Kyrgyz Political Dilemma

Kyrgyz voters seem to have little to gain from voting in forthcoming presidential elections

Kyrgyz Political Dilemma

Kyrgyz voters seem to have little to gain from voting in forthcoming presidential elections

Kyrgyz voters are dreading presidential elections later this year. They're faced with a choice between an incumbent who's impoverished them and gone back on his commitment to democracy, and a clutch of inexperienced political lightweights.


Many are saying that come the elections, people won't be making their way to the polling stations at all, not even to register a protest vote. The feeling is that only the president's closest supporters will turn up for the ballot.


It's no secret that people have grown tired of President Askar Akaev's ten years of government.


Much of electorate's disillusionment with Akaev stems from his failure to set a clear course for the development of the country. After each foreign visit, he comes back with a new blueprint. In recent years, he's talked of building a new Switzerland or an Asian Tiger. After a trip to Ulan Bator, many were relieved he did not insist on copying the Mongolian experience.


Disaffection with the Akaev regime has also grown in direct proportion to the disappearance of foreign grants and credits. This has unsurprisingly coincided with bureaucrats building luxury mansions, which would be the envy of Hollywood stars.


And all this has taken place against the backdrop of an increasingly impoverished population. Ninety per cent of people live below the poverty line. For many Kyrgyzstan has become a country without prospects, as evidenced by the steady stream of citizens leaving the country.


The one consolation for Kyrgyz over the last ten years of economic difficulties has been the president's commitment to democracy. But with recent parliamentary elections marred by vote-rigging and other irregularities, even this is being undermined.


The fraudulent poll coupled with the harassment of opponents led to serious disillusionment with the leader of this once democratic state. Many observers believe that Akaev is tired of being tagged as the only hope for democracy in a region of despotic regimes.


In short, the electorate has become convinced that the country needs a new leader.


However, there's no one to take the incumbent's place. It's thought around ten candidates will contest the presidential election, but none have the necessary qualities for the job.


The candidates are inexperienced and are not well enough known in the north and south of the country.


One frightened off many with his plans to divide the country in two - separating the north from the south. Another has made enemies with his attacks on the independent press. A third has promised to enforce rigid discipline and praises Islam Karimov - enough said.


The candidates with the greatest potential, the former vice-president, Felix Kulov and the businessman Daniar Usenov, have already been knocked out of the running. The former is about to be convicted and the latter has been given a suspended prison sentence.


Kulov has been accused, both openly and unofficially, of almost every crime in the book, including the organization of contract killings, tapping the entire Kyrgyz political establishment and for dereliction of duty.


And so a paradoxical situation has arisen in Kyrgyzstan: voters have almost no choice. On the one hand, the electorate is loathe to give Akaev another term. On the other, they'll probably be reluctant to give any of his rivals any support.


There's speculation that Akaev might step down before the poll and appoint a successor to contest the election. The problem is that none of his cronies are up to the task. Moreover, they would have to win the people's trust, which seems very unlikely given the leader and his entourage are collectively blamed for the terrible state of the country.


Though Akaev has not announced his intention to run for another term, those close to him have begun to unofficially campaign on his behalf. Not that they have to try very hard as the entire country, from the judiciary to regional administrations, are in the pocket of the president.


The erosion of democracy and basic freedoms in Kyrgyzstan, it seems, is destined to complete the jigsaw of Central Asia's authoritarian regimes.


Ermek Boronbaev is the pseudonym for a Kyrgyz political analyst.


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