With campaigning season for Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary elections almost over, parties are resorting to all means available to claim as large a share as possible out of the 120 seats up for grabs.
A video was posted online on September 30 showing public officials in the southern town of Kara-Kulzha being coached on how to jubilantly greet a candidate from top parliamentary contender, the Social Democratic Party (SDPK). The video was uploaded by a candidate from the rival Azattyk party, Daiyrbek Orunbekov.
The footage is lending more ammunition to SDPK’s critics, who argue that what are known as “administrative resources” are being deployed to ensure the required result for them on October 4. SDPK is the party of President Almazbek Atambayev and a crushing win for them could assure them the legally allowed maximum number of 65 deputies – enough to form a government without entering into problematic coalitions.
In the video from Kara-Kulzha, a woman from the local administration explains to rows of listeners how to salute and praise parliamentary speaker and SPDK election candidate, Asylbek Jeenbekov. As they go through the motions of the rehearsal, people in the audience stand up, whistle and shout: “Long live SDPK! Hooray!”
SPDK reacted with a swift statement insisting that it was absolutely committed to honest and transparent elections.
Kamchibek Tashiyev, a nationalist former boxer from Kyrgyzstan’s south, looks set to sit out the October 4 parliamentary election as police investigate allegations he beat up a rival candidate.
On September 30, a Kyrgyz court endorsed the earlier decision of the Central Electoral Commission to exclude Tashiyev from the vote.
The co-leader of the Respublika-Ata Jurt party was struck off the list of candidates for allegedly beating up a representative of the Onuguu-Progress party while on the campaign trail in his native Jalal-Abad.
Accounts vary about what exactly Tashiyev is supposed to have done to Abdymanap Abdybahapov. Onuguu-Progress say Tashiyev may have broken Abdybahapov’s ribs. Respublika Ata Jurt says the interaction never went beyond a heated argument and that Abdybahapov instigated the dispute.
Tashiyev, a former emergency situations minister, has a history of using his fists outside the ring.
In 2011, he was involved in two violent altercations in the space of a couple of days.
In the first, he reportedly knocked out a member of his own party when his colleague refused to relinquish his parliamentary seat. On another occasion, he stormed out of a sitting of parliament with a bloody nose following the kind of lawmakers’ punch-up that became a fairly regular sight in the fifth convocation.
Kazakhstan's celebrations over FC Astana gaining its first Champions League point were cut short by news that its cycling superstar Alexandre Vinokourov could face charges of race-fixing in Belgium.
A Belgian prosecutor has ruled that Vinokourov should stand trial along with Russian rider Alexandr Kolobnev on charges that the two colluded to fix the result of Belgium's Liege-Bastogne-Liege one-day classic in 2010. Vinokourov allegedly paid Kolobnev around $225,000 to let him win the race, Sky Sports reported.
If convicted, both riders could face between six months and three years in jail and fines of between $330,000 and $660,000. Vinokourov and Kolobnev have contested the decision on the basis that the evidence is too flimsy to convict them. The decision whether to bring the case to court will be made by October 15.
The news broke just after FC Astana, playing its first ever home fixture in the Champions League group stages, fought back against Turkish powerhouse Galatasaray to earn a 2-2 draw. The Turkish side scored two own goals to Astana's one in a bizarre match.
FC Astana, along with cycling's Pro Team Astana is part of Kazakhstan's flagship sports project, Astana Presidential Sports Club, which oversees football, cycling and ice hockey teams, as well as ice skaters and boxers. The club is bankrolled by Samruk-Kazyna, Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund.
The United States has broken its silence over Tajikistan’s obliteration of the Islamic Renaissance Party with an expression of anxiety at the “blanket persecution of all opposition.”
The U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe said in an emailed statement to EurasiaNet.org on September 30 that it is concerned that the government is “limiting the activities” of the IRPT and says it is monitoring the unfolding criminal case against party members.
Authorities have been moving fast against the IRPT – the last credible opposition force left in the country.
The pretext for the final crackdown on IRPT was provided by unrest in early September that the government attributed to an alleged armed uprising by a rebellious former deputy defense minister, Abduhalim Nazarzoda.
Prosecutors have said Nazarzoda acted in collusion with the IRPT. Those accusations were followed by the arrest of 13 members of the IRPT political council on September 13.
On September 29, the Supreme Court ruled to designate the party a terrorist organization at the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office. That decision will force the closure of the IRPT’s official newspaper, Najot, and stands to criminalize thousands of party members.
“Naming [IRPT] a terrorist organization now threatens its 40,000 members across the country with imprisonment," Freedom House executive vice president Daniel Calingaert said in a statement.
In its statement, the U.S. Embassy said it was vitally important to distinguish between peaceful political opposition parties and violent extremists.
An International Crisis Group report on Kyrgyzstan published on September 30, only days ahead of parliamentary elections, paints a grim portrait of the political situation and warns that the entire region could suffer from failure to adopt urgently needed reforms.
ICG identifies persisting ethnic tensions, corruption, unchecked nationalism and the surge of political Islam, fuelled by disaffection at self-interested party clans, as key and pressing problems facing Kyrgyzstan.
Despite those potential looming threats, ICG sees little likelihood of an imminent change in direction.
“Parliament and the presidency seem unwilling and institutionally incapable of addressing these issues,” the report said. “Few expect the 4 October parliamentary elections to deliver a reformist government.”
Kyrgyzstan bucks the overall trend in the region with its often rowdily competitive political system. Billboards up and down the country testify to the abundance of choice being offered to voters as they head to the polling stations to pick the 120 deputies that will represent them in parliament.
For all that political diversity, the picture on the ground appears bleak, ICG said in its report.
The ethnic Uzbek community, which accounts for 14.5 percent of the population, has been thoroughly marginalized on the political scene and remains subject to harassment from an almost homogenously ethnic Kyrgyz police force.
That trend has been coupled with the ascendancy of virulently nationalist and conservative groups.
Exiled Turkmen activists have noted a strange detour during President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s return from New York this week, prompting speculation that he might be unwell.
The Chronicles of Turkmenistan website said a keen-eyed reader scouring planespotter resource FlightRadar24 noted that Berdymukhamedov’s plane had stopped off in Munich, Germany, on September 26 instead of heading straight to Ashgabat.
That was enough to prompt opposition site Gundogar.org to speculate that the president had stopped off for medical consultations precipitated by a health scare.
According to his official schedule, Berdymukhamedov was due to travel on September 24-27 to take part in the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
As it happens, Berdymukhamedov’s speech before the General Assembly included a passage on health and on the need to promote healthy lifestyles.
The plot thickened further when BBC Monitoring, a service that closely watches media output across Central Asia, noted that state television station Altyn Asyr failed to report on the president’s regular Monday government meeting this week.
“Instead, its flagship evening news bulletin carried a report recapping the main events of last week,” BBC Monitoring said in a report summing up news from September 28.
That Berdymukhamedov is in poor health is always possible, although state media tirelessly rams home the message that the president is a superior sporting specimen.
The Munich connection is an intriguing one, however.
A report aired after a live prime-time election debate in Kyrgyzstan on the evening of September 26 is sparking suspicions the state broadcaster is trying to influence the outcome of the vote.
The apparent hatchet job of rivals to President Almazbek Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party (SDPK) bears hallmarks of the “administrative resources” used by semi-democratic systems in the post-Soviet world to give incumbents an unfair advantage.
SDPK is already widely expected to win the largest share of the ballot in the October 4 contest to pick the 120 members of the Jogorku Kenesh.
Under Kyrgyzstan’s first and second presidents, Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev, KTRK (Kyrgyz Teleradio Company) was regularly used to help enhance the ruling party’s performance. While more voters are now reliant on the Internet for their news, television remains the country’s most powerful resource.
All this was supposed to have changed in 2010, when the interim government passed a decree transforming KTRK into a public broadcaster with its own supervisory board.
But what followed an otherwise stimulating weekend debate — between the leaders Ata-Meken, Butun-Kyrgyzstan-Emgek and Onuguu-Progress parties; Omurbek Tekebayev, Adahan Madumarov and Bakyt Torobaev, respectively — was strongly reminiscent of the bad old days.
The short news item, entitled “How Much Is Your Vote Worth?,” saw KTRK journalists canvass various experts and members of the public about the risk of candidates buying votes.
The primary targets for criticism were Ata-Meken, Bir Bol and Respublika-Ata-Jurt — all parties believed to have good prospects of entering parliament and potentially robbing SDPK of a flat-out majority.
In providing updates to its would-be insurgency and smears of the opposition almost daily, Tajikistan’s government has succeeded mostly in undermining its own credibility.
A dispatch circulated by Khovar state news agency on September 26 reaches new heights of implausibility. The story contends that the alleged renegade deputy defense minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda had plotted his uprising since 2010 in collusion with the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT).
From 2005 onward, Nazarzoda occupied numerous high-ranking positions in the security establishment. Between then and 2007, he served as first deputy commander of the ground forces, and from 2007 to 2014, he headed the Defense Ministry’s military security services. His elevation to deputy defense minister came in January 2014.
Allegations that plotting should have been happening for so long at the highest level is at best an astonishing admission of incompetence by Tajikistan’s security structures. Alternatively, Dushanbe is spinning a yarn in full confidence that nobody within the country, including all the diplomatic stations based there, will dare to question its narrative.
Some details in the latest account are recycled versions of earlier, barely credible, accusations, but there are some new aspects.
Khovar cites prosecutors as saying Nazarzoda teamed up with IRPT leader Mukhiddin Kabiri to create 20 organized crime groups comprising a total of 300 members, who were paid $100 or more each monthly with funds of unknown provenance.
In what will come as a surprise to nobody, a pre-election poll conducted in Kyrgyzstan by the International Republican Institute has revealed corruption to be near the top of a list of the country’s greatest perceived burdens.
The theme has been part of the background noise during campaigning season, which will culminate with a vote on October 4.
IRI’s poll revealed that 46 of respondents saw graft as the most important problem facing Kyrgyzstan. Corruption was sandwiched between the 59 percent that see unemployment as a pressing issue and the 35 percent concerned at rising prices.
Parties vying for ballots have sought in various ways to address these concerns, albeit in often less than specific details. That has not deterred voters, however, according to the IRI survey.
IRI said its research showed 77 percent of its 1,500 respondents declared their intent to participate in the election.
IRI’s Eurasia regional director Stephen Nix said in a statement accompanying the release of the survey that the poll results indicate a strong mandate to tackle graft.
"The parliamentary elections are a great opportunity for the Kyrgyz government to demonstrate its commitment to the fight against corruption,” Nix said.
So what are all the parties offering on corruption?
President Almazbek Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party (SDPK), which is expected to easily outpace its rivals, this past week unveiled its Taza Koom, or Clean Society, program, which it says will prevent the theft of 30 billion Som ($434 million).
Kazakhstan’s diplomatic balancing act over the conflict in Ukraine has been upset by a fresh row about the status of the Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula.
Ukraine’s embassy in Astana on September 25 addressed a note of protest to Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry over school textbooks that show Crimea — which most of the international community, including Kazakhstan, recognizes as part of Ukraine — as belonging to Russia.
The information in the textbooks “contradicts the position of the international community and the leadership of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which has more than once stated its support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” the embassy said in its statement.
Only a handful of countries, including North Korea, Cuba, Syria and Venezuela, have recognized Crimea as part of Russia. Other members of the international community — even usually staunch Moscow allies, like Belarus — insist the territory should be handed back to Ukraine.
Kiev has asked Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry and Education and Science Ministry to work toward “the immediate recall of these textbooks from secondary schools,” the embassy statement said. No response was immediately forthcoming.
The Ukrainian embassy’s contacts with Mektep, the publishing house that put out the offending textbooks, “testified that, unfortunately, a certain part of Kazakhstani society is deeply infected by Russian propaganda,” the statement said.
It urged action to boost Kazakhstan’s information security by restricting broadcasting of Russian television channels, which are beamed into homes all across Kazakhstan and play a large public opinion-forming role.