations that Akayev is rolling back the country’s democratic gains.

“Representatives of the American government talk like old Soviet commissars. They tell us what to do and then pull out their wallets to threaten us,” Osmonakun Ibraimov, the country’s secretary of state and the second-highest official in the executive branch, said in an interview, referring to what he said were threats to reduce or withdraw U.S. aid over alleged abuses. “It’s embarrassing.”

“We have shortcomings, yes, but we are building our democracy,” he said, adding that he believed that Akayev would step down.

Ibraimov said two “stupid” decisions made by government ministries would be reversed: the recent cut of electricity to an independent printing house that the United States helped fund, and an announcement that the government would re-auction the wave band used by Radio Liberty, effectively shutting down the U.S.-funded service.

“It’s an artificial issue,” Ibraimov said. “We are not so dumb, and I can tell you definitely that Radio Liberty will continue to broadcast in Kyrgyzstan.”

Yes, stupid, but making a “stupid” decision just before the election that could influence the outcome of the vote, only to reverse it right after the election seems pretty calculated to me.

LA Times:

It seemed, a government official said apologetically, that the plant’s licenses weren’t in order.

It seemed more likely to officials at the Media Support Center, the U.S. State Department-funded organization that operates the plant, that the facility’s politics weren’t in order.

In a scene straight out of “The Front Page,” the U.S. Embassy trucked over two small generators — enough to get the press rolling at a crawl. Working all night, the printers coaxed copies of MSN off the crippled press, bringing news that thousands of people in remote corners of the country were blocking highways to protest the disqualification of opposition candidates from this weekend’s parliamentary elections.

It also brought a large front-page headline addressed to the government of President Askar A. Akayev: “Your Time Has Run Out — Step Down.”

The State Department kicks ass.

“If there are violations, it may result in mass protest actions throughout the country. And then it will be difficult to predict what will happen,” said Orozbek Moldaliyev, an independent political analyst. “People have seen the events in Ukraine and Georgia, and they want freedom too. And people, frankly speaking, are tired of Akayev.”

Standing resolutely in a biting wind that blew frozen dust and frost into their faces, protesters announced they had also captured the district administration building after the local governor reportedly jumped out the window and fled, along with the local prosecutor and judge.

“There is no power anymore. It’s now only me and my voters. For us, the revolution has already taken place in this one district,” Japarov declared before halting the roadblock Friday and calling on his supporters to vote against all candidates on the ballot

“Until they are back in the race, we are staying here. The president wants to have his own man here, and we will not allow it,” Cholpom Sydykova, 46, said earlier in the week.

“We will starve. We will stay here till the end — until we die or win,” added Ralchimov Irbakiyev, 34, an unemployed laborer.

“I was told that if I don’t vote for Bermet Akayeva [the president’s daughter], I will face dire consequences,” said Gulzhana Umbertova, a 21-year-old psychology student at Bishkek State University.

“I want the U.S. to interfere. I want the world at large to interfere,” said Tariel Bektemirov, 18, a journalism student. “Right now, what we want is anything but Akayev. These road protests are a good thing. It sends a message from the people that they are ready for revolution.”

Read the rest of the story. It mentions that a citizen’s campaign to launch a referendum on a third term for Akayev has already collected more than half of the necessary signatures and that the real showdown may not come after the parliamentary election, but around the presidential one.

*It’s a dream of mine to one day have osh in Osh.
P.S. The tulip in the banner is a Kaufmann’s Tulip, which is native to the Tien Shan Mountains.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

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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Ben February 26, 2005 at 5:23 pm

To confirm the increased media interest in the Kyrgyz elections, a little roundup from the German-speaking press:

– The Saturday print edition of Austrian’s ‘Kurier’ has an upbeat report:
“The protests grow on a daily basis in Bishkek, and have now reached other cities of the poor mountainous country”

– The left-leaning TAZ has a rather pessimistic outlook:
“Despite protests in the run up to the elections, analysts do not see the administration as being in real danger”,1

– The Austrian ‘Standard’ reports on growing protests
“Dshaparow called on his followers to vote against all other candidates in their constituencies. ‘My disqualification will cause more trouble for the authorities’, says Dshaparow. ‘They have lost the trust of the people.’

– The ex-communist East-German paper ‘Neues Deutschland’ has a well researched article:
“Interestingly, Russian foreign minster Ivanov did not only welcome Akayev in Moscow, but also ex-prime minister Kurmanbek Bakiev, who will run for presidency in October.”

– The business daily ‘Handelsblatt’ puts the Kyrgyz and the Tajik poll into a wider context:
“Revolutions in the CIS startle Kremlin” .. and “Roses, Tulips, Carnations, all flowers wither” (well, it rhymes in German)


Christoph February 26, 2005 at 9:09 pm

Here’s a little snapshot from the Swedish press. They seem unusually up-to-date.

– From ‘Aftonbladet’ (Evening Paper)

“Sundays elections in Kyrgysztan cannot be held in the whole country, said the election commission late Saturday evening. Because of the demonstrations blocking whole roads in the Tonsk region of the east thereby causing great difficulty to the election preparations, the election itself must be postponed for two weeks, said the commission through the press agency AKI. The Tonsk citizens will probably have to wait until the 13th of March to vote, writes TT.”,1082,64916414_852__,00.html

– From ‘Dagens Nyheter’

“The former Soviet republics Tajikistan and Kyrgysztan are holding elections this Sunday. A revolution in the fashion of Georgia and Ukraine is not expected in the two Central Asian states. The regime’s hold on power is still too strong. Still, the elections are followed closely by the rest of the world- not the least in Moscow and Washington. Both states are strategically involved in close proximity to China and the still unstable Afghanistan. The US became involved in Kyrgyzstan in 2001 with their war against the Taleban by opening a air force base in Manas, the first in the Russian sphere of influence…”

Christoph Ferstad

RighteousBiche February 27, 2005 at 9:07 am

There’s an excellent article in Le Monde. Don’t have the link yet, though.

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