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Kyrgyz Election Update: Round Two

Kyrgyzstan held an election to the 75-member Zhogorku Kenesh on February 27, but more than half the seats remained undecided as there was no clear winner. The second round on March 13 has now assumed critical importance, so this report looks at events bot
By IWPR

Thirty one candidates, almost half of whom were nominated by pro-government political parties, were elected with an absolute majority in the first round. In the remaining constituencies where a second poll will take place, the two candidates with the most votes will compete head to head.


In one of the 75 constituencies, Tong, there was no election because preparations had been disrupted by protesters supporting a candidate who had been barred from running.


ETHNIC MINORITIES AND ELECTIONS


Eleven non-Kyrgyz candidates were elected deputies in the first round: seven Uzbeks, three Russians and one Korean. Minorities thus hold 15 per cent of parliamentary seats before the second round takes place.


At a meeting with President Askar Akaev on March 3, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus said the election results showed significant improvements in the pace of democratic reforms in the country.


PROTESTS SWEEP KYRGYZSTAN


The Nooken district saw one of the largest demonstrations in protest at the way the election was run. Five thousand supporters of opposition candidate Dooronbek Sadyrbaev gathered on March 4 to call for the resignation of the district government chief, his deputy and tax inspection officials whom they accuse of interfering in the elections.


Sadyrbaev, who is running in the second round, warned of possible inter-ethnic conflict following brawls between Kyrgyz and Uzbek voters in Nooken. Many Uzbeks in the district back Sadyrbaev's rival Jenish Eshenkulov. About 500 staged their own protest in support of their candidate, Eshenkulov. Both Eshenkulov and Sadyrbaev are Kyrgyz.


Government officials have begun negotiations with 100 protesters in Jalalabad who occupied the regional government building on March 4, forcing out officials and throwing away portraits of Akaev. The occupiers were among a group of 3,000 supporters of Jusupbek Bakiev, who lost in his constituency on February 27.


The protesters, clad in pink scarves, demanded that the election results be cancelled, and that Akaev and regional leaders should resign.


Also on March 4, about 300 supporters of candidate Naken Kasiev gathered in the Atbashy village of the Naryn region to await Central Election Commission, CEC, confirmation of the results of the elections which Kasiev lost. They announced they would picket the government building in Bishkek if the CEC did not take into account alleged electoral violations by Askar Salymbekov, the winner.


On March 2, around 400 supporters of candidate Jusupjan Jeenbekov, now running in the second round in the Kogart constituency of Jalalabad, staged a protest demanding the replacement of local election officials they claimed had shown bias.


About 500 protestors backing candidate Tursunbayhoji Alimov blocked the Osh to Aravan road on March 1. On the same day in Karasuu, 600 supporters of candidate Arap Tolonov blocked the roads leading in and out of the town, protesting the results of elections.


Two candidates, Kadyrjan Batyrov and Abdumutalip Hakimov, who won in the Jalalabad and Bazarkurgan-Suzak constituencies, were reported by local media to have Russian and Uzbekistan citizenship respectively, meaning they should not have been eligible to stand.


LOCAL OBSERVERS REACH VARYING CONCLUSIONS


Local observers reached varying conclusions on the election with the NGO Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society - which fielded the largest number of local observers - noting numerous violations including restrictions on the independent media and biased decisions by courts. Civil Society Against Corruption said the elections were partially free, open and transparent, but not fair as many citizens were denied the right to vote.


Two other groups, the Assembly of Peoples' of Kyrgyzstan and the Congress of Local Communities, concluded that the ballot was "democratic, open, transparent and fair".


INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS DIFFER


The International Election Observation Mission - comprising 175 observers from 28 countries representing the OSCE and the European Parliament - noted numerous violations including inaccurate voter rolls, unauthorised people at polling stations, family voting, bribery, pressure on voters and multiple voting.


The mission also highlighted problems in the run-up to the election and criticised the government for repeatedly warning of the potential danger of civil war. Kimmo Kiljunen, who headed the delegation sent by the OSCE parliamentary assembly, said, "The situation was exacerbated by restrictions on freedom of mass media and hostile statements by top state officials against the media and journalists."


The team of observers from European Network of Election Monitoring Organisations also reported serious violations.


Observers sent from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakstan to represent the Election Monitoring Organisation of the Commonwealth of Independent States, said the poll was badly organised and to some extent unfair.


The Network of Pluralism Centres, representing Georgia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, said the results of the ballot were determined well ahead of the elections.


However, some observers including those sent by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the London International Institute of Democracy took a different view, saying the parliamentary elections had no significant violations and should be recognised as valid and successful. They said none of the reported violations was serious enough to undermine the legitimacy of the poll. Lev Vershinin, deputy head of the London International Institute of Democracy, criticised the OSCE mission, saying the observers had pre-determined negative conclusions about the Kyrgyz elections.


GOVERNMENT REACTION


The Kyrgyz foreign ministry said on March 1 that the conclusions reached by international observers from the OSCE were not completely objective or balanced.


In other news, the ministry has written to the US embassy in Bishkek to complain about comments made by Ambassador Steven Young, who warned that problems with democracy during the elections might influence relations between the two countries.


WEBSITES REPORT ATTACKS


Kyrgyz websites based abroad, including www.gazeta.kg and www.kyrgyz.us, reported malicious attacks during the election period, paralysing access for people trying to log in from Kyrgyzstan.


OPPOSITION POLITICIAN TARGETED


On March 3, a grenade was thrown at the apartment of the opposition leader Roza Otunbaeva. The politician, who was not at home at the time, said she views the attack as an attempt by the authorities to intimidate her. The government denied the charge.