Kyrgyzstan Votes

by Joshua Foust on 10/30/2011 · 8 comments

As I’m writing this, the polls in Kyrgyzstan have closed down, and now the international community—which sent many hundreds of observers—will crunch on its reports and tell us if Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election was fair or not.

David Trilling has probably the best overview of the election itself—a grab bag of good things and bad things, and lots of uncertainty over what it could mean. Tashiev, Baibolov, and Madumarov have all claimed the early leads reported for Atambayev are fraudulent, but so far no one has called for a total strike. Most worrying, and unsurprising, is Trilling’s report that the Kyrgyz in Osh voted for Madumarov or Tashiev, while the Uzbeks voted for Atambayev.

Ever since visiting Osh earlier this month, I’ve been worrying that Osh would be the place where another breakdown in order happens over the ethnic tensions that keep the whole southwest on edge. In The Atlantic, I elaborate:

While I was in Osh, I witnessed a political rally by the Lenin statue for Kamchybek Tashiev, a major figure in southern politics. The crowd held posters proclaiming “Kyrgyzstan for Kyrgyz” and “This is our land.” Tashiev is the leader of the Ata Jurt, or Fatherland party. Interim President Otunbayeva founded Ata Jurt in 2004 in preparation for the 2005 election, which led to the rise of President Bakiyev after the Tulip Revolution. Tashiev is famous for being an ethnic nationalist and deeply divisive, and given the general attitude in Osh he just might be able to spark something.

Over the weekend, I asked a prominent Kyrgyz activist working on civil society issues in Bishkek what she thought of Atambaev’s chances of overcoming men like Tashiev in forging some sort of national calm. “No one has the political capital to do much,” she told me. “Dealing with the Uzbeks requires so much effort and time, the people here just won’t devote much attention to it. They have to worry about making the government work, not the plight of an ethnicity few really care about.”

It’s difficult to see how Kyrgyzstan gets through this without another spasm of violence. I really hope they do, but I don’t see how.

Meanwhile, ignore the weird stuff calling Atambayev “another Putin,” because that’s just silly and helps no one. But do read Global Voices’ look at how the social networks in Kyrgyzstan were reacting to the election. The New York Times wrote a great overview of Kyrgyzstan’s geopolitics, and why this election matters beyond Kyrgyzstan’s borders. And of course, RFE/RL’s Daisy Sindelair has been aggregating an amazing amount of information from Radio Attazyk’s correspondents across the country—they’re worth checking up on as well (especially Daisy’s feature on Osh’s middle class).

We won’t know for a day or two whether there was enough fraud to doubt the results of the election. Or even whether it was good for the country or bad. But so far, I’m choosing guarded optimism that this just might work out.

Pic: Atambayev campaign poster, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, taken by me on October 20, 2011.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from 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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John Walker October 31, 2011 at 8:51 am

Otunbayeva created Ata Zhurt??!?! I so did not know that -what a dick!

George October 31, 2011 at 9:06 am

It was a different Ata-Jurt back then with the same name, which is rather generic. After Bakiyev’s rise, it became defunct and people like Otunbayeva joined the Social Democrats. Today’s Ata-Jurt is a new party formed after Bakiyev’s downfall by elements of Bakiyev’s regime.

Christian Wright November 1, 2011 at 5:37 am

George I think Josh knows what he is talking about.

Matthew November 2, 2011 at 5:23 am

No, George is right. “Ata Jurt” means fatherland, and is quite a nice name for political movements.

Otunbaeva’s Ata Jurt wasn’t a party, but a small group of her (pro-western, liberal, Bishkek-based) supporters in the 2005 elections, allied to Bakiev’s lot but not the same party. She was later a co-chair of the nationalist Asaba party before joining Atambaev’s Social Democrats, later leading it in parliament. In April 2010, she was leader of the latest umbrella opposition group (there were about five of them at various points in 2005-10), and so became Interim President.

Tashiev and Keldibekov’s Ata Jurt was founded a couple of years later (about 2006, drawing support mainly from ethnic Kyrgyz in their home districts of Suzak and Alay), and then incorporated into Bakiev’s Ak Jol when it was founded in 2007. After Bakiev’s overthrow, they reestablished Ata Jurt in 2010 in advance of the November elections, when they won a plurailty of votes.

John Walker November 2, 2011 at 8:13 am

@Matthew: Excuse me, but what are you talking about?
I am really getting of you people coming onto this website and spouting ill-informed trash, when it is clear that Joshua is the best informed source on this subject. I’m sorry, you’re just making yourself look stupid, and you’re embarrassing your kids.
Like Joshua says in his latest post, we’re getting tired of “amateur geopoliticians who like to comment about Central Asia without really understanding it or knowing its recent history.” That’s means you Matthew, you doofus. Go get edjicated!

Matthew November 2, 2011 at 8:47 am

@John Walker: I’m not sure your sarcasm translates well in this medium!

R.Duke November 2, 2011 at 9:38 am

According to most news outlets they’re saying that things in Osh are stable. Just got an email from Peace Corps country director there saying things are starting to calm down. I think were’ out of the 48 hour period after the election that has the most potential for violence.

Jangak November 2, 2011 at 1:11 pm

“I think were’ out of the 48 hour period after the election that has the most potential for violence.”

Who came up with that limit, anyways? It’s akin to saying the 48 hours after the overthrow of Bakiev had the most potential for violence.

Wait until Winter is over.

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