WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 519, December 5, 2007
KYRGYZ PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION:
POPULAR POLITICIAN BARRED FROM KYRGYZ POLLS Decision to ban Edil Baisalov from
polls for showing a ballot paper on his blog has aroused controversy. By Aziza
Amirova in Bishkek
DREAMS OF LANDSLIDE UNLIKELY FOR PRESIDENTS PARTY Ak Jol is often likened to
the presidential parties in Russia and Kazakstan, but the comparisons dont go
very far. By Gulnara Mambetalieva in Bishkek
PARTIES PRICED OUT OF KYRGYZ ELECTION CAMPAIGN Politicians from the poorer
parties complain that the high cost of TV adverts in the election period makes
it impossible to buy their fair share of airtime. By Jypara Abdrahmanova in
KAZAKSTAN STEERS CLEAR OF US-RUSSIAN ARMS RACE Russian missile tests on Kazak
soil leave analysts divided on whether the Central Asian state will get
embroiled in the arms disputes of others. By IWPR staff in Central Asia
CHINAS ROAD INTO KYRGYZSTAN Link to original article by Ulugbek Babakulov in
Kyrgyzstan. Published in RCA No. 512, 19-Oct-07 By Ulugbek Babakulov
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KYRGYZ PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION
POPULAR POLITICIAN BARRED FROM KYRGYZ POLLS
Decision to ban Edil Baisalov from polls for showing a ballot paper on his blog
has aroused controversy.
By Aziza Amirova in Bishkek
A high-profile scandal over the exclusion of one of Kyrgyzstans best-known
politicians from the list of candidates only two weeks before the parliamentary
election has caused an uproar, fuelling suspicions that the authorities are
resorting to dirty tricks to sideline opponents.
Edil Baisalov, 30, who was running for the Social Democratic Party, SDP, was
barred from the race by order of the Central Electoral Commission, CEC, on
His offence was to download a photograph of a blank ballot paper onto his web
Baisalov said he only wanted to show that the ballot papers are poor-quality
and printed on plain paper, making it easier to forge them.
When the picture appeared on his website, it triggered a feverish discussion on
the net about how simple it would be to forge such ballots.
Ballot stuffing and fraud has been a major concern in past elections in the
Central Asian republic.
The CEC was unapologetic about its decision to ban Baisalov from running for
It said no one had the right to reproduce the ballot paper only a few days
before the elections, as people might copy it to make forged documents.
The blank ballot paper was of a non-standard size and had security features,
but that doesnt make it impossible to forge, said CEC member Gulya Ryskulova.
Even dollars can be forged on printers. The point is that before an election,
no one should know what the blank paper looks like so no one can fabricate it.
Baisalovs action may cost him, or his party, dear. The CEC said that because
of his action, it had decided to cancel and destroy the more than 2.7 million
ballot papers, and claim money for damages.
CEC representatives say the Social Democrats must foot the entire bill,
estimated at more than two million soms, equivalent to about 60,000 US dollars.
The previous ballot papers were blue, and the new ones will be pink. We need
to change the colour spectrum to make it hard to forge them, one CEC member
On December 4, the CEC announced that the new set of ballot papers would be
printed within the next four days, after which they would be sent out around
The CEC also asked the prosecutor generals office to look into whether
Baisalov could be prosecuted.
As a non-voting member of the CEC, he had enjoyed free access to the printing
house where the papers were being made ready. He used this access to take a
picture of one with his mobile phone camera.
Ryskulova said Baisalov had misused his position in the CEC, as members were
barred from copying internal documents.
Baisalov insisted he had not broken the law and said the SDP was filing a court
appeal against the CEC decision to exclude him.
Galina Skripkina, a well-known lawyer and Social Democrat member agreed, saying
that only the party itself had the right to remove Baisalov from the list of
candidates drawn up for this election, which is based on proportional
It will have to be proved that Baisalovs actions as a non-voting CEC member
really were illegal, said Skripkina, who argues that the candidate could not
be barred from standing until he faced criminal action.
According to human rights activist Cholpon Jakupova, it is the CEC, not
Baisalov, that exceeded its powers because it assumed the functions of a
Tamerlan Ibraimov, director of the Centre for Political and Legal Studies, said
that while the election code provides an exhaustive listing of reasons why
candidates can be excluded, the grounds cited by the CEC are not among them.
If Baisalov is accused of a breach of criminal legislation, there must be a
court verdict proving his guilt, he said. Under current legislation, Edil
Baisalov ought to be reinstated in the SDP list.
Human rights activists say the CEC ought to have been grateful to Baisalov for
informing the public about the low quality of the blank ballot papers.
Nazgul Turdubekova, coordinator of the Youth Human Rights group, alleged that
the CEC had been going to get rid of the ballot papers anyway.
The election commission is now trying to place the responsibility on
Baisalovs shoulders, because he was the first to talk about how standards had
been breached in the production process, and he wanted to prove this using the
photo, she said. They [CEC] had decided to destroy the entire consignment, so
they wanted to cover their tracks.
Baisalov agrees that his real offence was to expose the poor quality of the
ballot papers. As a member of the CEC
I had an opportunity to see that the
ballots were printed on plain paper, in defiance of the election code, he
wrote on his site.
Now they are saying that if there is a possibility that ballot papers will be
forged, it will be because of me. Such accusations by the CEC are nothing but
an attempt to shift the responsibility to me and make me a scapegoat. These
ballot papers are low-security documents. I spoke about this yesterday and Ill
say it again today.
Aziza Amirova is the pseudonym of an independent journalist in Bishkek.
DREAMS OF LANDSLIDE UNLIKELY FOR PRESIDENTS PARTY
Ak Jol is often likened to the presidential parties in Russia and Kazakstan,
but the comparisons dont go very far.
By Gulnara Mambetalieva in Bishkek
As Kyrgyzstan braces for parliamentary polls this month, political observers
have been quick to draw parallels between the likely winner, Ak Jol, and two
other political steamrollers in the region Nur Otan of Kazakstan and United
But while all three are seen as parties of their countries respective
presidents, seasoned observers say the useful comparisons stop there. Thus, Ak
Jol will probably gain more seats in the Kyrgyz parliament than any of its
rivals, but it will not be able to repeat the landslide successes the other two
parties have enjoyed.
Comparisons with United Russia and Nur Otan were quick to emerge after
President Kurmanbek Bakiev set up Ak Jol up in October.
But while Nur Otan was the only party to make it into the lower house of the
Kazakh parliament in August - while United Russia gained a thumping 65 per cent
of votes in Russias December 2 election - Kyrgyz analysts doubt Ak Jol will
win an overwhelming majority of seats after the December 16 Kyrgyz
Kyrgyzstan-based political analyst Shaiyr Juraev said that in spite of the
apparent similarities shared by the three parties, the Kazak and Russian
scenario was unlikely to work in Kyrgyzstan because of significant differences
The parallels are obvious, as these parties are pro-presidential and get
direct and open support from their [countries] presidents, he said.
But there is a difference in resources [Kazak president Nursultan] Nazarbaev
has powerful ones at his disposal and the ability to use the [positive]
economic situation in his political game, but Bakiev does not have such
Ak Jol will not be able to become a version of Nur Otan, Juraev continued.
Nur Otan has 100 per cent of seats in the Kazakh parliament. Such a situation
is most unlikely in Kyrgyzstan.
Nur Omarov, another Kyrgyz political analyst, said Ak Jol had neither the
political and ideological resources, nor a sufficiently long and successful
track-record, to gain an absolute majority of votes.
Under the proportional representation system envisaged by the new constitution
which was passed by referendum in October, a party that gets an absolute
majority of the 90 seats in parliament wins the right to form a government.
Until now, governments have been appointed by the Kyrgyz president.
Omarov noted that Nur Otan had been in existence since 1998 and was based on a
strict vertical power structure inherited from the Soviet communist era. Its
power rests also on the enormous personal authority of the Kazak president,
which increases its position and profile.
In recent years, Kazakstan has enjoyed dramatic oil-related growth rates and
the biggest flow of foreign investment and the most developed banking sector in
None of those circumstances pertain in Kyrgyzstan. Bakiev came to power only
two years ago, the economy is in poor shape and Ak Jol emerged only last month.
Ak Jol does not have all these [advantages] because it is newly formed, said
Omarov. It takes years for a party to become really popular, and Ak Jol
doesnt have that behind it. Moreover, the president is not seen as the supreme
source of power and authority.
Bakiev came to power in Kyrgyzstan after the March 2005 protests which ousted
the then president, Askar Akaev. The revolution was triggered by popular
dissatisfaction with the outcome of parliamentary elections.
However, the political instability that has continued since Bakievs accession
to power has left the president weak by the standards of other Central Asian
In the case of Nazarbaev, he is the source of legitimacy for the [Nur Otan]
party. It is not clear who is supporting whom in Kyrgyzstan whether Bakiev
supports the party or whether which is more likely - he is reliant on Ak
Jol, said Juraev.
Bakievs recent constitutional reforms, under which parliament will be formed
by proportional representation, may help his new party do better in the polls,
according to Esen Usubaliev of the Institute for Strategic Analysis and
Forecasting in Bishkek.
Usubaliev is cautious about making firm predictions, though. It is hard to say
whether Ak Jol will win some seats or a majority, or indeed whether it has more
support than any other party, he said.
Edil Baisalov, deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Party, said he doubted
that Ak Jol enjoyed much bedrock support in society.
In contrast to Nur Otan and United Russia, Ak Jol has been created right on
the eve of elections and is made up of people of diverse classes and profiles,
he said. It is not clear what ideological programme, line or policy course
Omurbek Tekebaev, leader of the opposition Ata Meken party, also argues that
the pro-presidential party is not a position to win unconditional support from
If the election is fair and honest, Ak Jol is unlikely to come first, said
Tekebaev. There are no objective reasons why this party should become popular.
Andrey Butsman, of the political science department of the OSCE Academy in
Bishkek, agreed Ak Jol had done relatively little to appeal to the electorate.
He suggested that if the party did well in the ballot, this would probably
only be because it is the party of power. In any case, thats how it is
Gulnara Mambetalieva is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.
PARTIES PRICED OUT OF KYRGYZ ELECTION CAMPAIGN
Politicians from the poorer parties complain that the high cost of TV adverts
in the election period makes it impossible to buy their fair share of airtime.
By Jypara Abdrahmanova in Bishkek
Kyrgyzstans smaller and less prosperous political parties say they are being
priced out of the parliamentary election campaign by the sky-high cost of
advertising on TV channels, including even the state-run station.
Some channels have raised the price of political adverts from the normal rate
of 10 or 20 US dollars to as much as 400 dollars per minute.
Less cash-rich parties say the situation means they will only be able to access
the limited number of time slots allotted free of charge on the state channel,
National Television and Radio Company, NTRC.
The manager of one private TV company in Bishkek, who did not want to be named,
was unrepentant, saying the pre-election period was the most lucrative time
and we should benefit from it.
However, at least one member of the Central Electoral Commission, CEC, has said
the body should study Kyrgyzstans anti-monopoly legislation to find out
whether it will be possible to set a price ceiling in future. Gulya Ryskulova
was speaking on November 15, during a round table on the role of the media in
the December 16 election, organised by IWPR and the Institute of Public Policy.
Many TV channels attending the meeting admitted that advertising prices were
high, but maintained that market conditions justified them. They warned that if
lower advertising prices for political broadcasts were forced on them, the
resulting rush by parties to take advantage of them would cut into overall
airtime and reduce the space available for normal commercials.
Maxim Kaganer, director of the private Channel 5 TV, said cheaper political
advertising would mean advertising breaks in programmes would then increase
from about five minutes to 15 minutes, irritating viewers and potentially
The NTRC is in a different position, since as the state broadcaster, it is
required to make a certain amount of airtime available free of charge. The time
is allocated to different parties on the basis of a random draw, and the
channel then sets aside extra time that they can buy at commercial rates.
Ernis Kiyazov, the companys acting deputy director-general, insisted that NTRC
regularly consulted with the CEC on the service it was offering, and that we
have not received any complaints on price rates.
Like his colleagues in private television companies, Kiyazov voiced concern
about how time was divided between conventional and political advertising,
saying that while the NTRC was willing to fulfil the CECs instructions about
free airtime, it cannot ignore commercial considerations entirely.
We have our own commercial advertising service that signed contracts with
various partners long ago, and their rights must not be violated, he said.
Otherwise, they would have the right to bring legal actions against us.
Not all political parties dispute - or even dislike - the current pricing
arrangement, which naturally benefits the bigger, older and best-funded among
Iskhak Masaliev, head of the Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan, one of the
countrys largest parties, said the laws of the market had to be respected. We
have a market economy and I understand the desire of television companies to
derive benefit from elections, he said. I dont see anything tragic about
He conceded that the high cost of political advertising had created unequal
conditions for political parties, especially the newer ones. But this is the
reality that exists in Kyrgyzstan and it is necessary to recognise these market
relationships, he added.
By contrast, Edil Baisalov, deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Party,
another large and well-funded party, called for more restrictive criteria,
especially for paid adverts on the state channel.
I dont understand why our public state channel has increased its prices for
political advertising, he said. The NTRC lives off taxpayers money and must
serve their needs for information.
As for the private channels, Baisalov said, When they receive a license for
broadcasting, they commit themselves to performing a public-service function.
Unless all the parties have equal access, we cannot talk about
Baisalov insisted that what he called the commercialisation of elections was
not only unethical but also against the law.
With that in mind, the Social Democrats have lodged an appeal with the
governments anti-monopoly committee and the CEC, demanding a statutory ceiling
on the price of political PR.
Other parties sympathise with the Social Democrats. Gulnara Iskakova from the
opposition Ata-Meken party said the prices were discriminatory both against
certain parties and the electorate as a whole.
The electorate has a constitutional right to information. Predatory prices
prevent the development of communication between the electorate and political
parties, she said.
Whether the Social Democrats will get anywhere with their demands is doubtful.
Marat Sakeev of the state anti-monopoly commission said his agency might be
able to influence state monopoly enterprises [like NTRC], but the other
channels are private and are free to establish their own tariffs and prices.
According to Svetlana Moldogazieva, a political scientist, the only hope of
change lay in fresh legislation, as the current law on advertising does not
set out standards that would regulate or restrict the pricing policy of private
Legislative changes should come through parliament, but since the assembly has
been dissolved pending the election, any urgent measures would have to take the
form of orders from the Kyrgyz president or government.
Jypara Abdrahmanova is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.
KAZAKSTAN STEERS CLEAR OF US-RUSSIAN ARMS RACE
Russian missile tests on Kazak soil leave analysts divided on whether the
Central Asian state will get embroiled in the arms disputes of others.
By IWPR staff in Central Asia
Recent Russian missile tests conducted in Kazakstan have raised concerns over
whether the country is being drawn too deep into the escalating arms race
between Moscow and Washington.
The Russians used the leased Sary-Shagan firing range, near Lake Balkhash in
eastern Kazakstan, to launch anti-ballistic missiles, ABMs, in tests conducted
on October 11 and 30. A spokesman said the testing was intended to show whether
the current A-135 weapons systems deployed around Moscow could have their
service life extended.
ABM systems, which are designed to intercept and destroy incoming ballistic
missiles and thus neutralise the nuclear threat posed by a potential enemy, are
central to the growing defence race between the United States and Russia.
They were banned by the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the idea being that
countries would be less prepared to launch nuclear missiles if they had no
means of defending themselves from a counter-strike.
But as relations between Washington and President Vladimir Putins Russia have
grown frostier, ABMs have crept back into both countries arsenals.
In 2001, Washington declared that it was withdrawing from the ABM Treaty.
President George Bush justified the move by arguing that his country needed to
develop ways of countering future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks.
His explanation that Americas new missile defence programme was a shield
rather than a sword failed to convince the Kremlin, which is sceptical of
claims that America is mainly worried about the threat of missile attack from
Russia declared that if America went ahead, Moscow would prepare its own
asymmetric response, including the deployment of advanced missile systems.
In spite of this warning, the US pushed ahead and in June, Prague gave the
go-ahead for ABM radar systems to be installed in the Czech Republic formerly
part of the Warsaw Pact.
When news broke of the Czech decision, Russia announced that it would withdraw
from another treaty, governing conventional forces in Europe, and that it would
activate projects to modify existing ABM systems and make new equipment
However, Russias capacity to conduct missile tests on its own territory
remains limited, so Kazakstan has been drawn into Moscows strategic
The Sary-Shagan testing ground was set up by the Soviet military in the late
1950s in the vast steppes near Lake Balkhash, and was used for missile launches
throughout the Cold War.
After Kazakstan became a separate country in 1991, it let Russia use its
military and space facilities under lease arrangements.
The ABM launches pose a dilemma for Kazakstans leadership, which retains close
ties with Russia but does not want to be drawn into an arms race of which it is
Kazakstan is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, CSTO, a
grouping of former Soviet states which obliges members to respond jointly to
At the same time, Kazakstan has sought good relations with the West. This week,
the country was awarded the accolade of chairing the Organisation for Security
and Cooperation in Europe.
It is also a participant in NATOs Partnership for Peace programme, and the
alliances special representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, Robert
Simmons, has offered help with creating a naval fleet to patrol the Kazak
sector of the inland Caspian Sea.
In steering a path between Russia and the West, the Kazak leadership is
unlikely to want to get caught up in their bilateral disputes.
Many analysts in Kazakstan downplay fears that an arms race between the US and
Russia will have an adverse affect on their countrys relations with either
That the US and Russia are reaching a new stage in the arms race is not a
secret any more, political scientist Dosym Satpaev told IWPR.
Satpaev maintained that the decision to continue leasing Sary-Shagan to Moscow
was reached independently by the authorities in Astana and was not a result of
He noted that Kazakstan had a history of preserving warm relationships with
states that are locked in dispute with one another, citing Georgia and Russia
as one obvious example.
Despite the savage confrontation between Russia and Georgia, and despite being
a partner of Moscow on many issues, Kazakstan has simultaneously developed
close economic and political contacts with Tbilisi, he said.
The analyst noted that the Kazak authorities had pursued a similar policy
towards Russia and China, as the latter shows increasing interest in Central
Asia, Moscows traditional sphere of influence.
Satpaev views Kazakstan as an independent player, positioning itself
strategically between the West, Russia and China, while at the same time
retaining its special relationship with Moscow on defence matters.
The European Union and the US are very well aware of the military ties between
Kazakstan and Russia as part of the CSTO, he said. Astana does not reject
defence cooperation with other states, either, including the US and China.
The concept of Kazakstan as an independent force was underlined in April, when
President Nursultan Nazarbayev reaffirmed his countrys determination to pursue
a multi-vectored foreign policy.
Speaking just after the government had just released a key statement on its
military priorities, the president declared, Our cooperation with the US never
runs counter to Russian interests, [and] when we work together with Russia or
China, we will never go against Europe.
Oleg Sidorov, a political scientist, says this means Russian missile tests at
Sary-Shagan will not have much impact on Astanas relations with the West.
It is obvious that this demonstration [missile test] will not affect
Kazakstan, he said, except perhaps for the [foreign] intelligence services
who will want to know more details.
This view is shared by Eduard Poletaev, editor of the Mir Yevrasii magazine.
Renewed testing, he said, has long been on the agenda. This is necessary, if
only to verify that old weapons are intact and to try out new ones.
He said Russia was forced to ask Kazakstan to allow it to conduct missile tests
because it had failed to build its own test sites in the 1990s as a result of
the economic crisis it then faced. Moscow is now developing its own testing
ranges, but for now it is still easier for it to use the old Soviet facilities.
Poletaev dismissed the idea that Russia was treating Kazakstan as a vassal
state, arguing that Astana can and has in the past put pressure on Russia
on the use of Sary-Shagan and other test sites. He recalled the regular rows of
the 1990s about Russian non-payment of the lease, and the Kazak threat to end
Russian launches after a Proton rocket crashed in 1999 after taking off from
the Baikonor space site.
Many of the analysts interviewed by IWPR believe Kazakstan is trying with some
success to keep its cooperation with Russia to a strictly-defined framework of
The Sary-Shagan site is being used by Russia on a contractual basis that
stipulates the range of activities that can be carried out on that territory,
said Sidorov. If Moscow uses the leased territory for purposes other than
those stipulated in the contract, the matter would be raised by Astana.
But while most commentators are upbeat about Kazakstans success in avoiding
entanglement in US-Russian disputes, not everyone shares this optimism.
Discussing the risk that Kazakstan could become caught up in the row, a
political scientist who asked to remain anonymous said, We cant exclude the
I disagree with those who say that Kazakstan will remain only a separate third
party the owner of the Sary-Shagan range but uninvolved, he continued.
If Russia continues to anger the West, Kazakstan may face an ultimatum [from
the West] either us or Russia in which case Astana will have to decide its
priorities. Then the policy of double flirtation will have to come to an end.
CHINAS ROAD INTO KYRGYZSTAN
Link to original article by Ulugbek Babakulov in Kyrgyzstan. Published in RCA
No. 512, 19-Oct-07
By Ulugbek Babakulov
An idea to write a story about trade on the Kyrgyz-Chinese border came to me
when I read a Russian-language Chinese magazine aimed Russian-speaking visitors
to China. Id always been interested in old books with descriptions of various
towns and settlements along the old Silk Road. And now I had the idea to see it
with my own eyes.
My intention was to trace the flow of goods from China to Kyrgyzstan and
further to the border with Uzbekistan.
The trip took two weeks, with overnight stays in hostels, private houses and
delays on the border. I talked to 20 or 30 police officers and border guards,
and made courtesy visits to about 30 officials. I talked to the same number of
traders and questioned about 40 drivers.
Researching this report was a real eye-opener for me - and not without risks
I was stopped by police on Taldyk pass in the mountainous Alay district. They
said I was looking suspicious. Despite the fact that I had all my documents,
they refused to believe that I was a journalist and wanted to take me for
questioning at the local police station which was two hours away. But after
interrogating me on the road for half an hour, they let me go.
When I was trying to cross from China into Kyrgyzstan, Chinese officials said I
needed a medical certificate stating that I was not HIV positive. I told them
that I had no such document, and only personal charm and the fact that some of
the officials were helpful ethnic Kyrgyz got me through.
I was also really surprised by the some of the things I witnessed. For
instance, along the more remote mountain routes in southern Kyrgyzstan, I came
across villages that had changed little since independence in the early
There was a primary school which was named after the first Soviet cosmonaut,
Yuri Gagarin. In Kyrgyzstan today, you have to look hard for public places that
retain names from Soviet times. Everything is now in Kyrgyz.
Asked how the school had kept its name, the director told me that they did not
want to change the name because the school was the first one to be built in the
I believe that in my report I was able to show the current realities of this
ancient trade route by highlighting the problems that arise from the smuggling,
corruption and bureaucratic regulations.
The issue of trade with China and how it affects the local population has in
the past been raised by the likes of political scientists, sociologists and
analysts from various countries. But this information has been largely conveyed
in dry reports, whereas I think I managed to give readers a vivid picture of
how the lives of ordinary people are affected by the trading.
I wanted to draw the attention of government officials to the difficulties
faced by those engaged in the trade.
For example, I met a group of Uzbek traders who come across the Uzbek-Kyrgyz
border to Karasuu market, where they stock up on cheap Chinese goods.
A 30-year old woman from the Uzbek city of Namangan told me how she was beaten
up by Uzbek border guards on one of her trips in the summer.
She said the guards caught her as she was loading a truck she rented on the
Uzbek side of the border, having smuggled her goods across the border on foot.
The woman said they grabbed her, pulled her down by her hair and started to
kick her. Her goods were then confiscated and she was forced to pay a fine. She
had borrowed 800 US dollars for the trip - and lost it all.
Trade with China and Chinese goods is for a great many people, especially in
the south, the only way of surviving and one can hope that something positive
will happen by publicising their plight.
Following the publication of my article, I received a number of responses from
readers in Russia and other states who wanted to retrace my route.
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