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Diplomats Challenge Election Proposals

Kyrgyz ambassadors fear their government's controversial election proposals will further undermine the country's international reputation
By Sultan Jumagulov

Kyrgyz ambassadors were recently summoned back to Bishkek from all over the world for a meeting to discuss the forthcoming presidential elections.


Officially titled "A discussion of Internal Policy Issues", the meeting was widely seen in political circles as a briefing on how unpalatable government proposals, such as the outlawing of election monitors, should be presented abroad.


However, the diplomats challenged the chairman of the Central Electoral Commission Sulaiman Imanbaev on a number of issues, not least his central proposal to outlaw the operation of Non-Governmental Organisations, NGOs, during the election.


The meeting took place against a backdrop of mounting voter apathy and disillusionment in advance of the autumn poll. President Akaev has not yet officially announced his own candidature, but already his two most dangerous rivals have been knocked out of the race.


The former vice-president, Felix Kulov, is about to be convicted on charges of forgery and abuse of power, while businessman, Daniar Usenov, has been given a suspended prison sentence.


It is thought that after the vote-rigging and other irregularities at the last parliamentary elections, many will not vote - not even to register a protest.


During the three-day meeting, Imanbaev criticised the role of NGO observers in the last parliamentary ballot, claiming that they used international funding to obstruct the electoral process.


The Coalition of Non-Governmental Organisations For Democracy and Civil Society was singled out for particular criticism, "This organisation is a partner of the National Democratic Institute of the USA, which, in turn, has the support of the State Department," he said.


Imanbaev told the diplomats that he had requested permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice to forbid the Coalition from observing the elections and he asked them to find appropriate justifications for doing so.


"The meeting was about how best to explain the fact that the current head of state is subjecting his main political opponents to judicial persecution," said the well-known opposition activist and parliamentary deputy, Adakhan Madumarov.


But years abroad seem to have influenced the ambassadors who want the autumn elections to be free and fair. Only then will Kyrgyzstan be able to salvage its increasingly tarnished image as the only democratic country in Central Asia.


"Kyrgyzstan has almost no strategic resources," argued Alikbek Jekshenkulov, ambassador to Austria. "But we do have an international image as "an island" of democracy in Cenral Asia. We mustn't jeapordise that ."


Roza Otunbaeva, ambassador to the United Kingdom, went even further, noting that previous elections and referenda had produced Soviet-style turnouts of 90 to 99 per cent, mainly due to the zeal of regional and district governors.


"Let's have some more realistic results in the forthcoming presidential elections," she argued.


The ambassadors also used their summit to discuss the issue of Kyrgyz citizens living in other CIS countries. With 90 per cent of the population living below the poverty line, a steady stream of Kyrgyz are leaving to build a future elsewhere.


According to unofficial statistics almost 11 per cent of the population, about 500,000 people, now live in Russia, while tens of thousands of Kyrgyz are resident in Uzbekistan and Kazakstan.


However, if certain parliamentarians get their way, Kyrgyz diplomats could become an endangered species. Parliament has already discussed cutting the number of representative offices abroad.


Kyrgyzstan currently has 21 foreign embassies, but it was argued that such a small state needs only one per continent: one in Moscow, for all the CIS countries; one in China to cover all of Asia and a single European office to cover the whole continent.


Parliamentarians also complained that while Kyrgyzstan has embassies in Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, those countries have no representation in


Bishkek.


The parliamentary vice-speaker, Omurbek Tekebaev, argued that such embassies should be closed in favour of opening offices in regional powerbases such as Pakistan, which not only now possesses nuclear weapon, but also influences Afghanistan, a huge source of regional tension.


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs would staunchly resist any attempt to cut the number of ambassadors. "Our diplomats are the eyes and ears of this country abroad" says Foreign Minister, Maratbek Imanaliev. "It would be easy to close them, but much harder to open them again."


Unlike state bureaucrats, Kyrgyz diplomats meet regularly with their counterparts in other countries. Maybe that is why they prefer a genuine democracy for their country rather than a democratic pose.


Sultan Jumagulov is a regular IWPR contributor.


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