EARLY POLLS LOOKING LIKELY IN KAZAKSTAN  The authorities are saying nothing, 
but there are mounting reasons why they might opt for a parliamentary election 
sooner rather than later. By Anton Dosybiev and Marik Koshabaev in Almaty 


revitalised farms, but timing was unfortunate. By Rukhshona Alieva in Dushanbe 


US can locate military base elsewhere, but Kyrgyzstan needs to weigh up the 
consequences for its own security. By Elina Karakulova in Washington, DC 




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The authorities are saying nothing, but there are mounting reasons why they 
might opt for a parliamentary election sooner rather than later.


By Anton Dosybiev and Marik Koshabaev in Almaty 


There is renewed speculation that an early election may be called in Kazakstan 
after the law was changed to create more scope for a multi-party parliament.


However, none of the political analysts questioned by IWPR believed that Nur 
Otan, the presidential party which is currently the only one represented in 
parliament, would be joined by a combative opposition group as a result of the 


President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed off on amendments to the electoral 
legislation on February 9, meaning that at least two parties will always be 
present in parliament. Even if only one gathers the required seven per cent of 
the vote, the runner-up will also be awarded seats under a complicated formula 
based on proportional representation. 


The last election held in August 2007 created a one-party parliament, since 
only the president's Nur Otan surpassed the barrier. The other six parties 
which fielded candidates were left out in the cold. 


The election cast a shadow over Kazakstan's democratic credentials at a time 
when the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, was 
considering its application to chair the organisation. The bid was finally 
approved later that year, and the Kazaks will take over the helm of the OSCE in 


The next parliamentary ballot is not due until 2012, but analysts say there are 
good reasons why the authorities might opt for an early election. For one 
thing, they might want to get it over and done with before their big OSCE year, 
and for another, this would preempt any deterioration in the already difficult 
economic situation and prevent the opposition from capitalising on it. 


Finally, they might want to avoid holding the election at the same time as the 
presidential ballot, also due in 2012. 


The authorities are maintaining a stony silence on the early election issue, 
although speculation has been rife since last year.


However, the president's adviser on political affairs Yermukhamet Yertysbaev, 
recently let slip that the issue was at least on the agenda.


"The most convenient moment for an election is now," he said at an event 
organised by the AITpark debating club on February 17, noting that it would be 
better if Kazakstan had a multi-party system by the time it took over the OSCE 


Yertysbaev made it clear he was speaking only in a personal capacity, and said 
that in any case, no decision had been taken. "It isn't me who decides these 
matters," he added. 


An anonymous source in government told IWPR that the current thinking is that 
an early election would help assuage concerns in the international community 
about Kazakstan's record on democracy.


"Everyone understands that the election has to be conducted soon, because 
Kazakstan cannot be chair of the OSCE with a one-party parliament, and that 
time is approaching fast," he said.


He indicated that the authorities were already meeting their political PR 
advisers to identify the best date for an election.


Most of the analysts interviewed agreed that a 2009 date was likely. 


Eduard Poletaev, chief editor of Mir Yevrazii, a monthly political magazine, 
said that while the authorities and Nur Otan might appear to be in an 
unassailable position, they felt uncomfortable about moving towards to the OSCE 
chairmanship with the political set-up as it was now.


Petr Svoik, a leading member of the opposition party Azat, said the political 
situation was extremely fluid so "anything is possible", but that the tenser 
things became, the more likely it was that the authorities would go for an 
early election. 


The Kazak economy has suffered a reverse after the oil-fuelled boom of recent 
years. The international financial crisis has left its banks over-extended and 
reluctant to issue new domestic loans, which in turn has curbed investment and 
led to job losses. 


Andrei Chebotarev of the Alternativa Centre for Political Research, believes 
there are "plenty of reasons" to hold a ballot ahead of time. 


In an interview for a Moscow-based think tank on January 13, he warned of a 
groundswell of protest by groups such as workers made unemployed by the closure 
of factories, people struggling to repay their mortgages, and residents of 
buildings threatened with demolition by property developers.


"So far all of them have been trying to defend their own social and economic 
rights, but at any moment, a section of this protest movement could switch to 
making political demands, and take more decisive action to further these," said 


In that light, he said, it made sense for the authorities to go for a ballot 
sooner rather than later.


Supposing an early election does take place and at least one other party joins 
Nur Otan in the legislature, will it make for a more democratic system? 
According to most of the analysts to whom IWPR spoke, that is unlikely.


Svoik said it was doubtful that any of the existing opposition parties would 
make it into parliament, as the electoral bodies that count the vote are 
susceptible to government pressure. 


Political scientist Amirjan Kosanov predicted that Nur Otan would continue to 


"Unfortunately, there's no real consolidation or unity among our [opposition] 
democratic forces," he said. "While the opposition is distracted [by 
internecine strife] from its main objective, I think the authorities are 
working on a project to create a second pro-regime party."


This "pseudo-democratic project", he added, was designed to "persuade both the 
public in Kazakstan and the international community that an alternative to Nur 
Otan has appeared". 


Chebotarev agreed, telling IWPR that "Nur Otan will always be in the majority, 
although it might no longer be the sole actor in parliament". 


"There won't be major changes," he said of the election. "Maybe [changes] to 
the make-up of parliament, but nothing serious. The OSCE issue might have some 
liberalising effect, but that's an unknown at the moment."


Anton Dosybiev and Marik Koshabaev are IWPR-trained journalists in Almaty.





New loan scheme should have revitalised farms, but timing was unfortunate.


By Rukhshona Alieva in Dushanbe 


Falling world prices are pushing Tajikistan's already failing cotton industry 
to the verge of bankruptcy. 


The government launched a new scheme last year making it easier for farmers to 
access loans on affordable terms, but there are fears that many of them will be 
unable to repay their debts because their income from last autumn's harvest was 
nothing like what they were expecting. 


Tajikistan's economy has always been heavily reliant on cotton, which over 
recent years has contributed around a fifth of export revenues and provides 
nearly half the country's workforce with jobs. Two-thirds of all farms grow 
cotton, many of them in the flatlands in the south of the country. 


Aziz Rajabov is the top manager at a large farming enterprise in the southern 
Kulob region. Last year it took out a bank loan of 280,000 US dollars to fund 
expenditure over the growing season - a large amount even for an extensive farm 
complex like this. 


When the harvest came in at 335 tons - "not at all bad", according to Rajabov - 
its gross earnings should have come in at around half a million dollars, based 
on a high purchase price of 1,500 dollars a ton in the first quarter of 2008. 


However, in the interim, the global financial crisis greatly reduced worldwide 
demand for commodities and by autumn, the farmgate price was just 850 dollars a 
ton, leaving the farm unable to clear the debt plus interest and other costs, 
not to mention make a profit. 


Rajabov's farm has held off on selling in the hope that prices will recover, so 
the cotton is sitting doing nothing at the local processing plant. 


"It wouldn't be profitable to sell it at the moment, as cotton prices have 
fallen. If we sold it now, we wouldn't be able to repay the loan," he said. 


The crisis facing Rajabov's farm is all the more alarming as it comes in the 
wake of an improved financing system introduced last year, which would have 
been a resounding success had it not been for the collapse in world prices. 


Previously, cotton producers were dependent on advance loans extended by 
so-called "futures companies", private firms which provided cash, seed and fuel 
at the beginning of each growing cycle. These companies often imposed high 
interest rates and took the whole of the resulting harvest at below market 
prices, so that Tajik farms ran up hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. 


Farmers were unable to obtain normal loans as they had nothing that banks would 
accept as collateral. 


Under a scheme announced in late 2007 and put into practice last year, 
state-run commercial banks were instructed to accept land-tenure certificates 
as guarantees, and to issue loans to farmers at a fixed annual interest rate of 
12 per cent. That meant the real interest rate was zero or even negative, given 
that inflation was roughly the same figure. (See Tajikistan Vows to Revive 
Ailing Cotton Industry, RCA No. 526, 11-Jan-08.) 


The National Bank of Tajikistan reports that farmers received loans totalling 
some 60 million dollars last year, two thirds of which came from government 
funds channelled to the banks and the rest from commercial banks' own funds. 


The central bank has recognised that falling prices mean farmers will find it 
hard to service their debts on time, and has shifted the deadline for repaying 
the capital from December 1 last year to March 1. 


However, Rajabov fears that is not going to be enough, and is hoping for a 
further rescheduling "until June, at least". 


Industry experts say that falling prices have only added to the longstanding 
problems affecting cotton production in Tajikistan, and that taken together, 
these issues cannot be resolved even by an improved financing system. 


At the heart of the problem, say analysts, is the persistent practice of making 
farmers grow cotton because of its strategic value to the state, even when they 
would prefer not to. 


While President Imomali Rahmon has repeatedly said farmers should be free to 
grow whatever they want, local government officials continue to issue 
directives and production targets as if the Soviet Union had never come to an 


Rajabov confirmed that his farm faced pressures of this kind. 


"Cotton production is currently a loss-maker, and if we'd had a chance we'd 
have switched to a crop that was more profitable," he said. "But our hukumat 
[district-level government] requires us to sow at least 70 per cent [of the 
land] with cotton." 


According to agriculture expert Kurbonali Partoev, part of the problem is that 
while the bigger farming units which dominate cotton production are technically 
commercial ventures, they display the same inefficiency and lack of incentive 
as their predecessors, the Soviet collective farms. 


"Local authorities need to stop pressuring farmers and using outdated 
management systems," he said. 


Add to this soil depletion due to lack of rotation given the cotton 
monoculture, failing farm machinery, and underinvestment in developing better 
crop strains, and the result is a relentless decline in yields and consequently 
national production. 


Scientist Vahob Vahidov points out that Israeli farms get five or six tons per 
hectare when they use seeds from Tajikistan, yet local yields average under two 


Annual production figures have averaged less than half a million tons a year 
since 2001, and fell from 419,000 tons in 2007 to around 350,000 tons last 


"However much money you throw at agriculture...it will never be enough," 
concluded Vahidov. 


That is a view with which some Tajik bankers might sympathise, as they argue 
that the government has placed them in an impossible position by forcing them 
to lend at their own risk to farmers who may now default. 


Concerns about the threats posed by these unpaid debts were raised at a January 
15 cabinet meeting, at which the heads of Amonatbank and Agroinvestbank warned 
that they could face serious liquidity problems in an environment in which it 
was already hard for them to borrow on international markets. 


Another banker, who asked to remain anonymous, told IWPR that the failure of 
farmers to repay loans could lead to the collapse of the banking sector. 


At the cabinet meeting, Deputy Finance Minister Jamoliddin Nuraliev said the 
commercial banks had not helped themselves when they bumped up their annual 
interest rates, in some cases to 24 per cent. 


The government has promised to increase state funding for loans to cotton 
farmers from 38 to 48 million dollars this year, but during the cabinet 
meeting, President Rahmonov also urged the banks to raise money from 


Rajabov is all too aware how hard it will be for his indebted farm to raise 
funds this year. 


"The 2009 sowing season is approaching, and if we are unable to repay our loan, 
I doubt anyone will give us money to plant. I don't know to do," he said. 


Rukhshona Alieva is the pseudonym of a reporter based in Dushanbe. 




Former American envoy says US can locate military base elsewhere, but 
Kyrgyzstan needs to weigh up the consequences for its own security. 


By Elina Karakulova in Washington, DC 


A former United States ambassador to Kyrgyzstan says the country's decision to 
close a major American airbase may deprive Kyrgyzstan of a counterbalance in 
its dealings with large and powerful neighbours like Russia and China. 


In an exclusive interview for IWPR, John O'Keefe predicted that the US would be 
able to find an alternative location for an airbase to supply military 
operations in Afghanistan.


On February 19, the Kyrgyz parliament voted to end the US military presence at 
Manas airport near the capital Bishkek. The decision followed President 
Kurmanbek Bakiev's announcement that the base was to close, made during a visit 
to Moscow earlier in the month, during which he secured pledges of loans and 
investment worth two billion dollars. Some analysts argued that Bakiev traded 
the US base for Russian financial and political support. 


As ambassador, O'Keefe played a central role in negotiating the opening of the 
Manas facility in 2001, which was used as a transit point for personnel and 
freight going to support Coalition operations in Afghanistan and as a base for 
aerial refuelling planes.


Q: As an official who negotiated the opening of the military base in Bishkek, 
what did you think about first when you heard the news of its closure? 


A: At first, because the announcement that the base would close had happened 
before at an SCO [Shanghai Cooperation Organisation] conference in Astana, I 
was wondering if this was a serious statement. But within the context of the 
assistance package and the manner in which it was announced with President 
Medvedev, I did feel that this is probably a real possibility. This has been 
such a topic of discussion over the past several years, so it was not a big 


Q: How do you think officials in Washington perceived the threats to terminate 
the contract that came from time to time from Bishkek?


A: I am not with the State Department any longer, so I am a little bit out 
reach of what they think. Looking at it from the outside, it did strike me that 
- as with lots of things in international arena - this was originally a bit of 
a negotiating tactic. Nevertheless, there were some serious issues that really 
needed to be resolved between the countries. But also... other issues of 
cooperative operations within the Kyrgyz Republic and the [Kyrgyz-US] 
relationship... fighting terrorism, regional stability and reducing 
cross-border tensions seemed tied up in this process. 


Q: During the parliamentary discussions, some Kyrgyz deputies suggested that 
there was nothing tragic about the closure of the base, and Kyrgyzstan would be 
able to reopen it any time if it needed to. As a person familiar with the 
process, do you agree it would be easy?


A: No, I think it would be very difficult to reopen it once the base is closed, 
but not impossible. You can look at newspaper reports of the US exploring with 
neighbouring countries - Uzbekistan and Tajikistan - the possibility of opening 
bases there. The base could be brought back again, but probably not if 
alternate support mechanisms are available. 


I think though, within the Kyrgyz context, it might be somewhat more difficult, 
because in one sense, the public dialogue is a lot more open in some ways in 
Kyrgyzstan. So that the question of reopening the base is not simply the 
question of President Bakiev saying this is a good idea. He would need to 
convince parliament that would have to be done and inform public opinion so the 
people of Kyrgyzstan would see that it is in their interest as well. 


Q: It looks like Washington is trying to negotiate with all relevant parties. 
How far do you think Washington could go in an attempt to keep the base?


A: The real question is whether it is money, or policy, or national interest, 
or regional stability. To me, you can break this down and you can say, what's 
the compensation package? The US could perhaps have an attractive package, but 
I don't think the US is in a position to offer the credits that have been 
reported to have been given from the Russian side.


The real question to me, if you are the president of Kyrgyzstan and you are the 
parliament of Kyrgyzstan, you must look at the base and its relationship to 
Kyrgyz interests in retaining it and the advantages of having it removed. Then 
you get a different kind of equation; it's a non-monetary equation. 


The advantages of retaining the base are these - Afghanistan as we have seen, 
before 2001, was destabilising the region. The people who committed terrorist 
acts in Kyrgyzstan before 2001 [the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan] had support 
from Afghanistan and training there. So the first question is, if things really 
go bad in Afghanistan because there is a problem with logistical support, how 
does that affect Kyrgyz interests and how much does Kyrgyzstan - as an 
international actor and a sovereign nation - decide that it wants to be part of 
a coalition that is trying to bring stability to Afghanistan 


The second question is, what are the advantages in dealing with other countries 
within the region by having a US presence? I think that you could reasonably 
argue that it helps Kyrgyzstan in its negotiations with its neighbours and 
others. Without the base, the negotiating position of Kyrgyzstan may be weaker. 
And that's something that the president and the parliament have to decide for 
themselves. They are closer to it than I, and must live with that decision.


The third question is that the base, I think, is viewed in the US, by people in 
the Congress and in the administration, as sort of giving Kyrgyzstan a somewhat 
more special place in public opinion toward Kyrgyzstan. Within the Washington 
context, the members of Congress, the Senators and people in the administration 
are very aware of the help that Kyrgyz people have provided by hosting the 


Q: Do you mean that because of the base, US policies towards Kyrgyzstan have 
been somewhat favourable?


A: I would say they have been more favourable; the desire to run assistance 
programmes has been a little bit better. And there are also some of the 
intangibles. I will just reflect on my experiences arriving in 2000, and then a 
year and a month later when operations in Afghanistan began. 


Before September 2001, getting Washington policy attention on Kyrgyzstan was 
not so easy, because in terms of US attention there were other things more 
pressing. But once we had a presence there then it was easier for me as the US 
ambassador to argue the case for Kyrgyzstan. 


So I think with the removal of the base, when you are a country of five million 
next to a country of over a billion [China], and a country that has good and 
close relations with Russia, it is always useful to have friendships that 
counterbalance some of those other relationships, as positive as they might be. 


Q: Do you think the U.S. policy towards Kyrgyzstan and the region will change 
significantly after the base is removed?


A: No, I don't think so. The region is one that has strategic interest, there 
still will be a desire for economic and democratic progress from the US side. 
That interest won't be as great, nor the attention as much. However, I could be 
completely wrong.


Q: How do you think the airbase closure could affect the current plans of the 
US to expand its operations and troop numbers in Afghanistan? 


A: I am no expert on military logistics, but I know that [State Department] 
Under Secretary [William] Burns was recently in the region to discuss the other 
options, and General [David] Petraeus [commander of US Central Command] visited 
Uzbekistan to carry out discussions. I think what they will try to do is to 
find alternative means for supply. It is always do-able, sometimes it's just 
harder. So with the loss of the base in Kyrgyzstan, they will just have to find 
another way to supply these troops - which they will. 


Q: What are the alternatives? Do you think it is possible to re-open the base 
in Uzbekistan? (Ed. the Uzbek government forced the US military to close its 
base at Karshi because it was unhappy with American demands for an 
international investigation into the Andijan violence of May 2005.)


A: In 2001, when the question of where we have a base came up, the Coalition 
group which was led by a general from Turkey looked at the options in 
Tajikistan, Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan, and they were all on the table. And the 
decision was to go for Bishkek. I discussed it with President [Askar] Akaev at 
that time; the Kyrgyz government was very supportive. 2009 is not 2001, but 
those options are there, so I would think that if in fact the Coalition can 
work out an arrangement with a country in the region, they would certainly take 
that one up. 


It's a complicated question and I can't speak authoritatively about the bases 
in the other countries, so I can't say how much infrastructure investment would 
be necessary. I would observe there were operations out of Uzbekistan until 
couple of years ago, so I presume that infrastructure there is just fine. 


Q: What about Tajikistan? Some say that airports there are not quite adequate 
for military purposes.


A: I think when they made this decision in 2001, it was less that this is one 
wasn't adequate and that one was; it was a question of which was the best one. 
At the time, Manas had substantial infrastructure in terms of storage, runway 
length, air traffic control, and a very welcoming government. That made it the 
best option.


Q: Do you think Pakistan and India might be good alternatives to Manas?


A: It appears that neither may be an option, from what I've been reading in the 


Q: Some argue that military cooperation with Russian and its military presence 
at the Kant base [near Bishkek] is enough for Kyrgyzstan to maintain security. 
What do you think about that?


Q: It depends on where you view the threat to stability for the region. If you 
believe that if Afghanistan falls back into chaos, it will affect Kyrgyz 
stability through the export of individuals who want to overthrow the 
government or establish a different kind of government, then I don't believe 
the Russian base is going to help with Afghanistan. If you look at it in a 
different way, I guess the question I would ask is, by having the Russian base 
there... what theoretical threat are they addressing? I don't know exactly what 
that is. I am not too sure what the purpose of the Russian base is.


Q: Russia has announced it is ready to provide logistical help to NATO forces 
in Afghanistan; however, it apparently also offered Kyrgyzstan a pay-off for 
evicting the airbase. What do you make of that?


A: I think that perhaps the Russian leadership is looking for ways to work the 
new Obama administration. This [Afghan logistical cooperation] offer would in 
fact be a good step towards improving these relationships.


Q: Do you allow the possibility that it could be an attempt to eliminate third 
parties in the negotiating process with the US?


A: I think the Russians have always negotiated directly with the US. I don't 
know whether it is to eliminate third parties, but it is certainly is a way to 
work with a new group in Washington in a constructive way.


Q: Would you like to add anything? 


A: I would like to add that having spent three years in the Kyrgyz Republic and 
going back a few times, I have a very profound wish for the people of the 
country and its leadership that they will find a good road for a better life 
for all who live in Kyrgyzstan. 


Elina Karakulova is IWPR's former chief editor in Bishkek, currently based in 


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