Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Incumbent Kyrgyz President's Convincing Victory

Monitors and opposition politicians claim serious irregularities marred July 23 poll.
By Timur Toktonaliev

Voting irregularities have been alleged by local and international organisations and the opposition in the re-election last week of Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiev.

Bakiev, leader of the ruling Ak Jol party, was re-elected with 76.12 per cent of the votes in the July 23 poll, according to final figures from the Central Electoral Commission, CEC.

His re-election comes in very different circumstances from his first victory in July 2005, when he became president on the wave of the so-called Tulip Revolution of March that year, a popular uprising that ousted the then president Askar Akaev.

Since then Bakiev – a former opposition leader – has gone on to strengthen his authority. He pushed for a new constitution in a referendum in 2007, curtailing the power of the parliament in favour of his own.

Some of his alienated former associates joined the opposition camp and in November 2008 set up an umbrella group, the United People’s Movement, UPM, with the aim of ousting Bakiev.

Bakiev’s main opponent, Almazbek Atambaev, the leader of the Social Democratic Party and nominated by the UPM, came second with just 8.41 per cent of the vote.

The other four candidates scored about ten per cent of the total vote. Temir Sariev, the leader of Ak Shumkar party, was third with 6.74 per cent and Toktaim Umetalieva came fourth with 1.14 per cent.

The leader of the Joomart Patriotic Movement and co-leader of the Kyrgyz Muslim Union, Nurlan Motuev, scored only 0.93 per cent and Jenishbek Nazaraliev, a doctor specialising in treating drug users, took sixth place with only 0.83 per cent.

According to the CEC, the turnout was 79.1 per cent of the 2.7 million eligible to vote. The population is five million.

Rights groups and international organisations criticised the conduct of the election, alleging vote-rigging and other irregularities. They also criticised new regulations that introduced voting on a working day – polls were previously held at the weekend – the recognition of a driving licence for voter identification and dropping the use of indelible ink to mark voters.

Critics say voting on a weekday enables the authorities to bus public sector workers to the polls en masse; allowing the use of the driving licence weakens identity checks; and not using ink marking increases the risk of multiple voting.

Around 10,000 local and 516 international observers monitored the presidential election, according to the CEC. Their preliminary findings were published the day after the election on July 24.

The Union of Civic Organisations, UCO, said that the election was held with “massive violations” which included ballot-box stuffing, the failure on the part of electoral committee members to provide election minutes to the UCO observers, and “the use of administrative resource in favour of one of the candidates”.

In its letter to the CEC, the UCO said that elections should be held at the weekend, the ink-marking of voters’ fingers should be resumed, the list of identification documents should be reduced, and photo- and video-coverage should be allowed during the voting and the vote count.

The UCO representatives said all the violations will be reported to the CEC.

Observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, said in their preliminary report that the election “again fell short of key standards Kyrgyzstan has committed to as a participating state of the OSCE”.

“We have concluded that sadly the election did not show the progress we were hoping for . . . The conduct of the election on the voting day was a disappointment,” said Radmila Sekerinska, the head of the OSCE observer mission.

“The election day was characterised by many problematic issues and violations, including ballot-box stuffing, mistakes in voters’ lists, and some evidence that some people voted several times. The process has deteriorated during the vote count and summing up of the vote,” said the interim report.

In its preliminary report, the European Network of Election Monitoring Organisations, ENEMO, found similar violations.

The CEC did not deny that there were some irregularities during the election. However, its representatives said that these were minor and did not affect election results.

Kudaybergen Bazarbaev, who heads the CEC administration, told IWPR, “Any election process may include some mistakes. The CEC decisions are governed by the law and facts.

“Anyone can point out flaws. We do not work with anonymous complaints.”

Bakiev’s election team disagreed with the critics, saying the election was legitimate and fair despite some minor violations.

“There have been no grave and massive violations during the election that could impact the final election results,” said the first deputy chairman of the Ak Jol party, Tabyldy Orozaliev.

“Bakiev’s convincing victory shows that people trust the president,” Ulugbek Ormonov, the head of the Ak Jol faction in parliament, said.

Other candidates’ observers and local groups are still sending their complaints about violations to the CEC.

According to CEC member Alexey Eliseev, the CEC has received about 100 appeals, all of which would be given proper consideration.

All six candidates, except Bakiev and Motuev, were critical of the election.

Atambaev, Bakiev’s former prime minister, called the election “illegitimate” and promised to start protests on July 29. His election team said the poll was held with “unprecedented violations” and “falsifications”.

According to Bakyt Beshimov, who heads Atambaev’s election team, the Social Democrats held their own exit poll on the election day, which indicated that Atambaev was winning the election with 60.6 per cent, while Bakiev was losing with 25.1 per cent.

The candidate from the Ak Shumkar party, Temir Sariev, who earlier left the UPM, questioned the fairness of the vote count, although his comments were not as strong as that of the UPM representatives.

“We have had a unique chance, we wanted to take part in fair election. But I can say that there has not been a fair election,” said Sariev.

Toktaim Umetalieva, who heads the Association of Non-Commercial and Non-Government Organisations, said the turnout was actually much lower – about 60 per cent – than the 80 per cent reported by the CEC.

Despite reassurances by the CEC that it will deal with complaints, Atambaev’s social democrats are planning countrywide protests on July 29 to claim that votes were cast for him but not counted.

On July 23, immediately after polls closed, Atambaev and Nazaraliev held a concert and rally near Atambaev’s office. The event lasted just two hours after the minister of the interior, Moldomusa Kongantiev, said that unauthorised meetings would be prevented from taking place.

Both analysts and the president’s supporters doubt that people are in the mood to protest. Some are busy working, those who are on holiday are not interested and some will fear getting in trouble with police, they say.

Ormonov said people will not support Atambaev because of his refusal to take part in the election on polling day.

“They campaigned with great commitment but then he abandoned them. I think people will not go,” Ormonov said.

Political analysts believe that people are unlikely to support the opposition, as Bakiev’s political strategists did a good job in persuading the electorate to vote for him by increasing salaries and pensions and creating jobs.

According to political scientist Mars Sariev, the situation has changed from March 2005. The public’s negative sentiment towards Bakiev is as strong as their dislike of Akaev, who ruled the country for 15 years, he said.

In addition, Sariev said, Bakiev’s circle will find ways to calm down his opponents and even to buy them out.

“Political strategists will try to engage [opposition members], offer some posts, probably change the government, and elect the new parliament,” Sariev said. “I do not know how much the opposition will be able to withstand the temptation.”

Timur Toktonaliev is an IWPR-trained contributor.