WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 584, July 23, 2009 KYRGYZ ELECTION UPDATES 2009:
KYRGYZ COPS OUT IN FORCE FOR ELECTION Authorities accused of using police to pressure opposition campaigners. By Anara Yusupova in Bishkek PRESIDENT TO BENEFIT FROM KYRGYZ SUMMER POLLS Opposition says election timing geared towards low turnout, making ballot-rigging easier. By Anara Yusupova and Gulzat Abdurasulova in Bishkek TAMING TAJIKISTANS EASTERN VALLEYS After local power-broker dies in firefight, experts say key is to ensure that counter-insurgency drive does not cause further upset. 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For more information about how you can support IWPR go to: http://iwpr.net/donate **** www.iwpr.net ******************************************************************** KYRGYZ ELECTION UPDATES 2009: KYRGYZ COPS OUT IN FORCE FOR ELECTION Authorities accused of using police to pressure opposition campaigners. By Anara Yusupova in Bishkek Ahead of the Kyrgyz presidential election which got under way on July 23, human rights groups alleged that police were being used to intimidate opposition supporters. First deputy interior minister Sabyrbek Kurmanaliev said on July 14 that additional police would be deployed on election day to bring the overall number to 12,000, of whom 5,000 would be stationed at the 2,200 or so polling stations around the country. Another 7,000 would be held in reserve, ready to be dispatched within half an hour to any polling station, he said. The law-enforcement agencies are flexing their muscles, commented Asiya Sasykbaeva, head of the Interbilim non-government group. What kind of election is it if theres a need for so many police officers? What are they scared of? And what is the purpose of this rapid deployment? Most Kyrgyz citizens perceive the deputy interior ministers remarks as a threat, she concluded. Of the six candidates in the July 23 election, the president Kurmanbek Bakiev, seeking a second term, is the strongest contender. His leading opponent is Social Democratic Party leader Almazbek Atambaev, selected by the main opposition bloc, the United Peoples Movement, UPM, as its sole candidate. The others on the list are Temir Sariev of the Ak Shumkar party, Toktaim Umetalieva, Jenishbek Nazaraliev and Nurlan Motuev. The campaign teams for both opposition-aligned contenders, Atambaev and Sariev, have claimed that police have harassed candidates and supporters or otherwise interfered with their campaigns. Emilbek Kaptagaev of the Uluu Birimdik party, which is part of the UPM bloc, alleges that on the night of June 20-21, he was abducted by a group of men one of them wearing police uniform driven out of town, beaten up and abandoned. Speaking at a press conference on July 16, Kaptagaev accused the authorities of arranging the attack. At the same event, Atambaev recalled how he fell ill while meeting voters on June 19 and alleged that officers of the State Committee for National Security, GKNB, had poisoned him. Another leading UPM member, former defence minister Ismail Isakov, said, Theyre effectively hunting us down, and its happening with the approval of the countrys leadership. Sarievs team allege that when they stayed overnight in a private house in the town of Tash-Komur in the southern Jalalabad region on July 7, police and local government officials intimidated the owner into asking them to leave. Terrified relatives of the host called and persuaded the candidate to leave the house. At around 11 in the evening, the election team left without having anywhere to stay, and was forced to leave for Aksy district, said a report from Sarievs campaign headquarters. IWPR was unable to get a comment from the interior ministry on the specific allegations made by Kaptagaev and Atambaev, as it will not talk about matters that have not been formally reported to the police. However, interior ministry spokesman Bakyt Seitov told IWPR that police officers were not interfering with campaigning by opposition candidates. Police officers across the country are rigorously carrying out their professional obligations to provide order and protect public security, he said. They do not get involved in politics. There is no proof to back up such allegations. He added, I think opposition members say things like this as a cheap way of winning popularity. Beyshenbek Abdyrasakov, a member of parliament from the governing Ak Jol party, said there was no evidence that police were harassing opposition candidates. The opposition knows in advance that its going to lose this election, so its trying to get the public to believe that it has been subjected to pressure and threats, he said. In reality, it doesnt enjoy very high ratings, so it invents stories of this kind to hide the fact that its unpopular and that not many people turn up for its meetings. In Abdyrasakovs view, This election campaign is more honest, clean and transparent than ever before. I think people will go to the polls of their own free will and make their own choices calmly. Sasykbaeva says that as well as the campaign teams, ordinary voters were fearful of police surveillance when they met candidates, in case this got them into trouble once the election was over. Villagers in many regions are forced to hide behind trees when they meet an opposition candidate and his election team, out of fear that if they will caught on video by security officers and they or their families then face persecution, she said. In a report published on July 14, the Time for My Choice Alliance of Civic Organisations, an umbrella group of non-government groups which aims to monitor electoral practices, said opposition members of local electoral commissions had been pressured to leave. Right after joining electoral commissions, representatives of opposition parties were forced to leave following strong pressure from local government, law-enforcement bodies and the security service, said the report. Of the 144 representatives from the Social Democratic party in Issykkul region, 48 people renounced their positions at the last minute. The Alliance of Civic Organisations published a list of recommendations calling for action against interior ministry police and GKNB officers who intimidated people into stepping down from electoral bodies. Asked about the allegations, Samibek Kadyraliev, Issykkul regional coordinator for the governing Ak Jol party, said, I dont believe that I think theyve resigned because they know their candidates are hopeless. Political analyst Mars Sariev is sceptical of official claims that the opposition has made up the claims of harassment. The authorities are doing this in order to paralyse the activity of civil society. The increasing number of cases of journalists being beaten up and the general atmosphere of fear reigning in the country its all designed to instil fear in Kyrgyzstans people. Anara Yusupova is pseudonym for a journalist in Kyrgyzstan. PRESIDENT TO BENEFIT FROM KYRGYZ SUMMER POLLS Opposition says election timing geared towards low turnout, making ballot-rigging easier. By Anara Yusupova and Gulzat Abdurasulova in Bishkek Civil rights and opposition activists say the decision to hold this weeks presidential election on a working day at the height of the holiday season was designed to tip the balance in favour of incumbent Kurmanbek Bakiev. The vote takes place on July 23, a Thursday, a departure from previous practice of holding elections at the weekend. When the law was changed to allow this in late December, the authorities said they wanted to boost turnout, as people had often said they were too busy to come out on a weekend. However, critics of the government say the timing of this election creates scope for busing in people to vote en masse for example public-sector workers who, they say, may be pressured into casting their vote for the powers that be. Meanwhile, other sections of the electorate will be hard at work, away on holiday, or just too apathetic to vote. Even before voting starts, violations of the rules have already been alleged by the Union of Civil Society Organisations for Voters Rights, an umbrella group set up to monitor the election. At a news conference in Bishkek on July 15, Dinara Oshurakhunova, whose Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society is part of the monitoring group, said, Its now pretty certain that the heads of all state enterprises as well as of some private companies are going to make sure their employees turn out to vote, and that theyll also influence the choice they make. Lawyer Sartbay Jaychibekov, who spoke at the same news conference, said that some employers were increasing working hours to factor in voting time. I have information that the directors of the brick factory and brewery in Kant [near the capital Bishkek] have extended the working day on July 23 from eight to ten hours, he said. The heads of these plants have also said theyll be telling people who to vote for. In other words, they will probably take their employees en masse and tell them who to vote for. According to the Central Election Commission, CEC, 2.7 million out of the population of five million are eligible to vote. Of the six candidates, Bakiev, seeking a second term, is a strong contender. 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, fleeing the country earlier that year. Bakievs leading opponent is Social Democratic Party leader Almazbek Atambaev, selected by the main opposition bloc, the United Peoples Movement, UPM, as its sole candidate. The others on the list are Ak Shumkar party leader Temir Sariev, Toktaim Umetalieva, who heads the Association of Non-Commercial and Non-Government Organisations; Jenishbek Nazaraliev, a high-profile doctor; and Nurlan Motuev, who heads the Joomart Patriotic Movement and is co-leader of the Kyrgyz Muslim Union. A leader of the UPM, Azimbek Beknazarov, believes the authorities are keen to keep turnout as low as possible since that is likely to tilt the balance away from opposition candidates. First, it plays into the authorities hands if people dont participate in the election actively, he said. Thats why a day in summer was chosen, when many are on holiday. Secondly, having it on a working day makes it easier to mobilise public sector workers in favour of Bakiev. A personnel manager at a large state-run enterprise, who asked to remain anonymous, told IWPR she had been given orders not to authorise annual leave to her staff. All public-sector workers were given unofficial instructions to ensure a high turnout and cast their votes for Bakiev. The bosses are trying to do all they can. So until July 23, we are not allowing anyone to go on leave, she said. Although we dont know how the voting is to be organised, there is talk that people will be bused in to polling stations in groups. The authorities, however, insist they are doing everything they can to get as many people as possible to cast their votes. According to the deputy head of the CECs logistics and legal department, Myrzabek Argymbaev, people who are on holiday can either vote in advance, or register early to acquire the right to vote anywhere in the country. Its possible to vote eight days before election day, as people can register 15 days in advance and vote at any polling station, he said. An adviser at the CEC, Aziz Sadyrbaev, said a campaign was in train to persuade people to use their votes. The main purpose of the Participate and Vote campaign is to increase participation. T-shirts and baseball caps with slogans about election day will be distributed, he said. As in other post-Soviet states, though, there are fears that the advance voting system is open to abuse, especially as it is hard for independent election monitors to check up on procedures. The online news agency Fergana.ru reported that postal workers from Bishkek had been directed to apply for early votes, and were issued with papers falsely stating that they would be on business trips abroad on election day. They were then handed ballot papers on which Bakievs name already had a tick next to it. Tabyldy Orozaliyev, a senior parliamentary member of Bakievs Ak Jol party, denied the allegations of manipulation. What the human rights activists are saying is nonsense, he said. The election date could fall on any day of the week and the opposition would be still unhappy. Also, I cannot imagine how youd take the staff members from a whole factory or enterprise and bring them to the polling stations. Analysts interviewed for the report doubt the authorities genuinely want a high turnout. According to political scientist Mars Sariev, the combined effect of the election falling on a working day and also in the middle of the holiday season will serve as an additional deterrent, especially to the many voters who have already switched off from politics. People are going to be able to vote only within the space of one or two hours before their working day begins, or for the same amount of time after work, he said, adding that many would have to use overcrowded public transport to get to a polling station. They should have chosen a weekend for the election, when there would also have been fewer people needing to vote in advance. In reality, early voting facilitates ballot-rigging, as observers are less vigilant ahead of election day itself. In Sarievs view, the lowest turnout could be in the capital, where the concentration of potential opposition voters is highest. Everything is being done to minimise the protest vote. In rural areas, the election is traditionally treated as a holiday and many will turn out, he said. Voters interviewed by IWPR said they would be reluctant to vote because of the choice of day. Music teacher Altynay Umarova has already made plans to spend election day on the shores of Lake Issykul. To be frank, I am completely indifferent to this election. I have started my long-awaited holiday, and I dont plan to waste it on a trip to the ballot box, she said. A manager at a private firm selling computers who gave his name as Bektur said had no incentive to take time off to go and vote. In order to cast my vote, Id have to ask for permission to be away, and that could impact my salary. Im not prepared to waste time spending two hours on a round trip to the polling station, said Bektur. This election is going to take place without me and most of my colleagues are of the same mind. Nothings going to change anyway. Anara Yusupova is a pseudonym for a journalist in Kyrgyzstan. Gulzat Abdurasulova is an IWPR-trained reporter. TAMING TAJIKISTANS EASTERN VALLEYS After local power-broker dies in firefight, experts say key is to ensure that counter-insurgency drive does not cause further upset. By Lola Olimova and Nargiz Hamrabaeva in Dushanbe Nearly two weeks after a former rebel commander was killed in a firefight, officials say stability is returning to the eastern valleys of Tajikistan and any remaining armed militants are being hunted down. Analysts say that to prevent the ongoing sweep from creating a backlash among local communities, the security forces will need to tread lightly and avoid needlessly harassing villagers. Interior Minister Abdurahim Kakhkharov told a July 22 press conference that the Tavildara valley, the scene of several recent clashes, was now stable. In the Rasht valley, which runs north of and roughly parallel to Tavildara, the minister said efforts were under way to find the three or four remaining members of an armed group that had appeared there in recent months and had largely been eliminated. Since May, the two valleys have seen sporadic firefights between government security forces and groups of armed men who appear in the absence of firm information to be a mix of local Tajiks and incomers. The authorities believe they are Islamic radicals who have been involved in the thriving drugs trade. MAJOR FIGURE SWITCHES SIDES FOR REASONS UNEXPLAINED Matters came to a head on July 11 with the death of Mirzo Ziyo, an influential figure who was commander-in-chief of the opposition guerrilla force in the civil war of the Nineties but later joined the government. The interior ministry and the State Committee for National Security, GKNB put out a joint statement on July saying Ziyo had allied himself with drug-smuggling gangs in Tavildara, but agreed to cooperate with the authorities after he was captured on July 11. When he agreed later that day to join police in an effort to negotiate with the militants, the latter shot him dead and wounded a number of policemen, the statement said. Mirzo Ziyo commanded the guerrillas of the United Tajik Opposition, UTO, which fought against government forces in the 1992-97 war. The UTOs main component was the Islamic Rebirth Party, and the conflict was often portrayed as pitting Islamist fundamentalists against former Communists. But the divisions also ran along ethnic lines, with the UTO maintaining much of its power base in the eastern high-mountain valleys. The landmark peace deal of 1997 saw UTO combatants disarmed and senior members assigned posts in government. Mirzo Ziyo was made a lieutenant-general and appointed minister for emergencies, a disaster relief agency with its own quasi-military troops, some of them ex-UTO. The chain of events leading from his removal as minister in 2006 and his decision in late June to join armed bands roaming the mountain sides according to the official version of events is hard to explain. Mirzo Ziyo was the unofficial leader in Tavildara, explained political scientist Abdughani Mamadazimov, who heads the Association of Political Scientists of Tajikistan. In recent years hed moved away from an active role in the capital and relocated to the district centre. But his past wouldnt leave him alone. I have no hard information suggesting he was involved in the illicit drugs trade , but as informal leader he would nevertheless have been aware that narcotics were moving out of Afghanistan via this inaccessible region to the north and further afield. The interior ministry/GKNB statement alleged that Ziyo was involved in a drug trafficking ring set up to fund terrorism. The organisation, it said, was led by one Nemat Azizov, who the statement said was an active member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, an outlawed group which launched raids into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in 1999 and 2000. In recent years, the group has been based in northwestern Pakistan, allied with the Taleban and al-Qaeda. Interviewed by IWPR in late May, Ziyo complained of mounting harassment by the police. Police sergeants began checking my ID at checkpoints for no reason, he said. This was an insult and I felt humiliated, but I did not offer any resistance. I sensed these incidents were being set up deliberately, and I didnt want it to be me that started something. MILITANTS IN THE MOUNTAINS Reports of clashes emerged in May shortly after media reports that another UTO commander called Mullo Abdullo had resurfaced in Tavildara after a long spell away in Afghanistan or Pakistan, and was trying to recruit local men to his small band. (For a full report on this, and subsequent clashes, see Chasing Phantoms in the Tajik Mountains, RCA No. 581, 24-Jun-09.) A senior interior ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IWPR that Mullo Abdullo also met former emergencies minister Mirzo Ziyo, who was reluctant to go for the idea of offering armed resistance to the regime. Initially, the authorities insisted that troops were engaged exclusively in a counter-narcotics drive in the valley. Their suggestion that drugs were being grown in Tavildara may have been hard to credit since the climate is unsuitable for opium and marijuana cultivation, but Tajikistan is indisputably a well-worn trafficking route for Afghan heroin heading towards Russia and the rest of Europe. The identity of the armed group or groups that security forces encountered in the Rasht and Tavildara valleys in May and June remains unclear. From the various accounts, the picture is of returning civil war-era guerrillas who may have teamed up with local ex-UTO men who are disgruntled with central government. Then there is the alleged IMU connection, which is possible if the likes of Mullo Abdullo have spent time in Pakistans frontier provinces, and also because the IMUs Uzbek fighters fought alongside Tajiks in the UTO. Finally, the Tajik interior ministry says five Russian nationals who it claims were also part of the trafficking network were killed in a firefight on July 16. Another five Russian citizens all of them Chechens had earlier been arrested on suspicion of belonging to the group. According to another interior ministry source, the authorities were aware of groups coming in from Afghanistan as long ago as last winter, but didnt assign much significance to them as militants occasionally turn up from the neighbouring state [Afghanistan] as Rasht is only loosely under government control. He said the security operation, under the guise of an anti-opium sweep, was put together in a hurry once officials got wind that there were now some 20 or 25 men in the area. More troops were sent in after a soldier was killed and three more taken hostage in early May. But according to this source, they did not just engage in a pursuit operation, but also held indirect negotiations with the groups leader Nemat Azizov, via his relatives. But on June 25 Azizov and Malysh [another group member] went to see Ziyo in the village of Agba and they persuaded him to join their band, said the official. By the time the interior ministry and GKNB issued their July 12 statement, they had to acknowledge that this was more than a routine anti-narcotics sweep and they identified Azizov as an IMU member engaged in an international drug trafficking. NO TURNING BACK According to a former GKNB officer who spoke to IWPR on condition of anonymity, it was inevitable that Ziyos decision to switch sides to the outlaws would cost him dear. Political scientists call these people warlords. They play a positive role as long as theyre engaged in military operations, but they find it impossible to reintegrate into civilian life, he said. In peacetime, the government gradually begins cutting away at their influence and it does so to its own former allies as well as to its opponents. We see clearly that this is the case with the Tajik government it has taken virtually all the influential players from the civil war out of circulation. Political analyst, Rashid Ghani Abdullo agrees that the former rebel turned government minister was finished the moment he aligned himself with a faction that thought it could oppose the central authorities by military means, potentially sparking renewed conflict in Tajikistan. This showed that the authorities were right to suspect that some of the former armed opposition do not subscribe to peace and stability, said Abdullo, and also that certain individuals who have a problem with the government are prepared to destabilise the political and security situation for their own ends. In Abdullos view, Tajik society would not stomach a resumption in warfare. The generation that might back an opponent of the current regime has yet to emerge. And those whod realistically be in a position to do so now remember the experience of the recent war and have no wish to enter into a confrontation with the authorities just to further the personal interests of certain individuals who are unhappy about losing their jobs in the state system and finding themselves on the outside of the decision-making process, he said. TIME FOR A SOFTLY, SOFTLY APPROACH TO CALM NERVOUS COMMUNITIES Mamadazimov worries that taking Mirzo Ziyo out of the equation could have a destabilising effect in the eastern mountains. He argues that however ambivalent a figure Ziyo might have been, he was someone the central authorities could at least have done business with as they tried to govern this area. Now hes gone, and the [political] group that was loyal to him has disintegrated. That may negatively impact on stability in this important part of the country, he said. Mirzo Ziyos death has been a difficult issue for the IRP to handle, given that he was the UTOs top commander in the civil war. Now a legal party planning to contest next years parliamentary election, the Islamic party has little desire to be identified with the armed militants still up in the hills. In a July 18 statement, the party spoke of transnational illegal groups fomenting instability in the region. It urged the government and other political forces alike to make concerted efforts to achieve peace and dialogue. In a clear hint at concerns that government forces might use excessive force in Tavildara, the IRP said experience has shown that the use of military force, even within the bounds of the law, is ineffective in Tajikistan. Interviewed by IWPR last month, an influential local figure reflected local perceptions that police were picking out anyone whose outward appearance is Islamic, rather than known suspected militants, for detailed ID checks. The ex-GKNB officer who spoke to IWPR said the task now was to ensure that ongoing security operations were not perceived as harassment by the local population. If government forces are able to learn the lessons from earlier years of military conflict, and prevent excesses taking place as they investigate the Tavildara confrontation, it might lead to these [mountain] districts finally coming back under government control. The government will gradually resume control over these mountainous regions, and the former UTO commanders can either live out their days in their private houses on the unspoken condition that they dont meddle in this process, or else theyll get squashed or eliminated. Lola Olimova is IWPR editor in Tajikistan. 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