Kyrgyzstan goes to presidential polls today
BISHKEK: Voters in the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan go to the polls on Sunday to elect a president to succeed ousted leader Askar Akayev, but for some observers the vote has already been marred by a lack of any real choice.
Widely tipped to win is interim president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a former electrical engineer and Akayev-era prime minister who was swept to power as protestors stormed the seat of government, the White House, on March 24, prompting Akayev to flee to Russia.
Bakiyev has secured himself a near-certain victory by neutralizing the threat posed by his main rival, ex-security boss and former political prisoner Felix Kulov, who exited the race on a promise that he would be made prime minister.
Ahead of the vote a number of other candidates were knocked out on technicalities, leaving Bakiyev competing against five virtually unknown candidates who barely campaigned at all.
This has taken aback some of the Western election monitors who have flooded into the country, hoping to see a genuine contest. But others have been heartened by the recent changes and believe that the March ouster of the country’s first post-Soviet leader marked the start of a new, more hopeful chapter in Kyrgyzstan’s history. “The cards are distributed in a new way, I don’t believe the new president will be able to get the same position of power Akayev had,” Markus Mueller, head of the Bishkek office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), told AFP in an interview.
Bakiyev’s campaign has focussed on battling clan-linked corruption — endemic during the Akayev years — promising democratization, and bringing a modicum of stability to the restless nation.
On the campaign trail in the small town of Balykchy on Friday, he was frank about the depth of the corruption problem. “The only place where we don’t have corruption is in the home, between a man and his wife and his children,” he said.
But while the vote may appear a foregone conclusion, it has been overshadowed by continued unrest.
On Friday, only two days ahead of polling, around 100 people fought for control of a regional bazaar in the volatile town of Kara-Suu in southern Kyrgyzstan.
It was just one of many fierce property disputes that have erupted amid a partial breakdown in law and order since Akayev’s ouster.
In addition, a number of wealthy business and political figures have urged voters to cast their ballots against all candidates, with the aim of ensuring that no candidate gains more than 50 percent of votes, in which case the election would go to a second round run-off vote, thus concentrating the opposition to Bakiyev.
The wider fear voiced by some politicians is that the country could be sliding into prolonged instability, especially after clashes between police and several thousand protestors in and around the White House on June 17. But despite such jitters, authorities have insisted that voting will pass off calmly. “There will not be another June 17. Security forces are in control of the country and are on alert for election day to respond to any provocation,” Interior Minister Murat Sutalinov told AFP.
Western observers meanwhile have voiced concern at Bakiyev’s seeming embrace of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a six-nation regional security bloc that is led by Moscow and Beijing and has been criticized by campaigners for a lack of respect for human rights.
At a summit meeting earlier this month, Bakiyev along with the bloc’s five other leaders, signed a declaration calling for “non-interference” in the countries’ internal affairs — a move widely seen as a swipe at Washingtonn’s growing role in a region long seen as Moscow’s sphere of influence. afp