To virtually no one's surprise, Kurmanbek Bakiyev won Kyrgyzstan's presidential election in a landslide. However, Bakiyev caught many political analysts off guard when, at his first post-election news conference on July 11, he raised the possibility of closing a US military base in Kyrgyzstan.
According to Central Election Commission (CEC) statistics, Bakiyev, who headed the provisional administration that had governed since the March revolution, captured almost 89 percent of the vote in the July 10 special presidential election. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The next highest vote-getter among the five other presidential contenders was Kyrgyzstan's ombudsman, Tursunbai Bakir uluu, with nearly 4 percent.
The vote made "tangible progress" in meeting international election standards, according to a preliminary report compiled by the OSCE's International Election Observation Mission, organized under the auspices of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Other observer groups also gave a guarded thumbs-up on the vote. The relative calm that prevailed on election day, combined with the comparatively high marks given by international monitors, prompted Bakiyev supporters to claim the mandate for change that they had been seeking.
Edil Baisalov -- the head of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, a local non-governmental organization suggested that the voting results legitimized the March 24 ouster of former President Askar Akayev, who fled after protesters stormed the presidential palace. "The people voted not only for the candidate [Bakiyev] but also against the old regime and its corruption," Baisalov told journalists. "This voice of the nation has spoken in favor of decisive steps for overhauling the old regime and making changes in the state nomenclature."
Prior to the election, some observers wondered whether election-related problems specifically a low turnout that would render the results invalid would mar the vote and undermine Bakiyev's ability to govern. Official turnout, however, reportedly approached 75 percent.
The OSCE's preliminary report raised questions about the accuracy of the CEC turnout figure. It said that while the conduct of the voting was "for the most part free of serious problems ... the quality of the process deteriorated during the vote-counting and the results-tabulation phases." The report noted "serious breeches of transparency safeguards," adding that in several instances precinct election officials were seen submitting "incomplete or even blank protocols." Such actions could make it possible for regional or central election officials to pad voting totals or turnout figures.
"Counting was assessed as bad or very bad by IEOM observers in nearly 35 percent of the polling stations where it [the vote-tabulation process] was observed," the preliminary report said. The report cited several specific instances of suspicious activity. One case of "implausible turnout figures" involved the Leylek election district, where officials stated that 650 voters cast ballots at one voting precinct during a 50-minute span at "lunchtime." Election monitors witnessed no such surge during the time-period in question. The OSCE/ODIHR Mission also noted that officials relied on voter lists minimizing the number of registered voters, which, in turn, helped to boost the turnout percentage.
Despite the questions surrounding ballot-counting procedures, no one is disputing that Bakiyev should be declared the election winner. "In no case could this election be considered ideal," Baisalov told EurasiaNet. Nevertheless, he said the results more or less reflected "the people's voice." At the same time, he stressed; "there is no guarantee that the next elections will held in fair and transparent way."
At his post-election news conference, he hailed the results as a decisive defeat "for counter-revolutionary" forces. "The campaign and the election itself occurred in a peaceful atmosphere, testifying to the fact that the people are adhering to progressive democratic traditions," Bakiyev said.
Bakiyev promised that happier days were on the immediate horizon. "The peak of social tension has already past," he claimed. The president also indicated that substantive changes in state structures were in the offing, to be facilitated by the ratification of constitutional changes fostering "more democratization."
At the same news conference, Bakiyev raised eyebrows by casting doubt on the long-term presence of US military forces in the country. The American military established an air base in Manas, outside the capital Bishkek, shortly after the September 11 terrorism tragedy. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The planes stationed at the facility fly support missions to assist ongoing military operations in Afghanistan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Bakiyev maintained that the situation in Afghanistan is stabilizing, and went on to suggest that the American military presence might not be needed for much longer. "Today it's possible to move toward reviewing the question concerning the expediency of the American military deployment," Bakiyev said. He sounded like his administration would not be receptive to prolonging Kyrgyzstan's base-leasing arrangement with the United States. "Time will show when this [US withdrawal] will happen and what specific process [it will follow]," Bakiyev said.
Bakiyev's comments offer further evidence that the United States' geopolitical influence in Central Asia is rapidly waning. In early July, Kyrgyzstan and other member-states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization requested that the United States set a deadline for the withdrawal of its forces based in the region. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. US officials dismissed the SCO request, explaining that bilateral agreements with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan governed the American military presence. On July 7, the Uzbek Foreign Ministry issued a statement that suggested that American forces stationed at the Karshi-Khanabad air base were wearing out their welcome. The statement ruled out any possibility of the establishment of a permanent US military facility on Uzbek soil. It also indicated that Tashkent wanted to renegotiate the lease terms to recoup supposedly unpaid take-off and landing fees, as well as other expenses associated with providing base security.