KYRGYZ OPPOSITION QUERIES ELECTION FIGURES  Opposition groups say the failure 
to release detailed information on the December election suggests the results 
are questionable.  By Gulnara Mambetalieva in Bishkek

CHILD LABOUR STILL BLIGHTS KAZAKSTAN  Too little being done to eliminate the 
exploitation of minors, new report says.  By Anton Dosybiev in Almaty

inviting investors to come in, the government will have to offer them a level 
playing-field before the money starts piling in.  By Annadurdy Khadjiev in 


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Opposition groups say the failure to release detailed information on the 
December election suggests the results are questionable.

By Gulnara Mambetalieva in Bishkek

Three months after a watershed -election, Kyrgyz opposition groups are 
questioning the legitimacy of the outcome on the grounds that a detailed 
breakdown showing who voted for which party has never been published. 

The pro-presidential Ak Jol party won a landslide victory in the December 16 
polls, giving it 70 of the 90 seats in parliament – and under a new 
constitution approved in October, the right to name a prime minister. The 
Social Democrats got 11 seats and the Communists nine, but a controversial 
regulation left some major opposition parties completely excluded. 

As the weeks go by with no detailed results in the public domain, the outcome 
is being increasingly queried. 

On March 11, the Bishkek-based Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society 
brought a court case against the Central Election Commission, CEC, in hope of 
forcing it to disclose how the vote broke down in each polling district. 

Dinara Oshurakhunova, leader of the coalition, told IWPR that it asked the CEC 
to publicise information about the district-level voting in January but had not 
received a reply. 

The CEC has released information on how many people voted nationally and on the 
number of votes each party received in each of the nine large administrative 

However, as Oshurakhunova points out, it is the details that count. 

“The CEC has not provided full information about how many ballot papers were 
prepared… and how many of these were spoiled,” she said. 

In addition, she said, there is no information on the crucial question of how 
the vote broke down district by district at constituency level.

The election was the first to be held proportional representation rules, 
awarding seats according to the share of the vote won by each party. 

This seemed a reasonably fair system, until a controversial ruling from the CEC 
only a month before the election changed the system for allocating seats. 

Now each party not only had to win the support of five per cent of the voters 
listed on the national electoral roll, estimated at 2.7 million people, it had 
also to get 0.5 per cent of the same national total in each of the nine 
electoral regions. That worked out as 13,500 votes in each of seven provinces 
plus the cities of Bishkek and Osh. 

In sparsely populated regions like Naryn and Batken, this figure represented a 
huge percentage of the voting-age population. Add to this the large-scale 
seasonal migration of Kyrgyz workers to Russia and Kazakstan, significant 
levels of voter apathy, and the participation of several parties, and it was 
apparent that even some strong contenders were never going to win the required 
number of votes in all nine regions.

This appears to be what happened to at least two major parties, Ata Meken and 
Ar-Namys, which ended up with no seats in the legislature and have now joined 
those calling for greater clarity on the election results. 

Last week, Ar-Namys issued a statement saying that in the absence of detailed 
figures, the public must “doubt the election result and thus also the 
legitimacy of the powers of parliament”. 

According to Emil Aliev, one of the party’s leaders, “The CEC has deliberately 
not released information on the election results… in order to conceal the real 
results of the vote.” 

Aliev said Ar-Namys wanted to compare the official voting figures with the 
tally its own observers had compiled, covering most of the country.

Ata Meken’s leader, Temir Sariev, told IWPR that the CEC’s actions constituted 
a gross violation of Kyrgyzstan’s election legislation, and suggested that the 
voting results had been falsified.

“The CEC must publish the results of elections within the period of time 
dictated by law, but it has not done so,” he said. “It is likely that the CEC 
is afraid to do so, because many people know who voted and how they voted in 
these elections.”

Political scientist Syrgak Abdyldaev agreed that the failure to announce 
comprehensive results raised suspicions. 

“The CEC has something to conceal,” he said. “Its position suggests these 
elections were unfair.”

Abdyldaev predicted that if the CEC were to reveal the results, the 
consequences could be “explosive”, as people compared them with voting figures 
obtained from other sources.

However, Myrzabek Arginbaev, a senior official in the CEC, insisted there was 
no political conspiracy behind the decision to withhold the full results. 
Opposition members and rights groups were demanding the impossible, he said.

“There are about 3,000 electoral districts in Kyrgyzstan in all,” he pointed 
out. “How can we provide all that information in detail?” he asked. “No 
newspaper would even provide enough space.” 

Arginbaev then admitted that the CEC did not even have the district-level 
electoral returns – it merely compiled its data from the aggregated documents 
sent in by regional-level election officers.

He nevertheless insisted that the CEC had not broken the electoral code, as the 
regulations did not in fact oblige it to publish election results compiled at 
the lowest tier.

Roza Otunbaeva, a former foreign minister who represents the Social Democrats 
in parliament, believes that Ak Jol as the governing party should be at the 
forefront of demands for transparency. 

“If questions arise, it casts a shadow over them [Ak Jol], so it would make 
complete sense for them to tackle this issue,” she said.

Elmira Ibraimova, an Ak Jol member of parliament, said the CEC “probably has 
its reasons” for not publishing the full election results – but she still said 
the opposition had a fair point in asking for them. 

Gulnara Mambetalieva is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.


Too little being done to eliminate the exploitation of minors, new report says.

By Anton Dosybiev in Almaty

Every evening, 12-year-old Farkhat sits wrapped in a blanket behind a stall set 
up on a busy street in Almaty, the largest city in Kazakstan.

He works here, selling cigarettes, chewing gum and other small items, every day 
after finishing classes at school. 

“My mother is here in the daytime,” Farkhat explains, “but in the evening she 
has to be at home with the baby and I take her place.”

Farkhat is one of many child workers in Kazakstan, an energy-rich country that 
still has serious problems with the exploitation of minors, according to a new 
study called “Child Labour in Kazakstan: Informing the Public”, published under 
the auspices of the International Labour Organisation, ILO. The report was 
produced as part of the ILO’s Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour, 
known as IPEC. 

One area of particular concern highlighted in the report is the cotton and 
tobacco fields of southern Kazakstan, where child labour remains widespread. 
Here children start working in the fields in difficult and hazardous conditions 
when they are as young as eight or even six.

The report, which defines a child as a minor aged under 18, points to serious 
problems in the bazaars, and also in the sex industry. 

These children – or rather, their parents - are breaking Kazakstan’s laws which 
set the full working age at 18 while allowing minors over 14 to do some paid 
work as long as it is part time, does not involve strenuous manual labour, and 
is undertaken with the permission of the child’s parents. Forced labour of any 
kind is outlawed.

Kazakstan has ratified several international agreements on eliminating the 
exploitation of children. These include the 1989 United Nations Convention on 
the Rights of the Child, and protocols covering trafficking, prostitution and 
pornography involving minors. In 2006 the country also ratified the ILO 
Convention on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, which has set 
a target of 2015 for ending such abuses.

But in spite the body of national and international legislation in place, 
critics say Kazakstan has some way to go.

The authors of the ILO study say that while officials admit more needs to be 
done to end bad practice, they appear unaware of the scale of the problem and 
of the worst forms of child exploitation still occurring in the country, 
including virtual slavery, bonded labour to repay debts, child prostitution and 
recruiting minors to sell drugs.

Officials say they are doing their best. Janat Omarova, head of child 
development at the education department of the South Kazakstan region, says 
staff are working with non-government organisations to tackle this issue, for 
instance running programmes to alleviate need among the vulnerable sections of 
society where children are most likely to be sent out to work.

“We conduct national actions under which children from low-income groups 
receive a complete set of clothes, shoes, books, school materials and food,” 
said Omarova.

Sholpan Esentaeva, who heads the national labour ministry’s department for 
labour law observance, said it was tackling the problem from a different angle 
– conducting spot checks at workplaces and markets to identify breaches such as 
the involvement of minors in arduous labour.

But Maria Pulman, a lawyer and human rights activist, told IWPR that official 
campaigns to stamp out exploitation of children were far from satisfactory, and 
the practice remained common. 

“Kazakstan was one of the first countries to ratify the Convention on the 
Rights of the Child that prohibits child labour,” noted Pulman. “So wherever 
hard labour involving children still occurs, our government is violating 
international conventions as well as its own legislation.”

Elena Kormogolova, head of a children’s welfare centre in the capital Astana, 
said international organisations had helped increase legal awareness of the 
issue but government programmes were still rudimentary and unsystematic.

Eduard Poletaev, a political analyst in Kazakstan, claimed the problem was, if 
anything, getting worse. Minors were increasingly being used for the hardest 
forms of physical work because of the continuing low level of awareness of 
their rights and the financial vulnerability of their families, he said. 

Employers were naturally drawn to the idea of paying the bare minimum for 
unskilled child labour. 

“This problem is typical of regions in the south, where the work is 
agricultural,” he said. “And that’s even though these southern areas have a 
surplus of [adult] labour.”

Whatever the law says, many small businesses are tolerant of the practice, even 
if they will not admit to doing it themselves. 

Maksat, a baker from Almaty, does not hire child labour but feels it would be 
wrong to try to suppress it. 

“I make flat bread near the market place, and young guys sell it,” he said. 
“They might be 13 or 15 and the work isn’t hard for them. They need this money 
because their families are not rich.” 

Not all traders agree, though. Zaur, who owns a car wash in Almaty, never 
employs children to clean his customers’s cars. “I don’t believe a child can 
cope 100 per cent with the work,” he told IWPR. “That is why I hire only 

Zaur said that many other car washes do use children, but said, “I don’t need 
problems with the law.”

Omarova says there should be tougher penalties for employers who ignore labour 
laws, although she admits it will be hard to stamp out the tradition of 
families in rural areas using their own children as farm labourers. 

“It’s a fact that many parents don’t let their children go to school and force 
them to help out in certain seasons,” she said, adding that such work “should 
not come at the expense of study and the pursuit of knowledge”. 

Meanwhile, Farkhat stays at his small stall every evening till late in the 
night, when he gathers up whatever is left unsold and takes it home. 

“It’s too bad I don’t have enough time to do my homework,” he says. “I have to 
copy [others’ work] at school every day and I often only get a two [out of 

Anton Dosybiev is journalist in Kazakstan who contributes regularly to IWPR.


As well as inviting investors to come in, the government will have to offer 
them a level playing-field before the money starts piling in.

By Annadurdy Khadjiev in Bulgaria

Since coming to power a year ago, Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov 
has made it plain he sees foreign investment as central to his plans for 
economic growth. 

Turkmenistan has large reserves of gas as well as oil, and is also a major 
producer of cotton. 

But before investors can come in and develop these or other sectors with 
confidence, a host of broader issues need to be addressed, including ensuring 
that the laws regulating foreign businesses are transparent, straightforward 
and applied equally to all. 

At a cabinet session on February 8, the president returned to the theme, 
telling economic, finance and banking chief that more joint enterprises needed 
to be set up with foreign partners if the country was build a market economy. 

Joint enterprises will not only attract investment but introduce new 
technologies and equipment, he believes.

Berdymuhammedov also wants foreign experts to come in and help redress the lack 
of skilled professionals in much of the economy.

According to local estimates, foreign direct investment, FDI, inflows to 
Turkmenistan have totalled only about three billion US dollars since 
independence in 1991. This is far less than a country possessing substantial 
energy reserves might have expected. For comparison, Kazakstan, another 
hydrocarbon-rich state, has attracted at least 40 billion in FDI over the same 

Various laws currently govern the way foreign companies operate in 
Turkmenistan, including legislation on licensing, joint-stock companies and 
investment. But these laws often contradict one another, and coupled with other 
regulations issued by the president, the government and industry-specific 
departments, they deter rather than encourage foreign investors.

The law on foreign investment, for instance, requires companies in which 
foreigners have a share to obtain registration with the government, but also 
tells outside investors obtain prior “permission to invest in the Turkmen 
economy” without stating who should grant that permission. 

In practice, the letter of the law is largely irrelevant, as any foreign firm 
that is serious about doing business in Turkmenistan first needs to secure an 
interview with the president and get his personal blessing. 

Second-best alternatives are to obtain the patronage of the president’s key 
aides, deputy prime ministers (the president is also prime minister), top 
government ministers, or at least help from companies that have worked in 
Turkmenistan for a long time.

This modus operandi was informally institutionalised under the autocratic 
Niazov, and experts say the same systems remain in place.

Would-be investors and participants in joint ventures companies have to jump 
through countless hoops to ensure they meet requirements for tax, licenses, 
environmental cleanliness, health and safety, and fire regulations before they 
can even register. In other countries, these issues are addressed once a 
business is up and running.

Another key document for foreign investors, the law on property, is equally 
riddled with contradictions. 

While the preamble states that private property is inviolable, subsequent 
articles introduce a host of limitations on this right. For example, one 
passage in the document says that under certain circumstances, other persons 
may be granted the right to use the assets of the owner in question. These 
circumstances are defined “by the relevant laws”, but the wording does not make 
it clear what these are. 

Furthermore, foreign companies are not allowed to sell their share in a joint 
venture without getting permission from the authorities.

With such a complex, overlapping and contradictory legal framework, the 
authorities can easily create problems for a foreign company if they want to. 
Officials can cite an alleged breach of tax, environmental or fire regulations 
as sufficient reason to stop a company operating. 

The domestic courts are not independent arbitors, and will always uphold a 
lawsuit of this kind brought by officials.

Nor is international arbitration an effective option for resolving disputes. 
Turkmenistan has not signed the 1958 New York convention under which states 
recognise decisions and awards made by international courts of arbitration. 

In tandem with bureaucracy and opaque legislation, corruption is another major 
issue that investors have to grapple with in their dealings with the Turkmen 
authorities. Watchdog groups such as Transparency International consistently 
rate Turkmenistan among the world’s most corrupt countries.

Despite the adverse and unpredictable business climate, some foreign firms 
still brave the risks. Around 900 companies with some foreign share component 
are registered and active in Turkmenistan, almost one-third of them joint 

In the absence of solid legal guarantees, they work at their own risk and on 
the sufferance of the Turkmen authorities.

Last October, foreign investors drew some comfort from President 
Berdymuhammedov’s decision to amend the law on foreign investment. The changes 
appeared to increase the scope for wholly foreign-owned businesses to acquire 
assets in the country.

However, observers say the changes are less substantial than they appear, and 
largely amount to a public relations exercise.

The government’s selective approach to working with foreigners remains in 
place, they say, noting that would-be investors still need the president’s 
personal seal of approval before they can go ahead. 

Indeed, the president inadvertently undermined the spirit of the changes during 
a visit to the United States in September. His trip was partly to boost 
interest in his pet project, a tourist and business zone on the shores of the 
Caspian Sea. 

Speaking to businessmen in New York, Berdymuhammedov casually remarked that “as 
president of Turkmenistan, I am the guarantor of the safety of your future 
investments”. The statement was intended to inspire confidence, but it 
suggested that business operations would be governed not by a strengthened 
legal environment, but once again by the wishes of one individual.

That may not be enough to draw large numbers of investors to the proposed Avaza 
economic zone.

In other areas, Berdymuhammedov appears to the continuing the policies for 
which his predecessor became notorious – embarking on massive public works 
projects to raise ostentatious state buildings, in the process making 
unilateral decisions, displaying a marked preference for certain foreign 
contractors, and not even bothering to hold tenders for the work.

Apart from the concerns about the security of money invested in Turkmenistan, 
there are other unanswered questions about the president’s economic strategy. 

While calling for more foreign investment as a way of boosting the economy, the 
authorities have been fairly vague about which industries - and which regions 
of the country - this help will target. 

It can be assumed that much of the effort will go into finding investors for 
the natural gas industry, which is badly in need of modernisation if production 
levels are to be increased to meet rising foreign demand. But some experts 
question whether the government has conducted any kind of substantive analysis 
of its investment needs.

Seventeen years after independence, Turkmenistan has made little effort to 
revive its engineering industry, even though both Balkan region in the west and 
Mary in the southeast have a history of making parts and equipment for the oil 
and gas sector.

At the same time, the country is in desperate need of new industries to soak up 
the huge pool of unemployed labour. Although no statistics are made public, 
reliable estimates of the unemployment rate range from 40 per cent to as much 
as 70 per cent.

To date, government policy has been to assuage economic hardship through the 
pensions and benefits system and free or subsidised utilities. But it has 
failed to work on the building blocks of a successful economy and society – job 
creation and a liberal business climate.

Until such fundamental issues are addressed, the government’s ability to 
achieve ambitious economic targets – even with increased FDI flows – looks 

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