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Kyrgyzstan: OSCE Election Charter “Patronising”

Candidates dismiss organisation’s proposal to bolster public confidence in the presidential election.
By Leila Saralaeva

Four of the seven candidates set to run for Kyrgyzstan’s presidency next month have refused to sign a “gentlemanly agreement” drafted by the OSCE, laying out the proper way to behave during an election.

It had been argued that this kind of “morally binding” document would boost public confidence in the election process, which officially got underway on June 14 with the announcement of the names of the seven candidates approved to take part.

But those who refused to sign up to the OSCE project argued that it was not just redundant, but also patronising.

The launch of the so-called Charter of Accord took place in the Bishkek Hyatt hotel on June 13, on the eve of the official start of the presidential election campaign.

The OSCE invited all 11 of the individuals who at that stage - before Kyrgyzstan’s Central Election Commission, CEC, finished vetting candidates - were hoping to run for president.

They were due to sign the charter in the presence of representatives from the OSCE, the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, and other international organisations. Also in the audience were ambassadors from a number of Bishkek embassies, top Kyrgyz officials and journalists.

“This is not a legal document, it will not have weight in court,” said Beata Martin-Rozumilowicz, the electoral advisor from the OSCE’s office in Bishkek, said at the event.

“It is a morally binding document, a ‘gentlemanly agreement’. It was developed on the basis of the experiences of over a dozen countries which have made the choice to move to democracy.”

Each signatory of the charter would agree to “fulfil his obligations and exercise his rights in strict accordance with the legislation of the country. To follow the ideals and standards of the OSCE. To be guided by moral principles and the traditions of Kyrgyz society.”

Four of the seven candidates set to run in the ballot refused to sign the charter. They are Toktoaiym Umetalieva, Keneshbek Duishebaev, Tursunbai Bakir uulu and Jypar Jeksheev.

The document also underlines that it is unacceptable to “use any methods of physical and psychological force and intimidation during the period of preparing and conducting elections, and after elections”.

Elsewhere, presidential hopefuls promise “to refrain from speeches provoking violence, hatred, ethnic, racial and religious hostility” and “not to allow illegal interference or influence during the election campaign using advantages of position or previously held positions”.

Furthermore, each signatory undertakes “not to become involved in corruption with the aim of influencing the choice of voters, including receiving votes by bribery, deceit, threats, forgery and violent seizure of polling booths”.

Alojz Peterle, the personal representative of the OSCE chairman-in-office for participating states in Central Asia, attended the event to lend his support to the project.

“I was informed that this document was not prepared for Kyrgyzstan, but together with Kyrgyzstan,” he told the gathered audience. “I was told that all candidates took part in developing this document.”

“The benefit [of the charter] is that it will help to develop the confidence of ordinary citizens in fair elections. The OSCE will not be the guarantor that this document will be fulfilled, the candidates themselves are the guarantors.”

The document also won praise from a number of Kyrgyz politicians.

Adakhan Madumarov, the acting deputy prime minister, said the document, “should be signed so that all the candidates agree at this stage on democratic principles... on the values of our people, our society, so that no candidate can have the chance to use certain forces.

“We ourselves wanted this document, which will not have legal obligation but purely moral, psychological and human obligation.”

Gaisha Ibragimova, who signed the charter but ultimately failed to gather the required number of signatures in support of her candidacy, was also positive. “Everyone who signs this document will take on the responsibility to ensure that the election campaign and voting are clean, transparent and based on honour and dignity,” she said.

“I will sign any document if it supports democracy, justice and stability. Even ordinary people can sign it,” said Nazarbek Nyshanov, another signatory who failed to secure approval from the CEC.

But in the event, only seven of the presidential hopefuls even turned up for the signing ceremony.

A common complaint amongst those who declined to sign the charter was that the document constituted an unnecessary and patronising intervention by a foreign organisation into Kyrgyz domestic politics.

“All the candidates [have already] signed the ‘codex of honour’, the internal document of the country which says that we have a developed civil society,” said Toktaiym Umetalieva.

Toktaiym explained that “the remaining registered candidates instructed me not to sign this document because Kyrgyzstan is a country of advanced ideas. We have a... highly developed civil society which is not obliged at the order of outside experts to sign the conditions of a D-grade pupil or a bandit”.

Keneshbek Duishebaev agreed that Kyrgyzstan’s own codex of honour is perfectly sufficient, and also added that in his opinion the latter document is “much stronger than the charter in its moral criteria”.

Duishebaev protested that the charter could not be taken seriously, “especially since we [presidential candidates] had criticism about the document... and we asked for this to be taken into account. But the OSCE did not take this into consideration... and we were not given the final draft to read”.

The claim that candidates were not able to see the text of the charter before the signing ceremony was echoed by Umetalieva.

Even Akbaraly Aitikeev, a presidential candidate who gained approval from the CEC and in fact eventually signed the charter, was disparaging of the project.

“Today’s event shows that the OSCE is a master of hack work, today’s financial expenses... were simply wasted,” he said. “The text really should have been written by each candidate but our opinions were ignored. I would like to appeal to the leadership of the OSCE to take control of their employees working in our country.”

In the end, only six of the original 11 presidential hopefuls signed the document. And of these five signatories, only three – Aitikeev, Jusupbek Sharipov, former Jalalabad governor, and current acting president Kurmanbek Bakiev – actually made it into the final seven whose candidacy has been approved by the CEC.

On the other hand, those who refused to endorse the charter were themselves subject to criticism from some quarters.

Kubanychbek Apas, who signed the document but failed to secure approval from the CEC, claimed that the protesters were all supporters of unpopular former president Askar Akaev, whose government collapsed amid mass demonstrations in March.

“They wanted to turn the charter into a show, a rowdy meeting,” he told IWPR. “I was ashamed of these former colleagues of Akaev who were being openly provocative.”

Nazarbek Nyshanov, who also signed the charter but also failed to have his candidacy approved, told IWPR that fervent attacks on the OSCE by Umetalieva in particular looked like “an organised act of continuing Akaev’s policy of criticising this respected international organisation”.

Others were still more cynical about the protestors’ reasons for refusing to sign the document.

Human rights activist Aziza Abdirasulova told IWPR, “If they didn’t sign this document, it means these people have shady intentions. They will in fact bring people out onto the streets and destabilise the situation in the country during elections.

“They did not like the charter’s requirements, which prescribe major responsibility before the people of the nation. So they declined to sign it in order to avoid taking responsibility.”

Leila Saralaeva is an independent journalist in Bishkek.

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