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Counting the Kyrgyz Migrant Vote

As the election looms, it remains unclear how expatriates’ votes will be counted.
By IWPR Central Asia
Kyrgyz political parties have expressed fears that a lack of clear guidelines for counting the votes cast by migrant workers abroad may lead to conflict after the polls.

In the weekend ballot on December 16, each vote could be of decisive importance. This is because besides meeting a national threshold of five per cent of the country’s 2.7 million voters, the parties must also gather at least 0.5 per cent of the vote in each of seven regions and two cities, Osh and Bishkek.

The Central Electoral Commission, CEC, has ruled that this half per cent is to be counted not from the actual number of voters in each region, but from the national electoral roll, which works out as at least 13,500 votes in each region, regardless of its population.

It is not clear how these regional allocations will work for the migrant workers currently in Russia and Kazakhstan, of whom there are believe to be between half a million and a million.

Temir Sariev, leader of the opposition Ata-Meken party, says the current ambiguity concerning migrant votes and their allocation by region is storing up trouble, as the threshold could mean some parties that would otherwise be eligible will not get into parliament.

“It is very difficult to calculate which region is to receive the [migrant] votes,” said Sariev, explaining that it would be complex and expensive to discover where each expatriate voter is now living and where he or she is listed as living in Kyrgyzstan.

Topchubek Turgunaliev, chair of the Erkindik party, describes the confusion over migrant votes as “the Achilles heel of the parliamentarian election”.

Nowhere, he says, has it been officially declared how these votes will be apportioned.

The electorate is already wrestling with a novel system of proportional representation and party candidate lists that will have its trial run in Kyrgyzstan this weekend.

Most of the 50 parties that declared their intention to run in the snap election have already dropped out or have been barred by the CEC, and just 12 have been admitted to the race.

The majority have only recently started developing election programmes and building a support-base in all nine electoral regions, so the 0.5 per cent barrier could pose a formidable obstacle.

This is especially the case in sparsely populated regions such as Talas in north-west Kyrgyzstan. The total number of registered voters in Talas is only 121,000, which means each of the 12 parties needs 11 per cent of that figure to get the requisite 13,500 votes needed to get into parliament.

That is clearly an impossible task for many, not least since many of those listed on the regional electoral role are away working abroad, and others will simply stay at home.

Omurbek Sarbagishev, deputy chair of the CEC’s organising committee, said the commission had not decided which regions would receive the votes of migrants living abroad.

“This issue will be put to the vote in the CEC; and it’s currently hard to tell how members will vote,” Sarbagishev told IWPR. As things now stand, he added, “all these votes will be counted in with the Pervomaysky district of Bishkek”.

However, Asein Isaev, from the foreign ministry department that deals with relations with other former Soviet states, said despite the air of ambiguity surrounding the migrant vote, he was confident that each polling station abroad would in fact record the district from which an individual came.

“Information on the regions from which our citizens abroad come will be entered into the voting lists,” Isaev told IWPR.

Kyrgyzstan nationals abroad have also raised other concerns about the imminent election.

Akyl Kuduev, a diaspora leader in the Russian city of Samara, said far too few ballots had been allocated for his community, so that only 3,000 out of at least 5,000 Kyrgyz nationals who wanted to vote in Samara would be able to do so.

“Because of the very short run-up to the election, we were unable to compile a full list of voters and obtain the necessary blank ballots,” said Kuduev. “We applied to the CEC [for more] but were told there would be no additional ballot papers.”

Kuduev explained that the migrant workers in the area worked in diverse sectors – in agriculture, construction, manufacturing and at the bazaars - making it difficult to identify them all within the allotted time frame of a few weeks.

The CEC admits it has released only about 29,000 ballot papers for use abroad, a tiny fraction of the number of Kyrgyz citizens known to be living and working outside the country.

Political scientist Toktogul Kakchekeev says it is almost incomprehensible why no realistic count has been made of the number of potential voters abroad.

“No one from the migration and border services, the state statistics committee or the interior ministry will tell you the exact number of migrants, because they don’t have this information,” complained Kakchekeev. “They don’t have the figures.”

Turgunaliev highlighted another problem – whether the substantial number of people who have moved within Kyrgyzstan in search of a better life will be counted as residents of their original region or their new one, and whether they will be able to vote at all.

In principle, voters are listed by the place where they are officially registered as residents with the authorities. This means that internal migrants either have to go back and vote in their original area, or obtain an absentee ballot beforehand, entitling them to vote at any polling station of Kyrgyzstan.

“There are tens of thousands of people from the Batken and Naryn regions who are now in Osh and Bishkek and who will not really want to go back to their villages at their own expense,” said Turgunaliev. “The state doesn’t have the money to pay for it, nor do tens of thousands of voters. Therefore, I think 30 or even 40 per cent of these migrants will be unable to vote.”

Gulnara Mambetalieva is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.

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