Analysts and reporters familiar with Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election last week are skeptical of the results giving incumbent President Kurmanbek Bakiyev a landslide victory. Official results showed Bakiyev winning 76 % of the vote.
“Most people in Kyrgyzstan do not believe elections conducted by incumbents are fair,” said Eurasian expert Paul Goble. “The assumption in that part of the world is that people in power manipulate elections,” he added.
Ballot Box Manipulation
Monitors with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the election “fell short of key standards Kyrgyzstan committed to.” There were reports of ballot box stuffing, multiple voting, vote buying, and intimidation.
Alisher Khamidov, a journalist in Kyrgyzstan, called the election the “worst” in terms of irregularities and falsifications. He said the incumbent president’s main supporters were linked to the state through state jobs – for example, schools, hospitals, military institutions, and the police. “I’ve observed that myself, and I’ve seen how teachers were forced to vote and how community leaders forced others in their neighborhoods to vote.” He said he also witnessed people voting several times.
Election Results A Foregone Conclusion
For Khamidov, there were few signs of a democratic process. “The general mood among people to whom I spoke was one of apathy,” Khamidov said. Because people knew that President Bakiyev would be re-elected, Khamidov said many did not bother to vote.
For that reason, Khamidov questions figures published by the Kyrgyz Central Election Committee showing a voter turnout of 80 %. “What many observers are puzzled about is that this show-up is incredible is for a country the majority of whose residents are labor migrants,” Khamidov said. Many of them are in Russia, he explained. “So the fact that the President received more than 70 % of the vote and the show-up was above 80 % tells us there were definitely fraud and irregularities,” he said.
Russian journalist Dmitri Siderov has seen this sort of process before. “It applies to Kyrgyzstan. It applies to Russia. It applies to almost every country of the former Soviet Union,” said Siderov, Washington bureau chief of Kommersant daily newspaper. “We are dealing with so many countries where the existence of democracy is highly questionable.”
Kyrgyzstan is No Iran
Opposition protests against the election in Kyrgyzstan have been shut-down by authorities. Police in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, detained scores of opposition demonstrators on Wednesday (July 29) after marches protesting the results.
Goble suggests the Kyrgyz opposition has every intention to continue its public protests. However, he said moral support expressed by Western nations for the Kyrgyz opposition has been tepid by comparison with that voiced for Iran.
US Likely To Remain Silent
One complicating factor has been a recent agreement signed between Mr. Bakiyev’s government and the United States allowing continued American use of the Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan for the transit of troops and supplies to Afghanistan. That agreement, according to Goble, may have effectively eliminated strong U.S. criticism of the conduct of Kyrgyzstan’s presidential elections.
“If governments come to believe that, if they grant Americans basing rights, then they will be exempt from any criticism of the way they manage their domestic affairs, it could mean that the United States will have more bases in this region, but ultimately less influence,” Goble said. “I think the United States should be very clear about its support for democracy, even in countries where we have basing agreements,” he added.
Russian journalist Siderov said he thinks that’s exactly what happened. But he calls it a political reality. He said military cooperation and diplomatic support in critical areas often come with strings attached.
Goble, Khamidov, and Siderov were interviewed on VOA’s International Press Club by the program’s host, Judith Latham. International Press Club is a regular Thursday feature heard on VOA English programs around the world.