Tensions are running high, ahead of weekend parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan, after four opposition candidates were excluded from running in the poll, sparking public protests. The election has already come under criticism by a leading independent human rights group.
Human Rights Watch accuses the Kyrgyz government of stepping up repression in advance of Sunday's parliamentary elections, in order to halt a repeat of the same kind of public protests seen in Ukraine last year that brought a pro-Western reform government to power over entrenched government forces.
In a 12-page report released earlier this month, Human Rights Watch said the real question this weekend is whether the Kyrgyz government will meet public demands for a responsive government and fair elections, or resort to violating fundamental human rights in order to maintain its grip on power.
Sasha Petrov, who heads the Moscow branch of Human Rights Watch, says recent statements by the government to the opposition, which attempt to equate political opposition with subversion, do little to inspire hope about the election. Mr. Petrov also condemned the pre-election campaign, saying the government of President Askar Akayev took direct action to hinder opposition political activity.
"Among those negative developments in government policy that we can speak about is exclusion of some would-be candidates from the ballot recently, from proposed amendments to the law on assembly, putting limits on the places where people can assemble, which is actually a violation of rights for assembly," Mr. Petrov said. "And I can say now about those four candidates excluded from the ballot - that looks absolutely unacceptable during the election campaign."
Mr. Petrov says in these final hours before the election, Human Rights Watch is still urging Kyrgyz authorities to take specific steps to ensure a free and fair election.
"We urge the government first of all to withdraw excessive limits on places where people can assemble, sign into law the reversal of the unreasonable restrictions that prevents diplomats who work abroad from running for office - meaning that one of the excluded candidates worked for several years abroad and so she hasn't been allowed to run for (the) presidency - (and) the last point, but one of the most important, is (the) demand to cease harassment of opposition and civil society leaders," Mr. Petrov said.
Mr. Petrov says Human Rights Watch is sure that these steps are in Kyrgyzstans' own stated interest to promote democratic development.
For much of the past week, thousands of demonstrators have blocked key roads in at least two separate protests against the disqualification of leading opposition candidates. Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy in Kyrgyzstan is urging the government to restore power to the republic's only independent printing house, which processes the main opposition and non-government publications.
Mr. Petrov says he and other analysts believe President Akayev, who has vowed not to stand in the presidential election later this year, October 30, is eager to see that power passes to people or parties who will be favorable toward the current first family, which has extensive business interests in the country.
Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Minister, Askar Aitmatov, on a visit to Moscow earlier this month, told reporters that a revolution in Kyrgyzstan risks unfolding not like in Ukraine or Georgia, but like in Tajikistan, where a civil war broke out in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Voters in neighboring Tajikistan will also head to the polls Sunday to elect a new parliament. In that contest, a total of 226 candidates will compete for 63 seats.
More than 500 international observers and thousands of local observers will be on hand to monitor the elections, which are seen as a possible indicator of the outcome of the presidential election due next year.
Tajikistan's political opposition has already denounced the poll as a farce. The opposition says there cannot be free and fair elections due to what they say is pressure from the ruling People's Democratic Party, which is expected to dominate Sunday's elections.