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.