Kyrgyzstan elections signal unease with parliamentary rule
Weekend Kyrgyzstan elections came off smoothly and fairly. But they also demonstrate popular unease with reforms designed to prevent a return to one-man rule.
Despite predictions of disruption and fraud, weekend elections in Kyrgyzstan for the first genuine parliament ever to sprout in the turbulent political soil of Central Asia were peaceful and, most reports say, clean.Skip to next paragraph
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International observers praised Kyrgyzstan's polls as a mostly free and fair exercise that could go far toward erasing the little post-Soviet country's grim reputation for repetitive cycles of authoritarian rule punctuated by violent street revolts.
A new constitution, adopted by national referendum in June, stipulates that the legislature, which reflects Kyrgyzstan's ethnic and regional diversity, will set policy and determine the composition of government.
But for those hoping the polls might bring stability to Kyrgyzstan, the ominous news is that three of the five parties which managed to vault the 5 percent barrier for winning representation in the new 120-seat parliament are opposed to the new constitution and have pledged to work for restoration of a "presidential" system of strong, one man rule.
"This is the first time that we have had such transparent and objective elections, with a truly unpredictable outcome like this," says Mars Sariyev, an analyst with the independent Institute of Social Policy in Bishkek. "But the outcome is a shock. No one expected an opposition party to take the lead, least of all our authorities. But this is democracy, and we'll have to work with the results."
Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous country of 5-million at Asia's heart, has been the object of a strategic tug-of-war between Russia, which maintains a military airfield at Kant, and the US, whose airbase at Manas is an increasingly crucial link in efforts to resupply NATO forces in nearby Afghanistan as political turmoil and enemy action threaten to shut down the main route through Pakistan, as was made clear by Pakistan's recent closure of the Khyber pass to NATO traffic, since lifted.
The biggest surprise, with almost all votes tallied, is that the Kyrgyz nationalist Ata Zhurt party, which includes former colleagues of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was leading with around 9 percent support. Analysts suggest that anxious ethnic Kyrgyz voters may have rallied to the party after bloody ethnic riots rocked southern Kyrgyzstan in June.
The Ata Zhurt party, led by former emergencies minister Kamchibek Tashiyev, has sharply opposed the provisional government since it seized power from Mr. Bakiyev last April, and made its opposition to parliamentary rule a major plank in its election campaign.