Low Expectations of Presidential Poll Among Kyrgyz Voters

Informal survey suggests most people believe current president won’t face serious challenge.

Low Expectations of Presidential Poll Among Kyrgyz Voters

Informal survey suggests most people believe current president won’t face serious challenge.

Saturday, 11 July, 2009

An IWPR straw poll suggests that most voters believe the outcome of the July 23 presidential election is a foregone conclusion, with incumbent Kurmanbek Bakiev likely to beat all five challengers.

Even the other candidates appear doubtful of their chances of unseating Bakiev as he bids for a second term. Some analysts suspect that a number of candidates never expected to win, and have other reasons for putting their names forward.

The leading challenger is Almazbek Atambaev, the common candidate of a grouping of opposition parties called the United People’s Movement, UPM.

The others are Temir Sariev, the Ak Shumkar party leader who broke with the UPM in order to stand; Toktaim Umetalieva, who heads the Association of Non-Commercial and Non-Government Organisations; Jenishbek Nazaraliev, a high-profile doctor specialising in treating drug users; and Nurlan Motuev, who heads the Joomart Patriotic Movement, is co-leader of the Kyrgyz Muslim Union, and defied the authorities by taking control of a coal mine and running it for a year in 2006-07, for which he was later tried but not convicted.

Out of 45 people polled by IWPR, 38 predicted that Bakiev would win.

Many were pessimistic about the election as an exercise in democracy. Fifteen said the results would be rigged, and the same number again refused to answer the question.

“People are profoundly uninterested in this election, as they can see everything is being done to ensure Bakiev wins,” said one of the respondents, a taxi driver. “They are tired of talking about it over and over again.”

Another respondent said, “Who are we supposed to choose? You know, we’ve have had so many elections that now we don’t expect anything from anybody. We’ve kind of got used to Bakiev.

This person concluded, “The election will be unfair. I don’t think anyone is in any doubt that Bakiev will become president.”

According to political analyst Mars Sariev, public apathy about politics results from belief that nothing will really ever change in Kyrgyz politics.

“The public perceives the political battle as something that’s unconnected with them,” he said. “People are preoccupied with their own problems. Even if they’re unhappy, there’s nothing they can do about it. There is also the fear factor; people are afraid of the powers that be.”

In public, each of Bakiev’s rivals is asserting that he or she will win – as long as the vote is free and fair, that is.

Toktaim Umetalieva, the only female candidate, ran against Bakiev first time round in July 2005, soon after opposition rallies led to the ousting of then president Askar Akaev.

In that election, she scored the least number of votes of any candidate. This time, she is not optimistic.

“Let’s face it, each of us [except Bakiev] has only a tiny chance of winning. You know, we don’t all have the same opportunities,” she told IWPR.

Temir Sariev says he could win if the election was conducted in an above-board manner, but added, “We come across unfair [methods of] competition as we go around the regions and meet people.”

Atambaev’s chances are not rated very highly, even by UPM members.

“There will be no fair election as long as Bakiev is president,” said Bakyt Beshimov, who is heading up the UPM campaign team. “The authorities are using administrative resources and manipulation, methods which were tried and tested in a previous referendum and parliamentary election.”

At the same time, Beshimov said the UPM was relying on the good sense of the electorate.

“Our goal is to mobilise people to express their choice on election day,” he said.

Political analyst Marat Kazakpayev believes some candidates may be hoping that honourable defeat in the contest will raise their profile and lead to them being offered a post in the political establishment.

“For candidates, it will be a huge advantage to come in second or third. They will be offered good positions in the power structure,” he said.

Of the five challengers, only Motuev has indicated that he is not opposed to Bakiev even as he runs against him.

O July 8, he withdrew from a scheduled radio debate with Bakiev due to be aired the following day. He told AKIpress news agency that the president had done a great deal for Kyrgyzstan in his first term.

“Our [election] programmes are largely similar, and we don’t have anything to argue about,” he said. “We are like allies who have no disagreements between them. Moreover, I wouldn’t want to distract him from his duties.”

Some analysts believe the opposition will wait until the election is over and then try to stage mass public protests around allegations of ballot-rigging.

“The situation may escalate right straight after the election, some time in the autumn, or else next spring, when current social and economic problems are aggravated,” said Mars Sariev.

At the end of the first week of campaigning, civil society activists also appeared pessimistic about the way the election was likely to go.

A number of non-government organisations had earlier set up a group called the Union of Civil Organisations for Voters’ Rights, to monitor the election campaign and observe the ballot itselve.

On June 30, the group held its first press conference where it spoke about the alleged procedural violations it had uncovered.

According to Asiya Sasykbaeva, whose Interbilim organisation is part of the monitoring group, it was clear who was going to win from the way things were going.

“This is not going to be an election, but rather an appointment,” she said during the press conference.

Timur Toktonaliev is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan.

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