All in all, Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary elections couldn't have gone more smoothly. Now, with five parties qualifying for representation in the next parliament, attention in Bishkek is turning to the complex task of coalition building. The fragmented voting results may make it difficult to build a stable governing coalition under the country's new parliamentary system.
With few reported irregularities, international and local observers were quick to praise the October 10 elections to determine the composition of the 120-seat legislature. There is widespread relief that most parties have called the elections relatively fair and appear willing to accept the results. All regions appear to be adequately represented and potentially "destabilizing" parties have won seats, said Mars Sariev of the Institute of Social Policy in Bishkek.
In an October 11 statement, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe praised the vote for providing a "genuine choice." It also said the elections demonstrated a "further consolidation of the democratic process."
According to preliminary results, the leading vote-getter was the nationalist Ata-Jurt Party, with 8.88 percent. Ata-Jurt's leadership has been criticized for including loyalists of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, whose administration collapsed in April.
While some are calling the Ata-Jurt win an upset, a negligible statistical difference separated the top four parties, each of which received between 7.24 percent and 8.88 percent of the total number of possible voters. In order to gain seats in parliament, a party had to receive at least 5 percent of the number of eligible voters to gain seats, and at least 0.5 percent of the electorate in all nine of Kyrgyzstan's electoral districts. Approximately 57 percent of voters participated. One party, Butun Kyrgyzstan, just missed clearing the 5 percent threshold, receiving 4.84 percent.
"Ata-Jurt did well compared to others, but we are talking about 8 percent. That's not huge," said Alexander Knyazev a veteran Kyrgyzstan analyst now with the Institute for Political Solutions in Almaty.
How a coalition will form, how the cabinet will be chosen and by when, are now topics of widespread speculation in Bishkek. The process is expected to take weeks and, given Kyrgyzstan's personality-driven politics, none of the potential coalition choices are expected to gel easily.
The constitution allows provisional President Roza Otunbayeva to make two attempts to form a government, she told reporters after casting her vote. If the deputies do not accept her nominations, parliament has one opportunity to put forth a government. Then, if there is still no agreement, the president can disband parliament and call for new elections, she said, in comments carried by the AKIpress news agency. The parties that cleared the 5 percent threshold on October 10 are likely eager to avoid a coalition stalemate and fresh elections, given that they have spent millions of dollars on the recent campaign, many experts believe.
Pundits are lining up to predict how coalition talks will unfold, yet much of the hardest bargaining is likely to take place behind closed doors. One Kyrgyz political operative described the upcoming phase of the political process as "unmoderated caucusing."
Some political parties have been engaged in quiet coalition talks for weeks. Conventional wisdom sees the coalition talks as breaking one of two ways, said Nur Omarov, head of the Association of Political Scientists of Kyrgyzstan. Everything "will depend on how party leaders get along with each other. There might be some tension," Omarov said.
The Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) and Ata-Meken represent the former opposition interests that helped force Bakiyev from power earlier this year, and would likely form the core of one coalition option, one that would likely adhere to the course charted by the provisional government.
Two political leaders -- former prime minister Felix Kulov, head of the Ar-Namys Party, and Omurbek Babanov, a former deputy prime minister under Bakiyev - are now widely viewed as the kingmakers of Kyrgyz politics. If either opts to join forces with the SDPK-Ata Meken alliance, that might be enough to create a viable coalition.
Conversely, the other plausible coalition possibility would have Ata-Jurt, Ar-Namys, and Respublika joining forces.
Although it was the leading vote-getter, Ata-Jurt could find itself in opposition in the next parliament. Some experts say such a development could become a source of instability. Ata-Jurt's power base is in southern Kyrgyzstan and leaving the party out of a governing coalition could alienate southerners and deepen regional antagonisms that have festered since Bakiyev, a southerner, fled the country. Regional North-South divisions are likely to play a significant roll in coalition building, said Knyazev.
Ata-Jurt's "main [campaign] focus was on the South and a large part of the population lives in the South. A lot of people voted for Ata-Jurt because they were simply against Ata-Meken and SDPK," Knyazev said. "Despite personal ambitions, coalitions mostly will be formed along regional lines. The fact that Ata-Jurt is leading so far doesn't say much, because it can be left in the opposition."
Some experts believe Russia is working behind the scenes to help build a coalition to its liking. Russian media outlets are widely seen as having played a role in toppling Bakiyev in April, and also influencing the outcome of the October 10 elections. In particular, during the run-up to the vote, Russian media assailed Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebayev, delivering what Sariev described as a "strong kick from Moscow."
Tekebayev was the lead author of the new constitution, which aims to transform Kyrgyzstan from a presidential to a parliamentary republic. Russian leaders have been critical of Kyrgyzstan's political experiment, saying implementing a parliamentary system at this time would be destabilizing. Ata-Meken representatives contend that the Russian media attacks on Tekebayev cost the party a significant amount of support on Election Day. The party gained 5.6 percent, coming in fifth.
Kulov of Ar-Namys and Kamchybek Tashiev, the leader of Ata-Jurt, have separately indicated that they would like to restore a presidential system. Their shared position on this subject has prompted Sariev and others to say that they could become coalition partners.
On Election Day, Otunbayeva warned members of the future government against trying to alter the constitution, which roughly 90 percent of the electorate approved in June. "Today an ideological struggle is taking place and we feel an attack on what we are doing. But, in the previous [June] referendum people agreed with [having a] parliamentary republic and we will protect it," Otunbayeva said.
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.