WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 582, July 9, 2009
KYRGYZ ELECTION UPDATES 2009
KYRGYZSTANS LACKLUSTRE ELECTION CAMPAIGN Apathetic public and short run-up
period leave little scope for candidates to build up head of steam. By Azamat
Kachiev and Urmatbek Tashmatov in Bishkek
UPSURGE IN MILITANT PRESENCE IN KYRGYZSTAN Porous border makes country's south
vulnerable to incursions, experts say. By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek and
Abdraim Ysmanov in Jalalabad
KAZAKS AGREE TO JOINT WTO APPROACH Almaty wants to use customs union to break
down Russian trade barriers, and then bid for WTO membership. By Galiaskar
Utegulov in Almaty
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KYRGYZ ELECTION UPDATES 2009
KYRGYZSTANS LACKLUSTRE ELECTION CAMPAIGN
Apathetic public and short run-up period leave little scope for candidates to
build up head of steam.
By Azamat Kachiev and Urmatbek Tashmatov in Bishkek
As Kyrgyzstan heads for an election in which the incumbent president Kurmanbek
Bakiev faces five challengers, one might have expected campaigning to be lively
and robust. In reality, activity has been muted so far, with little posturing
by candidates and no shock announcements, scandals or street demonstrations to
engage public attention.
The election date, July 23, was announced only three months ago, after an
extended debate over whether the ballot was due this year or next. (For more on
this, see Surprise Early Polls for Kyrgyzstan, RCA No. 570, 20-Mar-09.) That
left the opposition, in particular, little time to get into gear and identify a
Of the six candidates, Bakiev is a strong contender as he runs for a second
term. He was elected in July 2005 after playing a leading role in a popular
uprising which led to the then head of state, Askar Akaev, leaving the country
in March that year.
Bakievs major opponent is Social Democratic Party leader Almazbek Atambaev,
selected by the main opposition bloc, the United Peoples Movement, as its sole
Atambaev served as prime minister in 2007 at a time when Bakiev was trying to
coopt opposition members. Some in the opposition have held this against him,
and unhappiness over his selection as the UPMs sole the issue prompted Ak
Shumkar party leader Temir Sariev to break ranks and stand for election
himself. (For a report on this, see Kyrgyz Opposition Unity Crumbles, RCA No.
The others on the list of candidates are Toktaim Umetalieva, who heads the
Association of Non-Commercial and Non-Government Organisations; Jenishbek
Nazaraliev, a high-profile doctor specialising in treating drug users; and
Nurlan Motuev, who heads the Joomart Patriotic Movement, is co-leader of the
Kyrgyz Muslim Union, and defied the authorities by taking control of a coal
mine and running it for a year in 2006-07, for which he was later tried but not
With the incumbent determined to stay in power and the opposition showing
unusual cohesion in facing up to him, many observers were expecting a turbulent
campaign punctuated by the mass demonstrations that were a feature of Bakievs
early years in office. Yet so far campaigning on all sides has been low-key.
A media-watcher who asked to remain anonymous said Atambaev, as Bakievs main
opponent, was not putting up much of a fight.
His statements to date dont contain basic messages, said the analyst. Its
hard to say what message Atambaev stands for. For instance, Nazaraliev offers a
new [Kyrgyz national] flag and 100,000 soms for each family. Sarievs message
is that hes steadfast.
Bakiev has been more active, albeit in his capacity as head of state rather
than as an election candidate. Since the election race official began, he has
attended a number of opening ceremonies for new buildings around the country,
during which he chatted to the locals.
Such visits have drawn fire from rights activists as well as opposition
members, who suspect Bakiev he is exploiting official business for political
Human rights groups even brought a case before the Constitutional Court seeking
Bakievs temporarily removal as president for the duration of the campaign, so
as to level the playing field for other candidates. The court rejected this on
June 30, saying Bakievs activities did not constitute a breach of voters
The president remains visible in the media in a way his rivals are not.
According to the Institution of the Media Commissioner, a non-government
watchdog, television channels body carried only Bakievs election broadcasts
for the first week of campaigning.
Atambaev and Nazaraliev have both complained that the owners of billboards are
refusing to sell them space for election posters.
Samat Borubaev, a member of the Central Electoral Committee, CEC, who heads a
special team coordinating with the candidates, says all of them have been
assigned equal amounts of airtime. But he says that since they are allowed to
buy extra advertising, their different levels of visibility are directly
related to the size of their war-chests.
Since June 18, the first day of the campaign, we have been providing ten
minutes airtime a day to the candidates, which means each one has 50 seconds in
Russian and [another 50 seconds] in Kyrgyz every day, said Borubaev. In
addition, candidates will each get 15 minutes on TV to present their election
programmes, free of charge. There are also roundtable and debate shows, which
are likewise free.
On July 2, the CEC published details of each candidates electoral funds,
showing that Bakiev had 35 million soms over 800,000 US dollars and had
spent 14 million soms to date, whereas Atambaev had four million of which he
had spent half already. The other candidates had about half a million soms
Media expert Igor Shestakov thinks it is natural that Bakiev is seen on TV more
often than other candidates.
Thats the scenario when an incumbent head of state is seeking re-election,
Shestakov blames the short election deadline for forcing candidates to reduce
their ambitions, saying the time pressure has made all of them fix on the
essential points of their campaigns without setting them out [in full],
expanding on them and doing PR work. Instead, theyve been focusing on meeting
the voters at constituency level.
The electorate has become apolitical and has rather limited horizons these
days, according to Shestakov.
Voter demands have become more specific, he said. If a candidate promises to
fix their day-to-day problems, say by repairing a road or improving the
infrastructure, that will be enough for them.
The lack of time has prevented candidates from seeking advice from election
specialists abroad. The campaign teams of various candidates, including both
Bakiev and Atambaev, said they were working on their own.
A political strategist well acquainted with the methods used by Bakievs
campaign team told IWPR that foreign consultants had not been hired. Speaking
on condition of anonymity, he said the general approach seemed to be, Why bend
over backwards when hes going to win anyway?
Shestakov noted one slight sign of technological progress in this election
some candidates, particularly Nazaraliev are using the internet to deliver
their campaign messages.
Its a landmark, since everything used to be based solely on TV, radio and the
press, he said.
Shestakov added, however, that since internet use in Kyrgyzstan is mainly urban
while voter turnout tends to be higher in rural areas, the new medium might not
prove very effective way of winning over the electorate.
Azamat Kachiev and Urmatbek Tashmatov are IWPR-trained journalists.
UPSURGE IN MILITANT PRESENCE IN KYRGYZSTAN
Porous border makes country's south vulnerable to incursions, experts say.
By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek and Abdraim Ysmanov in Jalalabad
Kyrgyzstans porous southern border, compounded by the inability of its
under-funded security forces to patrol it adequately, is helping make the
country a destination for Islamic militants who are believed to be coming in
from Afghanistan and Pakistan, observers say.
In the past ten days, nine suspected militants have been killed in two
operations in the south of the country.
Three were killed in a firefight on the night of June 28, in the village of
Kosh-Korgon, in Osh regions Uzgen district, after being besieged in an
abandoned house. One of them blew himself up with a hand-grenade.
Kyrgyzstans State National Security Committee, GKNB, said its men found
weapons including Kalashnikov rifles, pistols and grenades when they entered
the building later.
The following day, a fourth man, believed to be from the same group, was killed
in a nearby forest after attacking and injuring three policemen with a grenade.
Four arrests were made the wife of one of the alleged militants, a villager
said to have allowed the group to use his house, and two others accused of
The incident followed a similar one in the Suzak district of neighbouring
Jalalabad region on June 23, when forces from the GKNBs elite Alpha unit took
on a group of armed men in the village of Tash-Bulak. Five members of the group
were killed, an officer from the Alpha force died, and a soldier from the unit
According to the GKNBs Jalalabad division, the special forces found five
Kalashnikovs, rocket launchers and ammunition in the house where the militants
were hiding out. They also discovered instructions on how to make explosives of
various kinds, and eight sets of black clothing outfits and masks of the kind
that might be worn by suicide bombers.
National-level officials have not so far officially confirmed that the groups
involved in the Osh and Jalalabad were linked. However, the Bayishbek
Jumanazarov, who heads the district government body in Uzgen, told the Bishkek
Press Club on June 29, that there was a connection.
Nor have officials definitively identified the members of either group.
GKNB officers say some of the five men killed on June 23 had received training
in Pakistan, and some were members of the banned Islamic Movement of
Guerrillas from the IMU launched raids on Kyrgyz and Uzbek territory in 1999
and 2000. As allies of the Taleban, they moved out of northern Afghanistan when
United States-led Coalition forces arrived there in late 2001, and then settled
in South Waziristan, a militant stronghold in north-western Pakistan.
GKNB officials have also indicated that some of those killed in Uzgen might
have been part of the Islamic Jihad Union, a shadowy group which claimed
responsibility for attacks in eastern Uzbekistan in May.
Overnight on May 25-26, a police checkpoint on the outskirts of Khanabad in the
Andijan region was attacked. The Uzbek prosecutors office said a policeman and
one of the attackers were wounded in an exchange of fire, and that all the
attackers got away. On May 26, a suicide bomber blew himself up in Andijan
city, killing himself and a policeman.
The suspicion among analysts is that the militants now in Kyrgyzstan are of
Central Asian origin but have recently moved back from Afghanistan or Pakistan.
In the latter country, the Taleban and its allies are under mounting pressure
from assaults by Pakistani ground troops and air strikes by US drone aircraft.
South Waziristan is currently a major target for these offensives.
In Afghanistan, the US is pouring in extra troops in hopes of inflicting
military defeat on the militants and securing the southern provinces.
In June, following reports that an armed group had appeared in the mountains of
Tajikistan in (see Chasing Phantoms in the Tajik Mountains, RCA No. 581,
24-Jun-09), Jakypbek Azizov, who heads the Kyrgyz interior ministrys public
security department, told a press conference that elite units from the ministry
had been sent into Batken region as a result of developments in Afghanistan and
the possibility that militants had infiltrated Kyrgyzstans immediate
Batken is a strip of land in the far southwest of Kyrgyzstan, sandwiched
between Tajik and Uzbek territory, and was the scene of IMU incursions in past
I see a direct link between the rise in militant activity in this country and
the military operations in Pakistan, said Zainiddin Kurmanov, who heads the
Kyrgyz parliamentary committee for constitutional law, state institutions and,
law and human rights. The terrorists base is being destroyed, and militants
are fleeing to the countries where it is calm and peaceful.
Security experts warn of an imminent threat to Kyrgyzstan.
If one trusts the law enforcement reports that the militants they eliminated
were IMU, it points to a surge in activity by radical forces which pose a
security threat to all the Central Asian states, said Miroslav Niazov, former
secretary of the Security Council, which oversees national security matters in
Kyrgyzstan. I do see a link between the recent events in Khanabad and this
Kyrgyzstan is seen as particularly vulnerable because its southern border
adjoins both Tajikistan, from where Afghanistan is accessible, and Uzbekistan,
where many believe indiscriminate arrests of alleged Islamists over the years
have bred rather than curbed extremist groups.
According to Orozbek Moldaliev, an expert on national security issues, The
unstable situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the harsh regime in
Uzbekistan exacerbate the threat for Kyrgyzstan, by increasing the potential
number of terrorist attacks on its territory.
Zainiddin Kurmanov noted that it was fairly easy to cross into Kyrgyzstan
undetected because the frontier is not guarded comprehensively, and also
bribery is commonplace.
If you have money, its very easy to get into Kyrgyzstan through our porous
borders, he added.
While the GKNB was able to act swiftly once it spotted the suspected militants,
the border guards service which might have intercepted the intruders is
overstretched and its resources are spread thin.
Our [border guard] agency has neither the personnel nor the resources to be
able to tell whos crossing the border, said Rashid Tagayev, who represents
the governing Ak Jol party in parliament.
Lack of intelligence makes it difficult for the security forces to identify
suspects once they are inside the country.
The secret service [GKNB] demonstrated efficiency in conducting the operation
and seizing arms, said Moldaliev. But there are questions that need answering
how did they get into Kyrgyzstan, and how and where did they acquire such a
lot of arms and explosives?
A GKNB spokesman told IWPR the operations had been a success. Our efforts have
produced results, which are self-evident, although it doesnt come without
losses, he said, in reference to the casualties the agency suffered.
Tagaev says that in the absence of a specialised agency, the authorities need
to expand their existing counter-terrorism resources and fund and equip them
One of the obstacles to gathering intelligence on the ground is the widespread
public mistrust in the police and the security agencies in general. Analysts
say this is something the latter will need to work on.
Its evident that the law-enforcement agencies are poor at engaging with the
local population, said Moldaliev. People knew there was someone in that
abandoned house [in Uzgen] but no one told the police.
Niazov added, If there was mutual trust between the people and the
authorities, people would cooperate with law enforcement and report suspicious
Another radical group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, which does not proclaim armed jihad as
the IMU does, has had some success over recent years in capitalising on Islamic
sentiment in southern Kyrgyzstan and general dissatisfaction with central
government perceived as unresponsive.
The lack of cooperation with police may also have afforded cover to some IMU
members, especially given that southern Kyrgyzstan has a large ethnic Uzbek
Another security expert, Leonid Bondarets, believes IMU militants have
maintained an underground presence in southern Kyrgyzstan and have linked up
with incoming groups.
Some of them left Kyrgyzstan, but other members remained here under deep
cover. So some of these militants came to Kyrgyzstan from Afghanistan, and some
of them were already here, said Bondarets.
Ainagul Abdrakhmanova and Abdraim Ysmanov are IWPR-trained journalists.
KAZAKS AGREE TO JOINT WTO APPROACH
Almaty wants to use customs union to break down Russian trade barriers, and
then bid for WTO membership.
By Galiaskar Utegulov in Almaty
A decision by Kazakstan, Russia and Belarus to try to join the World Trade
Organisation as a group rather than individually is likely to slow their
accession process down. But while Moscow and Minsk may be cautious about
opening up their markets, a Kazak economist argues that his countrys exporters
are well placed to compete globally as well as regionally.
A new customs union which comprises the three former Soviet states and starts
functioning next year is to apply for bloc membership of the WTO on behalf of
its members Russia, Belarus and Kazakstan. At a customs union meeting on June 9
in Moscow, the three states agreed to suspend individual negotiations with the
WTO in favor of a joint accession process.
Our common priority is to join the WTO, but now as a unified customs space,
Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin said at the meeting.
Russia and Belarus have been seeking WTO membership since 1995 and Kazakstan
Of the three, Russia was the closest of the three to joining. At an
international economic forum in St. Petersburg on June 4-6, Russian economic
development minister Elvira Nabiullina said Moscow intended to complete
negotiations by the end of this year. That meant Russia could have become a WTO
member in mid 2010, but that now seems to have fallen by the wayside.
Kazakstan was probably next in line, despite suspending negotiations with the
WTO on a number of occasions.
The customs union is one of a number of post-Soviet regional groupings,
although to date Moscow has only succeeded in getting close allies Kazakstan
and Belarus to sign up. Following an agreement signed in October 2007, the
union is due to come into being next January, with all the arrangements
finalised a year-and-a-half later.
Customs clearance will then take place only on the external borders of the
union, with goods flowing freely between member states.
According to Putin, the countries have agreed on 95 per cent of the external
customs tariffs they will apply.
Economists interviewed by IWPR think the decision to seek joint membership
makes some sense, although Kazakstan has its own reasons for agreeing to join
the customs union first and only then the WTO.
Rahman Alshanov, a Kazak economist, thinks Kazakstan is in a win-win situation,
because it will benefit immediately from the removal of barriers to Russian
markets and will then be in a strong position to compete within the WTO.
Kazakstans largest trade turnover, 7.5 billion dollars, is with Russia, which
is our most aggressive trading partner. The customs union will remove these
barriers, and then well see how competitive Kazakh companies are in comparison
with Russian producers, he said.
Alshanov said that with a relatively open economy and export revenues
equivalent to just over 50 per cent of gross domestic product last year,
Kazakstan was in better shape than either Russia or Belarus to compete in the
Russia and Belarus are likely to be less enthusiastic than Kazakstan about
accepting the free trade obligations imposed by WTO membership.
Dmitry Abzalov of the Centre for Political Trends, a political think-tank in
Moscow, reflects a sense of caution commonly held in Russia about abandoning
WTO membership will be [seen to be] of value only after careful consideration.
If the losses outweigh the gains, then itll be better to hold off on entry and
negotiate better conditions so as to protect the domestic market, he said.
In Abzalovs view, The WTO needs the customs union more than the customs union
needs the WTO. Its obvious that Russia, Belarus and Kazakstan are very
attractive markets for WTO members, which want to enter these markets.
Viktor Ivonin, an economist based in Tashkent, believes Kazakstans smaller
neighbour Kyrgyzstan committed a grave error by rushing into WTO membership on
its own in 1998.
The market was rapidly filled with goods, and as a result the country
effectively lost its industry and agriculture, which were unable to compete
with foreign producers, he said.
Alshanov said that in any case, a joint WTO application might take longer than
expected, since Belarus with the least open and least developed of the three
economies would find it hard to throw open its borders.
The process may be delayed for a year or two, at least, he said. There is a
risk that Belarus will propose unacceptable conditions for accession, impeding
the joint accession format.
If that happened, he said, the three states might end up going back to their
original plans to join the WTO separately.
Galiaskar Utegulov is a pseudonym used by a journalist in Almaty.
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