Kyrgyzstan Votes, Sort of, and the U.S. Turns Its Back on Another Ally

by Joshua Foust on 7/23/2009 · 4 comments

Bishkek Election

This and many more photographs are available courtesy our friends at neweurasia.net.

Tolkun Umaraliev says the opposition candidates claim the election in Kyrgyzstan to be illegal.

There is a confusion among media, both local and foreign, that candidates Nazaraliev and Atambaev have withdrawn their candidacies. However, both Nazaraliev and Atambaev have several times stated that according to the law on elections, they cant withdraw their candidacies during the election day. They are just considering this election corrupt, and want it to be reheld.

There’s video, too:

That’s Omurbek Tekebaev, calling the Kyrgyz government criminal and declaring “war” on current president Kurmabnek Bakiev. He has good reason to think so—in 2006 he was basically framed at the Bishkek airport.

There is a lot of internet chatter about supposed fraud.

Blive.kg, one of the video servers in Kyrgyz internet domain, has several videos showing the violations of election norms, including opening of polling stations before arrival of observers, ballot stuffingand carousel voting. As Blive is not accessible outside of Kyrgyzstan, I downloaded ‘norms violations videos’ from there and uploaded in YouTube. But the problem is that one cannot really prove that all these movies were taken during the 2009 presidential elections.

There are also videos of so-called “carousel-voting,” where groups go to different polling stations using different sets of IDs, and election observers arriving on site to find ballots already in the ballot box.

Topchubek Turgunaliev, an opposition politician who has spent a lot of time fighting electoral fraud, has alleged that there are large numbers of dead people on the voter rolls. Even though he no longer wants to be considered for President, former Prime Minister Almazbek Atambaev has lead much of the charge against the elections. A former Prime Minister, he accused officials of election fraud and announced he was quitting the race shortly after learning that one of his local campaign managers had been detained. He’s also alleged that an additional 20-30 “opposition members” have been arrested in Issyk-Kul.

Kurmanbek Bakiev, however, seems to have squeaked through, though maybe not with the reported 67% margin. The New York Times ran a depressing story today about how the U.S. goal is to look the other way, as they’re too excited about getting Manas back to rock to boat too much on those pesky human rights abuses.

Obviously we don’t know for certain that there was specifically voter fraud, in part because most of the observers seemed to have given up and left early (their report will be interesting). We do know, however, there was widespread intimidation beforehand, and there are certainly indications that some forms of voter fraud were widespread and not just limited to somewhere like Bishkek. It’s still early, and it’s just turning morning in Kyrgyzstan, so there will probably be a lot more news today. A good place to keep up is the #kyrgyzelections tag on Twitter. It doesn’t garner the same amount of attention as Iran or Michael Jackson, but it’s a good source for news.

This is now the second post-Soviet ally whose abuses the U.S. has remained officially silent about in the last few months (the other, obviously, is Georgia). I’m no bleeding heart, but it is interesting that, as much as the U.S. makes hay about human rights and vote fraud when it suits a simplistic good versus evil narrative, it also prefers to look away when its friends behave even kind of similarly. The U.S. doesn’t have to walk on egg shells, it just needs to point out that it’s not comfortable or happy with these kinds of things. Baby steps.

Update: The OSCE has officially said the Kyrgyz election “failed to meet key OSCE commitments, despite some positive elements.” Before the elections, OSCE observers saw “instances of obstruction of opposition campaign events as well as pressure and intimidation of opposition supporters.” Then, on election day, there were “many problems and irregularities, including ballot box stuffing, inaccuracies in the voter lists, and multiple voting.” But hey, at least they had multiple candidates!


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This post was written by...

– author of 1849 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 4 comments }

Luke July 23, 2009 at 10:05 pm

This is where to keep up with fresh rolling data on vote counts:

http://cec.shailoo.gov.kg/i-election.asp?ElectionID=93&DistrictID=1373

This is a story on that early count data:

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/top/all/6544811.html

Also, my internet is too poor to watch the RFE/RL video above, but the opening frame shows Atambayev, not Tekebayev. Just wanted to check on that.

J. Otto Pohl July 24, 2009 at 12:38 am

While the internet has a lot of stories about opposition complaints I will note that Bishkek is unusually calm today. For some reason, I am guessing the heat, there seem to be fewer people out on the main streets today. At any rate none of the Kyrgyz I have talked to seem overly concerned with the election results.

Michael July 24, 2009 at 8:05 am

Tekebayev comes on at about 1:00.

michaelhancock July 25, 2009 at 5:58 am

There is something to be said for political fatigue. You can only lie to the people so many times about their political freedoms and democratic powers before they say, “Fuck it, I’m staying home.” Of course people in Kyrgyzstan aren’t happen with their daily situation, but it’s a long shot for them to think that VOTING is going to change anything, or that the vote isn’t already a foregone conclusion. And if, through some mechanical mistake or bizarre occurrence Bakiev hadn’t one the popular election, you can rest assured he has enough control over the country’s infrastructure to remain President.

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