New Kyrgyz Leader to Reach Out to Opponents
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||31 October 2011|
|Citation / Document Symbol||RCA Issue 661|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, New Kyrgyz Leader to Reach Out to Opponents, 31 October 2011, RCA Issue 661, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4eb3d92d2.html [accessed 20 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
The outright victory of Almazbek Atambaev in Kyrgyzstan's presidential election has avoided a widely-expected second round of voting in which he would have faced a strong challenge from the second- and third-placed candidates. But he is likely to offer one or both of them a senior position in order to neutralise possible protests.
According to results from the October 30 election which are still preliminary but with almost all ballots counted, 55-year-old Atambaev won 63 per cent of the vote, sailing past the 50-per cent mark he needed to win outright.
Some way behind, his nearest rivals were former speaker of parliament Adakhan Madumarov with close to 15 per cent of the vote and Ata-Jurt party leader Kamchybek Tashiev with just over 14 per cent. Unlike Atambaev, both men hail from the south of Kyrgyzstan, a country where regional allegiances are an important factor in politics.
The other 13 candidates were far behind, none getting over one per cent of the vote.
Turnout was slightly more than 60 per cent of the three million eligible voters, according to the Central Election Commission, CEC.
Until stepping down to stand as a candidate, Atambaev served as prime minister in the coalition government formed following an October 2010 parliamentary election. Before that, he was part of the interim administration that replaced President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who was ousted by mass protests in April 2010.
Analysts say Atambaev, a wealthy businessman, owes his victory to a well-funded campaign, the high profile he enjoyed as prime minister, and a very high turnout in his stronghold in northern Kyrgyzstan.
Sheradil Baktygulov, a Bishkek-based expert on public administration, said Atambaev might not be the ideal winner, but things could have been a lot worse given a field of candidates that included Kyrgyz nationalists and complete outsiders.
This election is the first peaceful transfer of presidential power that Kyrgyzstan has experienced. Bakiev's predecessor, the long-serving Askar Akaev, was forced out by similar protests in 2005. The outgoing interim president, Roza Otunbaeva, was barred from standing in this election but showed no inclination to change the rules to enable her to do so.
The vote also marks the conclusion of a process of political reforms ensuing from a constitutional referendum held in late June 2010, which turned Kyrgyzstan into the first Central Asian republic where it is parliament, not the president, that holds most of the reins of power.
The fact that the election went off without violence is an achievement in itself, given that southern Kyrgyzstan was rocked to the core by several days of ethnic violence in early June last year.
Assuming the CEC confirms his victory, Atambaev's most pressing concern is likely to be calming his two principal rivals, who have already said they will contest the outcome.
Madumarov called for a recount, saying he had information that Atambaev got just under 50 per cent while he himself won 32 per cent of the vote – enough to trigger a second round. But he promised not to stage public protests, and instead said he would follow "the legal route" to pressing his claim.
Tashiev called for the results to be annulled, warning that if this did not happen, the authorities would be "punished" by the Kyrgyz people.
There were reports of around 300 protesters gathering in the southern town of Jalalabad where support for Tashiev is strong. A similar number blocked a highway that links the south and north of the country. But according to one eyewitness, a journalist who asked not to be named, police kept things well under control and the protests fizzled out in a couple of hours.
"The situation has been calm in the town today. This [protest] action didn't cause any alarm. There was no panic. All the shops are open," the journalist said, noting that the regional government offices were under police guard but no additional forces had been drafted in.
Tashiev's spokesman distanced him from the protests, saying these were just ordinary people expressing their own views without any prompting.
"He did not call on people to stage a rally or block the road. We are not going to talk to them and urge them to calm down," Nurgazy Anarkulov told the Knews.kg news agency.
In the south's main city Osh, an even smaller protest involving around 30 people took place. Gathering in the central square, they claimed that the election was "dirty" and accused Atambaev of using the resources of the state to help secure his victory.
In an apparent attempt to appease Tashiev and Madumarov, Atambaev was quick to suggest they might take up posts in government. He called the two men "real politicians" who would not want to stir up trouble by organising protests – contrasting them with other, unnamed figures who he said might have an interest in instability.
"All problems need to be resolved through negotiations. From now on, there will be no revolutions in Kyrgyzstan," Atambaev said.
Baktygulov said threats to contest the election results should be seen as a manoeuvre by losing candidates hoping to extract some advantage.
"I think the losing candidates' followers had thought in advance about possible scenarios following the election," he said. "What's happening now is that one of these scenarios is being enacted. It signals the start of a negotiating process."
Baktygulov said that while the losers had an interest in recouping something from the election, Atambaev would gain as well by bringing powerful southern politicians on board.
But he predicted that only one of the two would get an offer – perhaps the job of prime minister, or deputy prime minister. But he doubted that either candidate would try to build a protest movement on the streets if he was the one spurned.
"If Tashiev is left out, he will quietly go back to his parliamentary duties, lead the [Ata-Jurt] faction and work on scoring points in parliament by criticising Atambaev," Baktygulov said, adding that Madumarov would also be active in opposition and would be busy laying the ground for the next parliamentary election, due in 2015.
Although election monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the vote left them "cautiously optimistic about the future of democracy in Kyrgyzstan", there were allegations of abuses.
"Candidate registration was inclusive, giving voters a wide choice, and the campaign was open and respected fundamental freedoms," the OSCE team said in a statement, noting also "significant irregularities" such as missing names on voter lists, ballot-box stuffing, multiple and family voting, vote buying, and the busing in of voters.
Dinara Oshurakhunova, head of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, also spoke of "serious violations" in the electoral process, and called on the CEC to investigate reports of problems like ballot-stuffing. But she too concluded that overall, voting was competitive and transparent.
The CEC's deputy head Gulnura Jurabaeva accepted that some irregularities took place but said they were being investigated.
"We acknowledge that violations did take place at some polling stations, where there were even local election commission members who worked in support of certain candidates," she said.
Irina Karamushkina, a member of parliament from Atambaev's Social Democratic Party, said she had checked up on claims that his campaigners had tried to bribe election monitors, and found them to be without substance – and possibly even a deliberate attempt to discredit him.
If there was wrongdoing on anyone's part, she said, it was not widespread enough to affect the overall outcome.
Karamushkina said that while losing candidates had every right to lodge complaints about the voting process, they ought to remember that they too had made pledges to work for peace, stability and order in Kyrgyzstan.
"This was a victory for the people, not for Atambaev," she said. "People have really entrusted him with their country and its future. The important thing is that he now has to justify that trust. We'll see in six years' time."