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

Opposition Claims Election Bias

As parties and NGOs accuse the electoral commission of stacking the decks in favour of the president’s party, there are warnings of protests ahead.
By Aziza Amirova
Days before Kyrgyzstan goes to the polls, several parties and non-government groups have accused the country’s electoral commission of bias, saying it has acted on behalf of the current administration rather than as an impartial arbiter.



They have warned that if their complaints are not addressed, mass protests are likely either before or immediately after the December 16 ballot.



In a public statement sent to the Central Election Commission, CEC, on December 6, the parties said the commission’s conduct, especially as regards registering participants, revealed “extreme bias in favour of one participant in the election process”. By this, they meant the Ak Jol party, set up last month by Kyrgyzstan’s president, Kurmanbek Bakiev.



The signatories included registered participants in the election such as Ata-Meken, Asaba, Ar-Namys and the Social Democrats, as well as parties that the CEC has barred from standing, including Rodina and the Greens.



The CEC has granted permission to stand to only 12 of the 50 parties that applied.



“To our great misfortune, the CEC has become one of the ‘administrative resources’ used to eliminate participants in the upcoming election… whom the government deems undesirable,” said the statement.



The parties also said that the commission had “forgotten its direct official responsibilities and assumed the role of a punitive body”.



Last week, the CEC controversially dismissed Edil Baisalov, a leading Social Democrat, from the race. His offence was to place a photograph of a blank ballot paper on his web blog. Baisalov insisted his aim had been to publicise the poor security featuresof the ballot papers.



Many observers maintained that the CEC acted improperly in this instance, saying only the courts - or the party itself – had the authority to exclude a candidate from the race.



Bolobek Sherniazov, from Ata-Meken, one of the parties that signed the statement, said the election situation was now so hopeless that protests were the only option.



“The authorities… leave us no choice,” he said. “We are not asking for them to campaign for our party, we are simply asking for equal opportunities for all participants”.



Erkin Bulekbaev from the Greens told IWPR that parties were already planning a protest against the excessive use of what are called “administrative resources” – the power deployed by all branches of government in favour of one party.



“Our calls are addressed to the president and government not to mess around, and to observe the election code and the constitution, because administrative resources are being blatantly used in the election in favour of the presidential party, Ak Jol,” he complained.



“We will most likely hold protest actions before the elections.”



Bulekbaev insisted that unequal conditions for campaigning meant the electorate would not have a real choice.



Azimbek Beknazarov of Asaba told IWPR that public servants like teachers and doctors, and many ordinary people in rural areas, faced heavy pressure to vote for the pro-presidential party.



“The administration ought to stop using administrative resources, or we will undertake protest actions,” Beknazarov pledged.



Kyrgyzstan has seen a series of anti-government protests in the last couple of years, but in the capital Bishkek it has just got harder to stage public meetings Under a recent regulation introduced by the mayor of the capital Bishkek, protest organisers must notify the mayor’s office of the date of their planned rally - and its objectives - at least three days beforehand.



The lawyer for the municipal authority, Eldarbek Mamyrov, said he had not yet received written notification from any opposition parties concerning a protest.



Damir Lisovsky, a member of the CEC, dismissed the attacks on the commission as a political stunt.



“I can’t rule out the idea that behind their demands, there lies a desire to score some extra points, since there is almost no time left before the elections,” said Lisovsky.



“These steps look like PR, with the single aim of making certain parties known to people.”



“Protest actions and calls for boycotts will not affect the election at all. If they want to protest, let them.”



However, media observer Turat Akimov said there was considerable potential for major protests after the election. One of the recent concerns that has caused widespread anger, he said, was the way the regional vote threshold had been set.



Under a ruling issued by the CEC on November 19, in order to win seats in parliament, a party must receive 5 per cent of the total electorate of about 2.7 million people and 0.5 per cent of the same total for each of the seven regions and two big cities of Kyrgyzstan. Based on a national list of all voters, this works out at 13,500 people in each of the nine units.



Many parties may find this fixed threshold difficult to reach in sparsely populated rural regions such as Talas, where the total registered electorate is 121,000 people. That would mean that the 12 eligible parties will each be fighting for an 11 per cent share of all voters in Talas, an apparently impossible task given the number of people who are away working in Russia or who will simply stay at home on election day.



Akimov said the parties were seriously worried at the prospect. “Calls to boycott the election or to stage protests beforehand indicates that the parties do not have sufficient resources to overcome this minimum threshold,” he said.



However, political scientist Mars Sariev said that street protests had become so frequent in the last two years that they had lost much of their effectiveness.



“The electorate is tired of protest actions,” he said. “Opposition attempts to… again draw attention to themselves might backfire. The opposition could lose credit - and lose the election.”



Aziza Amirova is a pseudonym for an IWPR contributor in Bishkek