Given widespread criticism of Akayev's record for democratic reform, that could prove an ambitious goal. Presidential elections held in 2000 were roundly condemned by international observers as rigged.
While Akayev has dismissed criticism of his commitment to political pluralism, the lack of a clear presidential favorite for the October 2005 presidential ballot has fuelled speculation that this onetime academic might still opt to retain his post. The Union for Fair Elections, a pro-opposition election watchdog formed in May 2004, has given rise to hopes that next year's polls will be freely contested, but suspicions persist that the group doubles as a front organization for Akayev confidantes intent on retaining power. Aggressive grassroots campaigning by the pro-presidential organization Alga, Kyrgyzstan! (Forward, Kyrgyzstan!) has further spurred concerns on this count.
To get a sense of the possible scenarios that could mark a transfer of presidential power, EurasiaNet spoke with Muratbek Imanaliev, head of the centrist Party of Justice and Progress.
EurasiaNet: In your opinion, which scenario is most likely for the transfer of power in Kyrgyzstan? Will it be similar to the transition of power in Russia from Boris Yelstin to Vladimir Putin; from Heidar Aliyev to Ilham Aliyev in Azerbaijan; or from Eduard Shevardnadze to Mikheil Saakashvili in Georgia? Imanaliev: There won't be an exact repetition of any of the above-mentioned scenarios in Kyrgyzstan. But some elements from each of them may be used. There are seven or eight models for how events will probably turn out. Some of them will not take place since the world community will not support them. The world keeps an eye on events in this country, but is not going to interfere [in events here], although it is sure to influence them. The scenario for how events develop will be exclusively Kyrgyz.
EurasiaNet: It's clear that the political situation is changing and will be constantly changing. But which of the models is the most likely? Imanaliev: There are very few realistic competitors for Askar Akayev in the elections. They are not ready yet. Realistic alternative candidates will turn up only closer to the end of the year. Each candidate can damage his own interests by making an attempt to build an election campaign based on anti-Akayev rhetoric. A candidate must have his own constructive program. And he must make use of the support of a broad sector of society.
EurasiaNet: Is the possibility of a designated successor excluded? Imanaliev: It is one of the probable models [for the elections]. The successor may be a little known or a totally unknown person.
EurasiaNet: And what about a scenario that involves radical change in the political system -- for instance, if the prime minister or the parliament speaker becomes the head of state? Imanaliev: This model can be considered as the most highly anticipated [model], but not the most likely.
EurasiaNet: The pre-election battles are just starting, but some opposition members have already criticized the Party of Justice and Progress for not having joined either the pro-government movement Alga,Kyrgyzstan! or the pro-opposition alliance Union for Fair Elections. These opposition members say that "haughty isolation in the battle for power is doomed to fail." What is your response? Imanaliev: First of all, we are not isolated because we are supported by the people. Some public figures and non-governmental organizations are supporting our program. Secondly, we joined neither the Alga, Kyrgyzstan! party nor the Union for Fair Elections. We disagree with some of the positions of both sides. But, while remaining independent, we are ready to maintain partnerships with all parties and movements. The most important thing for us is the party members' honesty and the rectitude of the people working with us. Our task is to struggle for the future of Kyrgyzstan, which should have an image similar to that of European democratic countries.
EurasiaNet: Could you please name some of Justice and Progress's partners? Imanaliev: Among those who are well-known in Kyrgyzstan and abroad are ex-Secretary of State Ishenbai Abdurazakov, National Academy of Sciences Associate Member Aron Brudny, and former Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Uzbekistan "Manas" Salizhan Zhigitov, now a professor at the Kyrgyz-Turkish University.
EurasiaNet: The Union for Fair Elections often calls transparent ballot boxes a panacea [for problems in the voting system]. Imanaliev: With all their obvious merits, transparent ballot boxes cannot be considered a panacea. There are numerous means of falsification with transparent ballot boxes. I would propose not only transparency [in elections], but doubling the number of ballot boxes [used]. One ballot box should be for voting. It should contain the torn-off portion of voters' ballots. The second part of the ballot should be dropped into a box as people leave the voting site so that the registration and supervision of voter numbers can be facilitated. Some people object [to this proposal], saying that it will increase election costs. But democracy is worth it.
EurasiaNet: Is there a voting technology like this in the world? Imanaliev: I don't know. But why can't we suggest using our own know-how? The main point is to maximize the role of voters so that they can control the electoral process. Above everything else, they should be able to control the number of voters since when large numbers of people are moving around [in an election]; there are all types of opportunities for deception.