Central Asia: Apr '09

Analysts at IWPR event ask whether voters in forthcoming Kyrgyz election want continuity or change, or are too apathetic to care.

Central Asia: Apr '09

Analysts at IWPR event ask whether voters in forthcoming Kyrgyz election want continuity or change, or are too apathetic to care.

As Kyrgyzstan gears up for a presidential ballot this July, participants in an IWPR discussion meeting found themselves questioning how much elections really matter to people in this Central Asian state.


The round-table, held at IWPR’s office in Bishkek on April 28, was the latest in a series of events that bring together academics, analysts and policymakers to debate key issues openly without taking up political positions.



The choice of theme was prompted by IWPR’s reporting on the election process as it has unfolded in recent months, for example Kyrgyz Opposition Unity Crumbles, (RCA No. 576, 09-May-09), Kyrgyz Opposition Candidate Seen as Stalking-Horse, (RCA No. 574, 24-Apr-09), Surprise Early Polls for Kyrgyzstan, (RCA No. 570, 20-Mar-09).



The last power shift in Kyrgyzstan, the popular uprising of March 2005 which ousted president Askar Akaev and brought in the new administration of Kurmanbek Bakiev, was more of a revolution than a democratic handover. Now that Bakiev is running for a second term, the prevailing public mood is one of indifference, rather than excitement about the choice between continuity and change.



“We haven’t learned to transfer power,” commented Muratbek Imanaliev, president of the Institute for Public Policy in Bishkek, during the discussion.



None of the candidates has set out a clear plan of action ahead of the July 23 election.



“There aren’t many who can present a clear and precise programme of future actions to develop the country,” said Imanaliev.



According to Ishenbay Abdurazakov of the Public Chamber, a body set up to facilitate interaction between members of the public and the Kyrgyz president, democratic principles have yet to become rooted in the country’s post-Soviet culture.



“We have placed European values at the heart of our constitution, but we have not put them into practice in a consistent manner,” he said. “We continue to give free rein to our feudal instincts, and we have not yet learned how to give up and take over power democratically.”



As a result, concluded Imanaliev, “People are – to put it mildly – indifferent to the forthcoming election.”



Some of the analysts who spoke at the event felt that this voter apathy stemmed from a broader malaise where people had little sense of pride or belonging in Kyrgyzstan, and little stake in its future.

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