KYRGYZ OPPOSITION UNITY CRUMBLES  The plan was to field a strong pair of 
candidates against President Bakiev, but the emergence of a third man is likely 
to confuse and divide the electorate.  By Anara Yusupova in Bishkek

voting procedures likely to encourage cheating, say critics.  By Timur 
Toktonaliev in Bishkek

areas vulnerable to landslides, in some cases after receiving warnings to move 
out.  Chinara Karimova in Bishkek

level the playing field ahead of 2010 polls.  By Aslibegim Manzarshoeva and 
Lola Olimova in Dushanbe

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The plan was to field a strong pair of candidates against President Bakiev, but 
the emergence of a third man is likely to confuse and divide the electorate. 

By Anara Yusupova in Bishkek

Two weeks after Kyrgyzstan’s opposition closed ranks and pledged not to field 
multiple candidates in this summer’s presidential election, one of the parties 
announced it was putting its own leader forward. 

Analysts say these tactics have driven a wedge into what was supposed to be a 
united front and could fatally damage the opposition’s chances of unseating the 
incumbent Kurmanbek Bakiev on July 23. 

Last month, the United People’s Movement, UPM – an umbrella group comprising 
the major opposition parties – announced that Social Democratic Party leader 
and former prime minister Almazbek Atambaev was to be its lead candidate, with 
former defence minister Ismail Isakov named as his running-mate. (See Kyrgyz 
Opposition Candidate Seen as Stalking-Horse, RCA No. 574, 24-Apr-09.) 

Although some analysts speculated that a more heavyweight figure might replace 
Atambaev once the election race got under way, the message was clear – all the 
parties were going to put aside their differences and back one main candidate 
with one in reserve. 

There was therefore some consternation when at a congress on May 4, the Ak 
Shumkar party nominated its leader Temir Sariev to run for office. 

“At the congress, the party nominated me to run for the presidency, and I will 
obey that decision. We are not leaving the UPM. Ours is an opposition party, 
and we regard ourselves as opponents of the current government,” Sariev told 
IWPR afterwards. 

Three days later, the UPM expelled Sariev for going against the agreed 

A day later, the UPM leadership issued a statement explaining its decision, 
saying, “There are many individuals with excellent leadership qualities among 
the UPM’s members, but we decided that the welfare of our country should be 
placed far above personal ambition.” 

Sariev expressed disappointment at the news of his expulsion, but remained 

“I believed we [UPM] were risking a lot by nominating one candidate,” he said, 
with reference to Atambaev. “At any moment that individual can be ruled out of 
the election campaign, and then it will be impossible to fix things.” 

Rumours that Sariev was unhappy with the UPM’s choice of candidate had been 
circulating for some time. His failure to attend an April 25 meeting at which 
Atambaev’s nomination was formally approved was seen as significant at the 

Sariev was at one time a Social Democrat like Atambaev, but he objected 
strongly when the latter agreed to become prime minister in March 2007. 
President Bakiev was reeling after as series of anti-government rallies, and 
made a number of concessions including offering cabinet positions to his 

Although Atambaev said he was taking the job so as to build bridges at a time 
of deepening divisions in Kyrgyzstan, some of his colleagues like Sariev viewed 
his decision as a betrayal of everything they stood for. 

At the recent Ak Shumkar convention, Sariev recalled his disappointment, 
saying, “We, the opposition, did not mandate Atambaev to become prime minister 
on our behalf. I left the Social Democrats after that.” 

Some political analysts believe Sariev’s decision to run for the presidency 
marks an end to the unity the UPM has succeeded in forging since it was set up 
in December as the latest in a series of attempts to build a lasting opposition 

“In fact, there is no longer any UPM, as such,” analyst Nur Omarov said in an 
interview for the Bishkek Press Club. “The movement has disintegrated. We can 
expect to see a split in the vote, because in place of the promised nomination 
of a single candidate, there are in actually three opposition candidates.” 

In Omarov’s view, “It is therefore safe to assume that the current president 
will win the election. His team works much more efficiently than the 

With the departure of Sariev, the UPM has lost an important asset in more ways 
than one. 

He is not only an experienced and well-regarded politician, but amassed 
considerable wealth as a successful businessman in the Nineties. Resources are 
always an issue for political parties in Kyrgyzstan. 

Omurbek Tekebaev, who leads the biggest of the opposition parties, Ata Meken, 
accepts that losing Sariev will weaken the UPM. 

At the same time, he voiced respect for the politician’s decision to go it 
alone, saying, “That is his right.” 

“Ak Shumkar is a young party whose members probably want to participate [in the 
election] on their own,” added Tekebaev. 

Sariev himself says his party is prepared to work with “progressive forces 
including the UPM” wherever they can find common ground. 

“Opposition is a broad canvas, and no one has a right to include or exclude 
anyone else,” he said. 

Meanwhile, there were few surprises when the governing Ak Jol party met on May 
1 and nominated just one candidate, President Bakiev. He made it clear he 
planned to run for a second term as far back as February. 

In all, eight contenders – not including Sariev – have now been approved as 
candidates by Kyrgyzstan’s national election body. Apart from Bakiev, Atambaev 
and Isakov, they include the head of the Peasant Farmers’Party Kuttubek 
Asylbekov; Nurlan Motuev, who heads a “patriotic movement” called Joomart; 
leading doctor Jenyshbek Nazaraliev; businessman Akbaraly Aitikeev and teacher 
Muratbek Borombaev. 

Anara Yusupova is a pseudonym used by a reporter in Bishkek. 


Package of changes to voting procedures likely to encourage cheating, say 

By Timur Toktonaliev in Bishkek

Opposition members and rights activists in Kyrgyzstan are warning that the 
presidential election this July could be marred by flawed voting procedures. 
They argue that recent changes to the regulations have only made things worse. 

The authorities have dropped the use of indelible ink marks to prevent people 
voting twice, and have barred many non-government organisations, NGOs, from 
monitoring the ballot. 

In addition, people will be allowed to show a driving license rather than a 
full passport to be eligible to vote. Critics say lowering the requirements in 
this manner will make it easier for abuses to occur. 

The July 23 presidential vote falls on a Thursday, a departure from past 
practice of holding elections only at the weekend. 

The risk here is that turnout will be low, and tilted in favour of those with 
the resources to bus voters in. The authorities counter that in previous 
elections held on weekend days, people often said they were too busy or could 
not leave their children unattended to go and vote. 

The procedural changes form part of amended electoral legislation passed in 
late December, while the restrictions on NGOs conducting election monitoring 
are contained in a bill due to go before parliament. 

The bill would ban both Kyrgyz NGOs and the local missions of international 
organisations from monitoring elections, unless that activity is explicitly 
part of their mandate. (For more on these concerns, see Kyrgyz NGOs Fear 
Tougher Legislation, RCA No. 569, 10-Mar-09.) 

“We are proposing that non-commercial entities do not take part in elections – 
including that they do not nominate candidates on behalf of their organisation, 
and that they do not observe the vote,” said Communist Party leader Ishak 
Masaliev, one of the members of parliament who proposed the bill. 

He added, “Please do not make out that I am against international institutions 
that help develop democracy. They can continue do so; I am talking about 
something else.” 

Masaliev noted that the bill allows for exceptions to be made for organisations 
like the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, which send 
election observers to when members states hold ballots. 

He suggested that the bill’s real target was radical Islamic groups like Hizb 

“We see how their activists go door to door, and they are probably being 
financed by someone. That’s the threat I mean.” 

Critics of the measure, however, say it will allow more scope for rigging to go 
on without external scrutiny. 

“This is going to be a problem for Kyrgyzstan,” said Aziza Abdurasulova, head 
of the human rights group Kylym Shamy. “If civil society doesn’t have an 
opportunity to monitor elections, this will cast a shadow over elections.” 

Irina Karamushkina, a member of parliament with the opposition Social 
Democratic Party, says that at the moment, NGOs play an important role by 
“hindering the authorities from carrying out machinations they have dreamed 

The OSCE office in Bishkek was sufficiently concerned about the NGO law for its 
head Ambassador Andrew Tesoriere to issue a statement in mid-April outlining 
the hazards of passing the law in its current shape. 

While current Kyrgyz legislation was compatible with international standards 
“in most respects”, said Tesoriere, the amendments would constitute “a setback 
from the current version of the law". 

He was commenting on an “opinion” document produced by the OSCE’s Office for 
Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which recommended that final verson 
of the bill should not retain certain provisions such as “the prohibition [of] 
activities that come within a broad definition of what is ‘political’ or 
connected to elections”. 

The NGO bill, which would also require more transparency about funding sources, 
is on hold because of the outcry from NGOs. According to Masaliev, the document 
is now the subject of consultations with NGOs, after which it should go before 
parliament in June. 

The practice of marking voters’ thumbs with indelible ink was introduced for 
the presidential election of 2005, following the March uprising which ousted 
the then president Askar Akaev. The election was won by Kurmanbek Bakiev, who 
is now running for a second term. 

Masaliev, who also backed the December bill abolishing the practice, says there 
are simple ways of wiping off the supposedly permanent ink. 

“Since it’s possible to get round the marking procedure, it doesn’t play such a 
major role any more,” he told IWPR. “I was against it from the start – the 
procedure is somewhat humiliating for people.” 

Another parliamentarian who opposes ink marking, Dinara Moldosheva of the 
governing Ak Jol party, agrees the technique is past its sell-by date, since 
there are more sophisticated methods for ensuring a fair vote, including 
transparent ballot boxes and larger numbers of election observers. The top 
priority, she said, was to train election officers more thoroughly. 

Critics, however, insist the loss of this safety-check will add to the risk of 
repeat voting. 

“The ink checking procedure was introduced for good reason,” said Dinara 
Oshurkhanova, leader of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, 
explaining that when a country’s voting systems are less than ideal, marking 
voters’ hands provides an extra safeguard against multiple voting. 

Communist Party parliamentarian Guljamal Sultanalieva disagrees with her 
leader, Masaliev, and says that recent elections have seen frequent complaints 
of malpractice, such as the “merry-go round”, where people go from one polling 
station to another, voting again and again. 

“All the dirty tricks that were used prior to the introduction of [ink] marking 
will now resume – the merry-go-round, and the busing in of voters,” she said. 

Political analyst Mars Sariev notes that the national election authorities have 
cited money as a reason for ditching the thumb-marking system, which cost over 
90,000 US dollars for each of the last two elections, legislative and local. 
But his view is that this is money well spent if it boosts voter confidence. 

“When the opposition and a section of the population fear that [state] 
administrative resources will be used [to influence the forthcoming ballot], it 
would have been worth spending this money,” he said. 

The relaxation of the rules to allow voters to show a driving license instead 
of their passport at the polling station has raised fears that it will be 
easier to abuse the system. 

“This is one of the things that will lead to massive vote-rigging,” warned 
Omurbek Tekebaev, leader of the opposition party Ata Meken. 

Abdirasulova thinks that, just as with the ink issue, this will allow the 
authorities to bus in groups of loyal voters and send them from one polling 
station to the next. 

Moldosheva denies this will be possible, saying driving licences will only 
count as valid ID if the individual concerned is listed on the electoral roll 
for one particular polling station. 

A former member of the Central Election Commission, Bolot Malabaev, says the 
best solution would be to make multiple voting a criminal offence. 

However, there is no sign that this could happen before the July election, nor 
is there much indication of how enforceable or effective it would be. 

Taken together, the recent and proposed changes to the rules leave critics of 
the Bakiev administration suspecting that the whole thing is a 
carefully-engineered project designed to ensure an easy victory in July 

“These measures were planned in advance,” insisted Abdirasulova. “This election 
will not be conducted fairly because that’s the way it’s been set up.” 

Timur Toktonaliev reports for the internet publication Kloop.kg. 


Many people continue living in areas vulnerable to landslides, in some cases 
after receiving warnings to move out. 

Chinara Karimova in Bishkek

A landslide and mudflows in southern Kyrgyzstan have been followed by 
allegations that the emergencies ministry failed to warn people in time and did 
not react in time. 

The landslide happened in Jalalabad region on the night of April 15-16, and 
left 16 people dead, 11 of them children, when three houses were devastated in 
the village of Raykomol. 

There are warnings that more casualties could follow in incidents of this kind, 
as Kyrgyzstan’s mountainous terrain means many people live in areas that could 
be at risk. 

The authorities point out in their defence that some villagers have been 
advised to relocate to safer places, but have failed to do so.

The landslide followed higher than usual rainfall this spring, which was also 
the cause of mudflows – torrents of water, earth and debris – which swept away 
roads, blocked canals and flooded homes in a number of villages in the Batken 
region on May 5. In the village of Achaluu in neighbouring Osh region, six 
families lost farm buildings and vegetable plots to a mudslide. 

On May 6, the emergencies ministry reported that there had been no casualties 
in the mudflows.

Janaly Ajiev was lucky to survive the April landslide in Raykomol.

“We heard a sound like thunder during the night and then the room fell in on 
us,” he recalled. “I couldn’t open the door so I got the children out of the 
house through the window and took them to my youngest brother’s house further 
up the village.

“Then I went to see my older brother’s house. My sister lives not far from him, 
and both their houses had been flattened.”

Ajiev’s sister and her family – 11 people in all – were among the dead.

Raykomol residents say they received no prior warning. Emergency minister 
Kamchybek Tashiev acknowledged that no warning was given, but he also pointed 
to the scale of the problem – most of Kyrgyzstan is mountainous terrain, and 
many settlements are located by hillsides, along rivers and in valleys. 

“As minister I take moral responsibility,” he said. “We did not warn these 
three families. If they’d been warned they might still be alive.”

Isabek Torgoev, who heads the seismic monitoring unit at the Institute for 
Geomechanics and Mineral Resource Development, said an interview for the 
Bishkek Press Club that some 10,000 people are living in landslide-prone areas 
in Kyrgyzstan.

The ministry says there are more than 1,000 families living in areas where 
there is an immediate or heightened risk of landslide, but a quarter of them 
have ignored government advice to move. These 260 families were warned of 
impending disaster and given money and land to resettle, but they remain in 
their old homes.

According to Tashiev, all too often these people ignore the advice and spend 
the relocation money on other things. 

Experts interviewed by IWPR confirmed that some people continue living in their 
old houses, sometimes using the relocation money to repair them. Others do move 
out but come back in spring and summer. Finally, it is common for vacated homes 
to be occupied by others. 

“People are allocated plots of land to build new houses. But because there is 
so much poverty, as soon as they move out, their relatives occupy the 
properties,” said Isabek Torgoev, who heads the seismic monitoring unit at the 
Institute for Geomechanics and Mineral Resource Development. 

It does not appear that those who died in the landslide, or lost property in 
the preceding mudslides, are among those who had been told to move. 

Raykomol village head Talant Orozov said the homes devastated by the landslide 
were not among those considered to be at risk. He said tests had been done 
elsewhere and people had been moved accordingly.

“No one thought that it would strike here this time,” he said.

Azimbek Beknazarov, a leading opposition politician who heads the Revolutionary 
Movement of Kyrgyzstan, asks why the homes of people killed in the landslide 
had not been in the at-risk group.

Beknazarov, who comes from the Aksy district where Raykomol is located, arrived 
in the village on April 17, the day after the landslide. 

He says documents dating from 1998 suggest the part of the village the victims 
lived in was in fact designated for clearance because of the risks. 

At that time, he recalled, “The highest percentage of complaints and requests 
from my district when I was a [parliamentary] deputy was related to this issue. 
People were being given papers telling them to move, but it took years to issue 
them with [relocation] loans and they were forced to go on living in dangerous 

He added, “Our government is always late. If it had foreseen this and taken 
measures, the tragedy could have been avoided.”

At the same time, Beknazarov noted that many people in southern Kyrgyzstan 
refused to move out of high-risk areas even after being warned to do so. 

“There are a lot of people like that in my home village,” he said. “The 
emergency ministry needs to keep an eye on them and force them to relocate to 
safer areas. Many families have taken the money and spent it on other things. 
Now they remain living in the danger zones, relying on God’s grace and 

The last spate of landslips in southern Kyrgyzstan occurred in 2003 and 2004, 
when nearly 400 were recorded. Experts say the wet winter and spring may bring 
another wave of them.

Many recall 2003, when 38 people died in the village of Sogot in Osh region. 

According to Tajibay Zulumov, who lives in the neighbouring village of Akterek, 
“There was a loss in every home, with some losing six family members during the 

Zulumov recalled that families whose homes and property were destroyed were 
given new plots of land and money to build houses in the district centre, 
Uzgen, but many simply went back and patched up their houses.

“They did move to the new location, but not for good,” he said. “They live 
there [only] during the winter, and they leave at least one family member 
behind in their old house, because their land is in the village. It’s 
impossible to keep livestock in the new locations. People who are used to 
village life find life [in the town] is difficult.”

Sady Kenjebaev, who lost all his family during 2003 tragedy, is a typical 
example. Despite being given new housing free of charge near Uzgen, he spends 
the spring and summer months back in Sogot, where he grows potatoes and keeps 

“The disaster happened once, and it won’t strike twice. May God preserve us! 
It’s hard living in town, and I’m not used to it.”

Aziza Abdirasulova, head of the human rights group Kylym Shamy, says the 
government needs to do more to ease the resettlement process. 

“Sometimes it takes them several years to get the loan [due to them],” she 
said. “The emergencies ministry is responsible for solving problems of this 
kind, and it needs to become more effective.”

Torgoev stressed the importance of taking preemptive measure before disaster 

“As with other natural disasters, it is easier to prevent landslides than to 
deal with the consequences,” he said. “Economically, it’s better for the 
government to spend money on conducting studies in areas prone to landslides 
and on forecasting the risks than to find the money to rebuild settlements once 
they’ve been destroyed.”

Chinara Karimova is a pseudonym for a journalist in Kyrgyzstan.


Reform bill seeks to level the playing field ahead of 2010 polls.

By Aslibegim Manzarshoeva and Lola Olimova in Dushanbe

Opposition parties in Tajikistan say the odds are stacked against them as they 
prepare for a parliamentary election early next year.

They say current electoral legislation restricts parties’ freedom of action, 
and argue that the deposit candidates must pay is set far too high and will 
discourage people from putting themselves forward. When it comes to the 
February 2010 election itself, the opposition fears the count will be less than 
transparent, making it unlikely the ballot will be free and fair.

Ahead of the election, the Communist Party of Tajikistan has drafted a reform 
bill which envisages abolishing deposits; doubling the amount of free airtime 
for political party broadcasts to one hour; and requiring local electoral 
commissions to include party agents in the interests of ensuring transparency. 

The non-returnable fee payable by candidates currently stands at 7,000 somonis, 
around 1,700 US dollars. This is a substantial sum given Tajikistan’s position 
as the poorest of the five Central Asian states. 

“How can a party pay deposits when most of its members can’t afford to pay 
their membership dues?” asked Communist leader Shodi Shabdolov. “If this 
artificial hurdle is done away with, every party will be able to nominate up to 
22 candidates, as is its right.”

Separately, the head of the Social Democratic Party, Rahmatullo Zoirov, plans 
to bring a case to Tajikistan’s Constitutional Court to get the deposit 

Zoirov believes the fee is an insurmountable obstacle for many people, 
especially given the current economic downturn facing Tajikistan. 

When the deposit was introduced in 2004, it was set at 400 dollars, a quarter 
of the current level. 

Muhibullo Dodojonov, who heads the Central Election Commission’s administrative 
body, says the measure was taken in line with recommendations from the Venice 
Commission, an advisory body to the Council of Europe.

Although Dodojonov thinks the fee is still a useful mechanism, he is open to 
reforming it, saying, “I think that it should be reduced, but not abolished 

He said that in the past, the deposit requirement was a useful way of weeding 
out minor warlords from the 1992-97 civil war era who were trying to muscle 
their way into politics.

Abolitionists say that in reality, the potential candidates most likely to be 
excluded by the high cost of standing are more likely to be educated people in 
low-paid public sector jobs. 

As Zoirov put it in an interview for IWPR, “Those who have intellect don’t have 

Zoirov’s deputy leader in the Social Democrats, Shokirjon Hakimov, said that in 
a country where educated professionals can expect to earn 150 dollars a month, 
“ imagine how long they’d have to work to exercise their civil right to be in… 

Shabdolov told IWPR he understood the arguments about preventing guerrilla 
commanders from standing, but said those days were long gone.

Political parties are currently allowed to send observers to watch the count, 
but the Communists’ bill would see them included on the election commissions 
that run the ballot.

Shabdolov said that in the last parliamentary election, held in 2005, the 
electoral roll had names added to it, and documentation from the count was 
collated without the parties having any access to it. 

“We should not repeat these mistakes, and in the forthcoming election the law 
should be observed so as to afford equal participation to all parties,” he said.

Muhiddin Kabiri, leader of the Islamic Rebirth Party, the only Islamic 
political group represented in any Central Asian parliament, agrees that the 
two key issues are the deposit and access to election procedures for the 

At the moment, he said, “If any local official or any member of the electoral 
commission wishes to falsify or tamper with the results, they can. Neither 
observers nor candidates have the slightest opportunity to rectify the 
situation and prevent the law being broken.”

Critics of the way elections are currently run in Tajikistan say one of the 
problems is that local election bodies are staffed with teachers, who as 
public-sector workers are easily pressured into turning a blind eye to 

Dodojonov acknowledged there had been complaints about his commission’s local 
branches, but said steps were being taken to ensure they were independent. In 
the last two elections, he said, they had been given their own premises rather 
than being housed in the local mayor’s offices. 

As for engaging school staff to work as election officers, Dodojonov said, 
“Teachers don’t belong to any party, and they work on a voluntary basis…. No 
one else would agree to do that.”

Abdughani Mamadazimov, head of Association of Political Scientists in 
Tajikistan, said serious questions remained about the integrity of the election 
process at grassroots level. 

“Local government bodies interfere during elections, particularly in the 
count,” he said. “This has a negative impact on the transparency and openness 
of parliamentary elections.”

In next February’s ballot, Tajikistan’s eight political parties will be 
contesting 22 out of the 63 seats in the lower house of parliament, based on a 
proportional representation system. The remaining 41 seats are directly elected 
on a constituency basis, offering parties a chance to win more seats by this 

The People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan, PDPT, which backs President 
Imomali Rahmon, currently has an absolute majority with 52 seats. Shabdolov’s 
Communists come a distant second with four seats. The Islamic Rebirth Party 
held two seats until last month, when Muhammdadsharif Himmatzoda stepped down.

Others like the Democratic Party, the Socialists and Zoirov’s Social Democrats, 
did not make it past the five per cent threshold set for the 2005 ballot.

The PDPT has a clear advantages over the rest through its proximity to power 
and resources, a membership of 100,000-plus nationwide, and the perception that 
national and local government officials are expected to join as a matter of 

The Communists and the Islamic party, with memberships of 50,000 and 30,000, 
respectively, cater to constituencies that are restricted by their particular 
ideologies, while the rest have followings of just a few thousand each, based 
largely in the capital Dushanbe and other urban areas.

Mamadazimov believes the perception that all elections are fixed – a claim 
supported by past findings from western election observers – has created a mood 
of apathy among Tajikistan’s electorate. 

“We cannot therefore expect our citizens to participate actively in the [2010] 
election,” he concluded.

Dodojonov defended the Central Election Commission, saying there had been a lot 
of progress, including the introduction of see-through ballot boxes and special 
ballot paper which should prevent forgery, and ending the practice where the 
final count was verified by having the local government’s stamp placed on the 

The Communists submitted their draft law to government in February, and 
Dodojonov said that meant it should be making its way into parliament round 
about now, to comply with a three-month rule for such bills. 

But as Hakimov pointed out, even if the bill is successful, timing will be 

“The later the law is passed and the legislation revised, the better it will be 
for the ruling party [PDPT] since it will leave little time for manoeuvre for 
other political groups,” he said.

Aslibegim Manzarshoeva is an IWPR-trained contributor and Lola Olimova is an 
IWPR editor in Tajikistan

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