Campaigning for Osh

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by Nathan Hamm on 2/21/2012

Several municipalities in Kyrgyzstan will hold city council elections on March 4. The election in Osh, where the council will have the power to choose the mayor, is the highest profile and is where Kyrgyzstan’s political elites are seeking to make one of the few major gains possible until parliamentary elections in 2015 (unless called sooner). The city’s mayor, Melisbek Myrzakmatov, has been a thorn in the side of the government in Bishkek since April 2010, consistently defying the government until reeled back. And though he portrays himself as the great savior who kept violence and chaos from being even worse in the June 2010 ethnic violence in and around Osh, he is widely rumored to have been involved in organizing the violence and to have extensively profited from the city’s reconstruction.

The country’s political heavyweights have stepped into the race, with Adakhan Madumarov and Kamchibek Tashiev, whose parties agreed to merge into one party representing southern Kyrgyzstan, recently throwing their support behind Myrzakmatov’s Uluttar Birimdigi party. They have made appeals that have, by now, become characteristic, accusing northern parties of wanting to remove Myrzakmatov because he is a southerner, and hinting that Uzbeks, who voted heavily for Almazbek Atambaev in the 2011 presidential election, should reconsider their support of the president’s SDPK in the council election. Atambaev, for his part, visited Osh, denouncing nationalism and corruption as evils facing Kyrgyzstan, in what is clearly a dig at Madumarov, Tashiev, and Myrzakmatov.

There has been one development in the race so far that is unexpected and a bit funny. Uluttar Birimdigi, in an effort to reach a wider audience, has put up campaign signs solely in Uzbek. However, in one of the rare instances in which Myrzakmatov does something that defies his reputation as a nationalist, he’s found himself under attack for failing to use the state language.

According to a specialist on advertising at the State Language Commission interviewed by Kloop, it is illegal to advertise in Uzbek. He said that advertisements must only be in Russian or Kyrgyz and that the law on state language requires signs and advertisements to be first be written in Kyrgyz than translated to other languages. An Osh-based language specialist said that other languages may be used if necessary, but that the font size for them cannot exceed that used for the Kyrgyz text. The Central Election Commission says that campaigns can be conducted in any language, but some local officials in Osh are requesting the matter be investigated in greater detail to determine the legality of the advertisements.

That this is even an issue probably suggest that Uluttar Birimdigi will have a decent showing at the polls…

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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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