A third heavyweight has entered the running in Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election, setting the stage for what could become Central Asia’s most eagerly ever contested democratic battle.
The parliamentary faction of the Respublika-Ata Jurt party tandem on February 14 unanimously nominated wealthy businessman and former prime minister Omurbek Babanov to stand in October’s vote.
Babanov has been active in politics since 2005 and proven a canny and cynical operator ever since. Early on, he was a member of the now-ruling Social Democratic Party (SDPK) and accordingly a leading figure among the opposition to former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s rule before he was successfully co-opted and named deputy prime minister in January 2009.
That stint under Bakiyev did not last very long, however, and Babanov was duly released from his duties in October 2009. Babanov was adamant at the time that “there is no talk of my return to the opposition.” The timing of the departure from government was fortuitous since Bakiyev was overthrown in a bloody revolt in April 2010.
Despite his sniffy stance toward his erstwhile SDPK allies in the latter days of the Bakiyev regime, Babanov was named prime minister in 2011 only to be forced out of the job in 2012 by a scandal involving the suspicious gift of an English-bred horse.
Babanov has remained an ever-present if relatively low-key presence on the political scene, occasionally criticizing the government but largely refraining from the type of flamboyant antics favored by the nationalist Ata-Jurt component of his political current.
As had been widely anticipated, Turkmenistan’s president has not only won the presidential election, but has done so with a stratospheric majority, despite his nation’s sinking economy.
In light of the intensely authoritarian nature of the country, it is no surprise that Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov should have got 97.69 percent of the vote. And the turnout was high too.
“The 97.27 percent turnout indicates a high degree of civic involvement by the population and demonstrates its conscious desire to participate directly in democratic reforms in Turkmenistan,” an election official was quoted as saying by the state news agency.
The figures are grimly comical and news websites run by exiled Turkmens have argued convincingly that they are deeply fraudulent. It is perhaps worth dwelling upon them in passing for the intended symbolism, however.
Berdymukhamedov has, going by the official election figures, become only more popular with every passing election.
In February 2007, in the wake of the sudden death of President Sapamurat Niyazov, a still-diffident Berdymukhamedov was declared the election winner with a relatively modest 89.2 percent of the vote, and a 95 percent turnout. He bettered that performance by getting 97.14 percent of the vote, with a 96.7 percent turnout, in February 2012.
And since the size of the electorate has, according to official figures, risen from around 2.6 million in 2007 to 3.22 million people registered for this weekend’s vote, so that represents not just a proportional increase in would-be favorability, but also a hefty jump in outright support.
The picture for Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election is becoming ever clearer with new candidates either throwing their hat into the ring or being linked with plans to do so imminently.
The second addition to the roster, following former prime minister Temir Sariyev, is the leader of the Onuguu-Progress party, 43-year old Bakyt Torobayev, who told his supporters on February 10 that he wants to see Kyrgyzstan install a “dictatorship of law,” borrowing an old line from Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Torobayev struck a populist and workmanlike tone in his declaration of intent to run in October’s vote.
“People ask me what form of system I favor — presidential or parliamentary. If I am honest, we have really tired people with this business. I am for that form of government that will create jobs, where young people won’t need to go abroad for work, where every citizen will feel protected, both legally and socially. I would call this form of government a dictatorship of law,” Torobayev was cited as saying by 24.kg news agency.
Onuguu-Progress is a recent fixture on the Kyrgyz political scene, having been formed in May 2013 as a Torobayev-led, four-deputy splinter group of the business-focused Respublika party faction in parliament. Torobayev was deputy speaker of parliament at the time.
Onuguu-Progress, and Torobayev accordingly, have cast themselves as “centrist” and “neo-conservative,” agitating for the protection of property rights, advancing the values of a market economy and promoting political competition. The party has explicitly renounced any appeals to the street-based politics that has prevailed in Kyrgyzstan for much of the past two decades.
When Kazakhstan’s ruling party unveiled its candidate list for the March 20 snap parliamentary election, it seemed to be summoning the spirit of that old MGM slogan, “More stars than there are in heaven.”
Alas, with the results now in, the beautiful and the young have receded into the distance and the lower house of parliament, or Mazhilis, will have to contend with the same aging countenances as before.
Only one of the high-profile celebrity candidates who was on the party list of the ruling Nur Otan party will take up a seat in the new parliament, it emerged as parties revealed the names of their MPs on March 24, four days after a lackluster election featuring no genuine opposition.
Chat show host Artur Platonov is taking up a seat in parliament, but other popular figures on the Nur Otan list, such as world champion boxer Gennady Golovkin, Olympic gold medal-winning weightlifter Ilya Ilyin and pop singer Kairat Nurtas, will not be joining the ranks of MPs.
This suggests that criticism that Nur Otan’s list was a cynical bid to shore up voter support amid political apathy given the lack of opposition in an election taking place during a serious economic crisis may not have been groundless.
Nur Otan’s parliamentary representation features 33 MPs who were in the outgoing parliament, along with a host of party apparatchiks and former officials as well as a smattering of business people, according to a list published by Tengri News.
Exit polls in Kazakhstan have provided a preliminary confirmation of widely expected results in the March 20 parliamentary elections, showing the ruling Nur Otan party winning around 82 percent of the vote.
The head of the Astana-based Democracy Institute, Yulia Kuchinskaya, said her organization’s date showed another two parties just passing the 7 percent threshold for entering parliament: the business-aligned Ak Zhol (7.22 percent) and the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan (7.17 percent).
Displaying more than modicum of partiality, Kuchinskaya was effusive in Nur Otan’s praise.
“In this way, as shown by the exit poll, it is possible to say that the citizens have made the decision, again, to confirm their desire to continue the course of modernization,” she said in remarks quoted by Informburo.kz.
If those figures are confirmed, it would mean the seats in the incoming Mazhilis, the lower house of parliament, would be distributed in almost the identical proportion as the outgoing convocation.
Kuchinskaya said her group conducted interviews at 750 polling stations with voters in all the country’s 14 regions and in the cities of Astana and Almaty. Around 75,000 out of the country’s 9.7 million registered voters were questioned.
Another exit, run by an equally pop-up organization, called Media-Consul, showed similar results: Nur Otan with 81.95 percent, Ak Zhol with 7.24 percent and Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan with 7.22.
The stated sample size for this poll was significantly lower, however. The group said it queried 4,050 people at 225 polling stations located all over Kazakhstan
Source: Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan Facebook page
Supporters of the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan watching as a tractor crushes DVD and VHS tapes of Western movies.
Kazakhstan’s pro-government communist party has kicked off its parliamentary election campaign with a stunt designed to galvanize anti-Western sentiments.
The youth wing of the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan (KNPK) drove a tractor over a pile of foreign movies in an antic directed against “western lack of culture,” the party said on its Facebook page.
Photographs published on the page showed a crowd of several dozen people gathered in Almaty on February 21 to watch a red tractor drive over films that the party insisted “symbolized the destructive culture of the western movie industry.” One spectator was mustachioed KNPK central committee secretary Zhambyl Akhmetbekov, who could be seen in pictures clasping his hands and beaming with undisguised glee.
“The western culture of violence, which exerts a negative effect on the consciousness of the younger generation, destroys our traditional principles such as respect for elders, tolerance, patriotism and aspiration for improvement, which have been shaped over centuries,” the KNPK said in its statement.
“Traditionally communists have always spoken out, and will continue to speak out, against the politics of degrading true values that is implanted by western ideologists.”
Of course, Akhmetbekov hasn’t always been opposed to western culture or violence. When he was running for parliament in 2012, his party produced a video of Akhmetbekov rehearsing a variety of martial arts moves to the musical accompaniment of a Russian cover version of the Carl Douglas classic “Kung Fu Fighting.”
Kazakhstan’s ruling Nur Otan party is set to be challenged by at least one opposition force at the snap March 20 parliamentary elections, but prospects the competition will be fair should be discounted at the outset.
The All-National Social Democratic Party (OSDP) decided at a congress on January 30 that it will field 27 candidates on the party list. Names include long-familiar habitués of Kazakhstan’s beleaguered opposition movement, such as OSDP leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbay, economist Petr Svoik, activist and former senator Zauresh Battalova and veteran opposition politician Ualikhan Kaisarov.
Fresh faces were few and far between, suggesting that the only-semi-cooperative opposition has struggled to capture the imagination of a new generation.
Tuyukbai was sober about his party’s electoral prospects and suggested that the results have already been determined.
“To talk about real percentages is a thankless task, because nobody knows what the real percentages are, and how many votes each participating party will receive. Nobody counts these votes. Today, the questions of distribution are in the main decided with pencil in hand by high-ranking officials,” Tuyukbai said in remarks quoted by Informburo.kz.
Instead, OSDP’s election campaign should be devoted to raising the alarm about the economic, political and social crisis gripping the country, Tuyukbai said, in the evident belief that the authorities are oblivious to all these factors.
The OSDP is right to be pessimistic about any chances it will be allowed a look-in.
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.
Voters in Kyrgyzstan's ethnically divided southern city of Osh voted for a new president on October 30, turning out in large numbers despite fears of unrest.
Osh was the scene of ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks in June, 2010. Two nationalist politicians are popular with ethnic Kyrgyz in this southern region: Adahan Madumarov and Kamchybek Tashiev. But most Uzbeks told me they were voting for Almazbek Atambayev, a northerner, who they feel is more able to unify the country.
That is, Uzbeks who were voting. The day before the poll, in the Uzbek neighborhood of Cheremushki, which was largely destroyed during the “June Events,” many young men told me they wouldn’t vote at all, so afraid of reprisals from Kyrgyz supporters of Madumarov and Tashiev.
Overall, the day was calm, with everyone I met expressing hope for a peaceful and stable Kyrgyzstan.
Editor's Note: Nicolas Tanner is a freelance journalist based in Osh.
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