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Allegations of Wrongdoing Follow Kyrgyz Parliamentary Vote That Largely Shut Out Opposition

An October 5 rally in downtown Bishkek against the preliminary results of Kyrgyzstan's October 4 parliamentary election
An October 5 rally in downtown Bishkek against the preliminary results of Kyrgyzstan's October 4 parliamentary election

Amidst complaints about ballot-box stuffing and media harassment, only one opposition party gained seats in Kyrgyzstan’s 120-seat legislature, according to preliminary results from the Central Asian country’s October 4 parliamentary elections. With nearly equal percentages of the vote, the pro-government Birimdik (Unity) and Mekenim Kyrgzystan (My Homeland Kyrgyzstan) parties dominate the four parties who gained seats.

No single party has a clear majority. Newcomer Birimdik, which recently sparked protests for comments suggesting that Kyrgyzstan should give up on independence and return to a close union with Russia, received 24.5 percent of the ballots cast. Mekenim Kyrgzystan, associated with the powerful Matraimov family clan, gained 23.88 percent, though asserts that its actual result was higher.

The remaining parties -- Kyrgyzstan (8.76 percent) and the opposition Butun Kyrgyzstan (United Kyrgyzstan) (7.21 percent) – barely made it over the 7-percent-of-the-vote threshold required to enter parliament.

Three opposition parties – the anti-corruption campaigner Reforma (Reform) and incumbent parliamentary members Ata Meken (Fatherland), and Bir Bol (Unite) – did not receive enough votes to gain seats. Overall, 16 parties took part in the election.

At least a few hundred demonstrators gathered outside parliament in Bishkek on October 5 to protest the vote’s legitimacy. Other protests are also planned, the independent news outlet reported. Out of the four parties that entered parliament, only Birimdik appears content with the result.

Turnout was 56 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s 3.5 million voters, according to preliminary official data.

International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights considered that “fundamental rights and freedoms were overall respected.” It took issue, however, with “an overall lack of critical journalistic reporting and issue-based debate,” as well as “controversial” CEC decisions that excluded some candidates, and reports of vote-buying.

Kyrgyzstan is often considered the most democratic country in Central Asia, but some of the reported election-day practices are reminiscent of more authoritarian states.

Media cited the handing out of pre-marked ballots and voters photographing their ballots in contravention of election regulations. Many voters were taken in mini-vans to the polls, though this is not illegal under Kyrgyz law.

Election violations, including harassment of journalists, were detected at 31 polling stations nationwide, the Central Election Commission stated.

“There were cases when they didn’t let journalists into polling stations,” CEC member Atyr Abdrakhmatova told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service.

Information about these cases already has been given to law-enforcement organs, and the CEC also is investigating, Abdrakhmatova said.

In the southern city of Osh, not far from polling station number 5316, unknown people also attacked two journalists from the independent online news outlet Kloop. The individuals tried to interfere with their camerаman’s filming and seize his video camera. They briefly took away the journalists’ phones.

Meanwhile, in the northwestern town of Talas, one woman hit the camera of a Kyrgyz Service journalist reporting about long lines at a polling station. Many wanted to vote using a special document that allows them to vote in a polling station for a district where they do not have a residence permit.

Physical violence also occurred.

Klara Sooronkulova, chairwoman of the anti-corruption Reforma party, told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service that she was attacked at a polling station in the southern city of Osh.

"There were no signs of the government, state, or police there," Sooronkulova said

The controversies are likely to continue after the new parliament is sworn into office.

Over the last five years, since the last election, the Kyrgyz parliament has been criticized for deputies’ lobbying for business interests and copying draft laws from Russian parliamentarians.

Correspondents from Current Time and RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, however, also found a series of systematic violations of the rules regulating how parliament functions. The team analyzed official attendance and vote records on parliament’s website and watched hundreds of video recordings of legislative sessions to reach this conclusion.

The most frequent – and most serious – violations are voting for absent colleagues and skipping out on parliament sessions.

Over the past four years, the 120-seat Kyrgyz legislature has never had a session with full attendance.

Parliament meets only twice a week – on Wednesdays and Thursdays. No more than 116 have attended since 2016, however, and that turnout occurred only twice. Sometimes, it appears difficult for even a quorum of 61 deputies to gather.

But all of these figures are on paper.

Video from the legislative sessions shows that sometimes no more than a few dozen people are in the hall, even though the official record mentions over 60. That means some laws perhaps may have been adopted without a quorum.

Those who came to parliament on February 5, 2020, for instance, are seen actively pressing buttons to vote in the place of their absent colleagues.

Missing a vote without a valid reason carries a fine of 10 percent of the deputy’s monthly salary, but interviewed parliamentarians said they had no recollection of someone being fined.

Some deputies, including prominent politicians, simply show up for work in the morning, have their attendance recorded, and then leave.

“Really, there are colleagues whom we don’t see and don’t hear. But it’s possible their documents conceal this well,” commented incumbent Ata Meken deputy Natalya Nikitenko.

Parliamentary regulations directly forbid deputies from having colleagues vote in their stead. Nonetheless, deputies openly admit that this frequently occurs.

“This is banned by law, but has become a customary affair,” confirmed incumbent deputy Zhanarbek Akayev. “Deputies already don’t consider this a violation.”

“I’ve voted not only for my colleagues from the faction,” but a neighbor from the Ata Meken party as well, acknowledged outgoing opposition Bir Bol deputy Akylbek Zhaparov.

“This is a violation, truly? Well, what can I do? They ask me,” Zhaparov commented. “I leave, I have lectures, meetings. I also ask [people] to vote on less important issues, although this also shouldn’t be a violation.”

Eighty-four of parliament’s 120 deputies ran for reelection on October 4. What measures will be taken to reinforce the new legislature’s rules of procedure are, as yet, unknown.

-With additional reporting from Kloop,kg, Radio Azattyk, and TASS