Kyrgyzstan Tests Move to Parliamentary Democracy in Post-Violence Election
Kyrgyzstan’s citizens cast votes in the first peaceful elections since the nation, wracked by violence after the president was ousted in April, adopted a constitution designed to create Central Asia’s only parliamentary democracy.
The elections were being watched closely by the U.S. and Russia, both of which have airbases in Kyrgyzstan, an impoverished nation of 5.5 million people. The U.S. uses the Manas base outside the capital, Bishkek, to support operations in Afghanistan. The electoral commission said 56.5 percent of citizens voted.
“It is a historic day,” said Interim President Rosa Otunbayeva after polls closed, according to Deutsche Presse Agentur.
Seven parties may win seats in parliament, with Ata-Meken, led by Omurbek Tekebayev, and the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, led by Almazbek Atambayev, likely to top the vote, according to a poll by Perspectiva Analytical Center. Both men were part of the provisional government that assumed power after the overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
“Parliamentary elections all used to be predictable; it could be said definitely that the ruling group would form the parliament,” said Mars Sariyev, a political analyst in Bishkek, the nation’s capital. “For the first time a situation has emerged in which it is impossible to predict.”
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s election monitors warned ahead of the poll that that the security situation remained “tense,” especially in the south, where June clashes between the majority Kyrgyz and minority Uzbek communities left more than 400 dead.
‘Let it Be Fair’
AFP reported that the Ar-Namys party of former Prime Minister Felix Kulov, a pro-Moscow candidate, was leading with 22.1 percent, citing an exit poll published by the centrasia.ru news site. The poll was based on interviews with 1,306 voters. The Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan was second with 20.7 percent, the poll showed, according to AFP.
Alesa Chokmurova, a 73-year-old retired teacher, said she voted for the Ata-Jurt, as polling continued on a bright sunny afternoon.
“They’re for the people,” she said, adding that she fears unrest if “an injustice” is perceived by some. “Just let it be fair and let a person who will improve the country, boost industry and deal with housing and social issues come to power.”
President Roza Otunbayeva said yesterday that security forces would respond to any efforts to create unrest.
“We have overcome the crisis and now, especially after the election, with every passing day we will move toward stability, the rise of the economy and the improvement of people’s lives,” Otunbayeva said in a televised address, the Associated Press reported.
The landlocked country depends on remittances from workers in Russia for about 40 percent of national income, supplemented by rent the U.S. and Russia pay for their bases. Kyrgyzstan’s gross domestic product, measured by purchasing power parity, was $2,200 per person last year, ranking it 187th in the world.
As campaigning drew to a close, people on the streets of Bishkek said they hoped the vote would restore calm.
“The main thing is that everything should be alright in the country, without war and with stability,” said 31-year-old Aida Oroskaziyeva.
The U.S. government provided $5 million to help ensure free and fair elections.
“We see these” elections “as a very significant opportunity to establish the very first parliamentary democracy in Central Asia,” Robert O. Blake Jr., assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, told reporters Sept. 22 in New York. “This will be just a very, very high priority for all of us.”
Under the constitution approved by voters in June, no party can hold more than 65 of the 120 seats in parliament, and the winning party will lead talks to form a coalition government. Twenty-nine parties are on today’s ballot.
Ata-Meken was supported by 14.6 percent of the 1,500 people surveyed by Perspectiva from Sept. 14-28, followed by the Social Democratic Party with 10.5 percent and Ata Jurt at 9.9 percent, the Washington-based Carnegie Center for International Peace said on its website. The Respublika, Akshumkar, Ar-Namys and Butu Kyrgyzstan parties may also cross the 5 percent threshold needed to win seats. More than 23 percent of those surveyed were undecided, and no margin of error was given for the poll.
The winning party will face the challenge of spearheading talks to reconcile competing interests and form a stable government.
“It is difficult for me to perceive how the multiple interests of the clan groups and the corporate groups will be reconciled,” Sariyev said. “The pretensions of the elites will have to be reckoned with, and they will have to find a consensus. I am not sure the government will last long.”
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