Members of the Human Rights Center Viasna, which within the ENEMO mission, observed the presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan, describe what has really been happening there
On 10 July Kyrgyzstan held presidential elections that were won by the acting president Kurmanbek Barkieu. Bakieu has headed the provisional government after in March the mass protests forced President Askar Akaev to resign.
According to the chair of the Central Election Committee, Bakieu polled almost 89 % of the vote. The turnout was 75%.
The press noted that international observers did not register any major violations during the vote, that the elections were much more transparent and fair than those last year. Tatsiana Reviaka, a long term observer during the elections, and Uladzimir Labkovich, a short term observer, both members of HRC Viasna, shared more details about the elections. Tatsiana spoke about the preparation for the election of the Kyrgyz president and the voting results right after she was back in Belarus.
-- I was a long term observer of the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO) which is made up of 17 public associations from 16 countries of Central and Eastern Europe, several former Soviet Union countries. In this network Belarus is represented by the Human Rights Center Viasna. All in all, Kyrgyzstan had 14 long term observers – 2 for each of the 7 regions, with the central office administering the mission. Our mission involved quite a few human resources: it was the third largest after the ODIHR/OSCE mission and the CIS mission. It started work on 5 June and we spent more than a month observing the run-up for the presidential election that took place on 10 July. Together with the Kazakhstan colleague I worked in Dzhalalabad region, where 6 more short term observers came later: 4 from Belarus and one from Slovakia and Romania.
Dzhalalabad region is one of the southern regions, where in fact the riots began, which led to the revolution in April of this year. Osh and Dzhalalabad regions were the most active in the presidential elections process, the people there are the most active. By the way, Kurmanbek Bakieu was born 10 kilometers away from Dzhalalabad.
-- Is this the precise reason why these regions were so active?
-- Not quite so. It should be noted that Kyrgyzstan is divided into two parts – the southern and the northern part, which are inhabited by different people who have different living conditions. What is peculiar about the situation is the traditional alternations of the powers observed from the Soviet times: if the current head of the country comes from the South of the country, the next one will be a man from the South and the other way round. But in the past 14 years the representative of the north Askar Akaev was the head of the country, and the south did not have such an opportunity. So the residents of the south were very interested in the south man becoming the president of the country, in fact they did everything to ensure the acting president Kurmanbek Bakieu wins the elections.
-- How many candidates competed for the presidency in the country, what were the hardships during the registration?
--At the start of the elections 22 potential candidates started preparation for the registration, most of which however did not gather the required 50 thousand signatures. One of the candidates did not pass the state language examination, because one of the requirements placed on candidate registration in Kyrgyzstan is that the candidate should know the only state language. One of the candidates withdrew in favor of Kurmanbek Bakieu. Thus, 6 registered candidates for the presidency got to the finish line. Also, there was a deal struck between the powerful leader Felix Kulau and the acting president Kurmanbek Bakieu: the first politician refused to take part in the elections, and the other, in the event of victory, promised to Kulau the position of the head of the government. True, some observers believe that one of the reasons for the deal between the main contenders was the problems of the North representative Kulav with the Kyrgyz language, which he could fail during the examination.
-- Right before the election day, the media said there was no political tension whatsoever. Was that really so?
--True, the elections were rather peaceful and calm, there was hardly any election competition. In Dzhalalabad region, where I observed, only three candidates of six registered ones, produced their election campaign, the others did not even bother to distribute their portraits. Nonetheless, the election day absolutely imitated the Belarusian scenario, almost 100% turnout and almost just as many votes cast in favor of the March revolution leader. Unbelievable results! Bakieu, sure, won the elections, but all of the authorities strove "to do whatever they could to ensure a good election campaign" to retain their positions, because in the three months after the revolution all of the local authorities were also provisional, and the election campaign results would determine their further fate and career. The campaign would have been entirely different but for the deal struck between Kurmanbek Bakieu and the former minister of national security Felix Kulau, who was a more powerful and charismatic person, a political prisoner released after the March events. If he had registered as a candidate, the elections would have been different, would have involved fierce competition, because the other candidates did not put up any powerful resistance to the main presidential contender. The Union of Bakieu and Kulau, as they wrote, in fact deprived the elections of intrigue and unpredictability.
-- Agents of several candidates for the presidential post in the country claimed that Bakieu had used the so-called "administrative resource". So can we really believe that the elections in Kyrgyzstan were free and fair?
-- The victory won by Bakieu is really fair. That he fully used the "administrative resource" is also true. As regards violations that took place during the elections, they allowed one of the candidates, Umetalieva, who was, by the way, the first woman contender, to appeal against the results of the elections. However, I do not think this will somehow impact the final decision of the Constitutional Court, and Kurmanbek Bakieu will be declared the president of Kyrgyzstan.
-- Uladzimir, were you at the polling stations, how would you comment what you saw there?
-- I observed both the March parliamentary elections, which were critically evaluated by the international community, and these presidential elections, so I can compare. These elections were held in much more transparent and fair atmosphere, they were more democratic. But several essential violations should be noted: at several stations which I went to I noted that ballots had been thrown into the boxes, some signatures on the electoral registers had been falsified, and the count of the votes could not be called transparent. What happened regularly was the protocols being refilled out in the territorial election commissions. This shows that the new central authorities have not yet had enough time to change the regional leaders, who, unfortunately, cannot work in a different way. On the whole, these were independent elections in the independent Kyrgyzstan.