It appears that Kyrgyz citizens will go to the polls on October 29 with low expectations. Although there are six candidates on the ballot in the presidential election, many in Kyrgyzstan feel the vote does not offer much of a choice. The general consensus is that the election's outcome is already a forgone conclusion, with the incumbent, Askar Akayev, set to win reelection.
Some observers say Akayev faces no serious threat from the other contenders, whose campaigns have been hindered by unfair pressure exerted by various government agencies. The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, and the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights, issued a joint statement on October 24 saying opposition candidates have had campaign materials confiscated and destroyed, and have had rallies broken up. "Numerous unlawful arrests are taking place. Opposition campaigns are sometimes denied access to offices on various false pretexts," the statement says. Meanwhile, one opposition candidate, Melis Eshimkanov, alleged on October 25 that authorities were already busy orchestrating election results that would ensure an Akayev victory.
The five opposition presidential candidates have been vocal in expressing dissatisfaction over their campaign difficulties. But it appears that authorities are in no mood to listen to opposition complaints. For example, on October 25 a Bishkek court rejected a lawsuit brought by Omurbek Tekebaev, the head of the Ata-Meken Party and Akayev's main rival. Tekebaev had filed a suit against state television for refusing to run campaign ads.
"It doesn't matter how hard these opposition candidates try to become president," said a election analyst who is close to the Tekebaev campaign. "Their efforts are in vain, and they all realize it. They simply want publicity and the respect of the international community."
The presidential campaign saw a number of controversial developments, most notably the arrest and trial of leading opposition figure Feliks Kulov. Kulov was arrested shortly after the first round of Kyrgyzstan's February parliamentary elections. His trial, held between June 27 and August 8, was closed. And when he was acquitted by a military court of abuse of official position charges, the response was immediate: President Akayev signed on August 18 a special decree, dismissing Chairman of the Supreme Court Akynbek Tilebaliev. Recently, the government reopened the case against Kulov -- who has allied himself with Tekebaev's campaign -- raising the possibility that his acquittal could be reversed.
In all, about 20 individuals declared their intention to seek the presidency. They faced a number of hurdles designed to limit the field, including stringent voter petition requirements and a Kyrgyz language proficiency examination. Ultimately, only six of the original presidential hopefuls were officially registered. They are: Akayev; Tursunbek Akunov, leader of the Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan; Almaz Atambaev, a leader of the Social Democratic Party; Tursunbai Bakyr-uulu, a leader of the Erk Party; Eshimkanov; and Tekebaev.
The language test was a particular source of controversy. Many critics said arbitrary methods were used by those charged with evaluating language proficiency. Sixteen presidential candidates appealed to the Central Elections Commission and the Constitutional Court challenging the Kyrgyz proficiency requirement. They cited the Kyrgyz Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of language, race, and ethnicity. On September 13, the Constitutional Court ruled that the requirement was lawful and that the test was conducted in accordance with the Constitution and the Election Code.
A number of local analysts suggest that the linguistic test's main task was to hinder Kulov from participating in the race, after the attempt to incarcerate him failed. Kulov refused to take the test and was thus barred from registering as a candidate. Others have called it an attempt to limit the electoral possibilities of non-Kyrgyz candidates. When Anvar Artykov an ethnic Uzbek failed the language test, he told a Radio Liberty reporter, "my disqualification is politically motivated and there is no use in appealing to the court, because there is no independent judiciary in the country." In all, seven candidates failed to meet the Kyrgyz language proficiency requirement.
Some have also questioned the right of Akayev to seek re-election. In the first week of September, Bishkek-based local media published an open letter from the leaders of the eight opposition parties, demanding that President Akayev withdraw from the race. The letter claimed that the president's candidacy violates the constitution, which limits a president to two terms in office. Akayev already has served two terms, having won election in October 1991, and then in December 1995. However, in July 1998 the Constitutional Court ruled that Akayev had the right to run for another term because the new constitution was adopted in 1993.
With frustration building among members of the opposition, some fear that the national attention has been distracted from important security and economic issues. Khusanov Salijan, a political analyst based in Osh, notes: "Surely all this noise with the trials and court hearings
Akhmadjan Saipjanov is a freelance journalist based in Kyrgyzstan.