Image credit: Elections to the Kyrgyzstan parliament are due to take place on October 4th. Image credit: Ben Paarmann

Kyrgyzstan has experienced two devastating revolutions, ethnic war and a series of clashes that have accompanied the struggle for power in pre and post-election periods for the last 10 years. Whilst the current campaign seems to be the most peaceful Kyrgyzstan has ever seen, deeper analysis shows that risks still remain.

Efforts for stability

The parties participating in the upcoming elections have declared their aims to strengthen peace, stability and unity in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan, a country with a presidential-parliamentary form of government, is the only nation in Central Asia and one of few in the former Soviet Union which has experienced truly competitive elections. Almost all of the fourteen political parties in Kyrgyzstan have registered to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections and have declared in their aims ‘the strengthening of civil peace, political stability and unity’. The election to the Zhogorku Kenesh (the Kyrgyz Parliament) is held under the party-list proportional representation system, according to which the winner will be the party which receives 7% or more of the votes. 120 legislators will be selected from the winning party.

In order to ensure a fair and equal result, some party lists have been updated before the election race in order to take into account the regional balance, so that key persons in the parties represent the different regions of the country – North and South. Such actions are conveying apositive message to Kyrgyz society, which has so often encountered problems associated with the North-South divide.

Two parties, Butun Kyrgyzstan and Emgek, have formed an alliance which represents the union of financial resources of the northern regions and the political capital of the South. Respublika-Ata-Zhurt is another political group of two former opponents – the liberals and the nationalists – that have joined in an alliance for the sake of, as they say, “stability and prosperity of the country”.  The leaders are Omurbek Babanov, former Prime Minister and prominent businessman, representing the north, and Kamchibek Tashiev, a native of the south.

Cracks in the campaign

Tensions across regional lines create risks for peace in the upcoming elections
These alliances present a peaceful face to the public, however there are critics who assert that such unions are doomed to failure because the parties lack ideological unity. There are fears that the united bloc is nothing more than a vehicle through which to win seats in parliament.

Indeed, there are a number of peculiarities regarding the development of parliamentarianism in Kyrgyzstan. The party system is strongly pervaded by tribal relations, regional identities and business interests. The popularity of parties is often largely determined not by their election platforms but by the individuals taking part. Local people tend to vote for those party representatives who match them geographically or tribally, rather than for their electoral programs.

Whilst the current campaign does convey a positive message of settling regional differences, it has not taken long for cracks to show. A few days after the beginning of the current election campaign, which was launched on September 4 2015, Atambaev of the president’s administration accused Tashiev of ‘inciting inter-regional discord’. This statement was made after Tashiev’s election speech in the city of Osh. Tashiev had implied that the decision of the Central Election Commission to open up ‘extra electoral districts’ for voting in the ‘village of the birth of the Kyrgyz president’, was a move to strengthen the support of the Social Democrats to which the President belongs.

Ethnic troubles may pose a serious risk for the current campaign
These tensions along regional lines create risks for peace in the current elections. Ethnic diversity is a particularly sensitive issue in Kyrgyzstan, and has been the subject of debate for the last five years. The constitutional elections law (art. 60 item 3) requires that a party list should contain ‘at least 15 per cent of citizens of different ethnic backgrounds’ However, whilst party lists include some minorities, there are so few of them, often placed at the end of the list, that they have little chance of winning parliamentary seats if their party wins the election.

After the 2010 ethnic violence, which was preceded by a reduction in government offices of the Uzbek ethnic minority, 25% of the Kyrgyzstan population, still remain underrepresented. This issue entails serious risks for the current campaign, especially because ethnic troubles are often employed by various pressure groups to achieve their political goals.