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

Kyrgyz Minorities to Back Akaev Parties

Ethnic communities are worried their fortunes may change if pro-regime parties fare badly in the approaching assembly ballot.
By IWPR Central Asia

Minorities are likely to turn out in force to back parties loyal to President Askar Akaev at Kyrgyzstan’s upcoming elections.


Representatives from several ethnic groups attended a February 8 round table organised by the Assembly for the Peoples of Kyrgyzstan and the Public Council for Democratic Security – both public organisations loyal to the regime – in the run-up to the February 27 election, a sure sign that they will back government-friendly parties in the February 27 parliamentary poll.


Political scientist Askat Dukenbaev told IWPR that much of the loyalty expressed by the groups was based on a fear of change. “The communities are sure that another regime would not understand the issues facing them or listen to their problems,” he said.


Uzbeks, who form the largest minority in Kyrgyzstan, with an estimated 700,000-strong population living mostly in the south of the country, have traditionally backed Akaev’s policies.


Political scientist Alisher Hamidov, an ethnic Uzbek, said, “After the country gained independence, Akaev’s policies generally managed to prevent any ethnic violence.


“Social tensions have been reduced by the programme ‘Kyrgyzstan, Our Common Home’, the creation of the Assembly of Peoples of Kyrgyzstan, and a number of other programmes. Many Uzbeks regard Akaev as a good leader.”


Bakhtiyar Tokhtamatov, director of Babur, an Uzbek music and drama theatre, and head of the regional cultural centre, said the Our Common Home policy had helped Uzbeks establish themselves in the country, “ All the conditions for a fully integrated normal life have been created for Uzbeks,” he said.


He told IWPR that the southern city of Osh, where around half of the inhabitants are of Uzbek ethnicity, is a fine example of integration, “In Osh, there is an Uzbek theatre, a Kyrgyz-Uzbek university with more than 11,000 Uzbek students, and Uzbek faculties at the Osh state university. Doors are open to us everywhere. Akaev is a mild and tolerant president, and he tries to make sure that everyone in his country lives in tolerance.”


The fact that Akaev’s regime has given land to the Uzbek community has also strengthened their loyalty. “Uzbeks are excellent farmers and the fact that they own their own land, thanks to President Askar Akaev, is the most important thing for us,” Tahir Khairullaev, an Uzbek farmer from the southern Suzak region told IWPR.


“Secondly, there is no repression [of ethnic minorities], as there is in neighbouring republics. On the contrary, everyone feels free here. So we are in favour of the ruling regime.”


Members of the Uighur minority also say they value the regime’s tolerance. “During his [Akaev’s] rule, he has shown himself to be a person who knows and solves the problems of other ethnic groups,” said Makhinur, a member of the community in the Tokmak district


The Russian minority back the current authorities largely because of Akaev’s pro-Moscow stance.


One government official, who did not want to be named, told IWPR, “Currently, Kyrgyzstan’s foreign policy is directed towards maintaining close relations with Russia. Akaev often visits Moscow and is on good terms with President Vladimir Putin.


“The Russian military base in Kant and the large representation of Russians in power structures pleases many Russians.”


Some analysts believe that one of the reasons the president enjoys minorities’ backing is because the opposition holds anti-minority views – an assertion rejected by Ishengul Boldjurova, deputy head of the People’s Movement of Kyrgyzstan.


“There are many non-Kyrgyz among the opposition,” she said. “At our last meeting, there were representatives of all nationalities. Minorities support Akaev because they are used to him, and because 12 years of spin have had an effect.”


Emil Aliev, deputy head of the Arnamys party, accused the authorities of effectively bribing ethnic communities to secure their votes.


“In some regions which consist of large numbers of minorities, their votes may decide the outcome of the election. So the authorities use various techniques to get votes – such as promising to provide ethnic groups with newspapers in their own languages. We do not have this opportunity,” he said.


Opposition media say the authorities also use scare-mongering tactics to win minority votes. “The authorities frighten them with talk of civil war and the threat of Ukraine-style revolutions that might damage the communities’ quality of life,” said Rina Prizhivoit, political editor of the opposition newspaper MSN.


But she acknowledges that the government’s rivals do not campaign sufficiently among minority communities, “The opposition does not carry out enough work with this section of the electorate, and this is its weakness.”


Gulnura Toralieva is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek. Independent journalists Jalil Saparov in Jalalabad and Alla Pyatibratova in Osh contributed to this report.