As Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary election campaign intensifies, some observers worry it can stir up still-raw emotions connected to this summer’s violent clashes in the South.
Twenty-nine political parties have registered to participate in the October 10 elections, which will determine the composition of the 120-seat legislature. Many of the parties are little more than vehicles for individual politicians. [For background see EursasiaNet’s archives].
With the atmosphere following interethnic violence in June still heated, some parties are appealing to nationalist emotions. And just days into the official campaign season, the rhetoric is reaching an alarming level, according to Edil Baisalov, Otunbayeva’s former chief of staff and the current leader of the Aikol El Party. “Some political leaders lack the social responsibility to refrain from kindling strife in their speeches,” Baisalov told EurasiaNet.org.
Nationalist campaign rhetoric is more prevalent in the South than in the North, said Kadyr Malikov, head of the Independent Analytical Research Center. “Because parties don’t have developed platforms or programs, there is no ideology. Now parties use ultra-patriotic expressions, which are nationalist and threaten the internal stability of the country,” Malikov said.
Many election-watchers are worried that the campaign, or the vote’s aftermath, could turn ugly, especially if a losing party makes claims about voting irregularities. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archives]. Provisional President Rosa Otunbayeva is among those concerned. Over the past week she has repeatedly called on individual candidates and political parties to show restraint, reinforcing that message with a reminder that she has the power to cancel the elections, if the “integrity and unity of the country" is at stake.
"[I am] concerned about the intentions and behavior of individual parties," she said on September 7. "I ask you not to allow the issue of interethnic relations to become politizised."
Later, during a September 13 visit to Osh, the provisional president issued a more pointed statement. “I want to emphasize that the most severe measures will be taken against parties that allow themselves to raise the interethnic issue, and to divide the people into northerners and southerners, or along family and clan lines, in order to score political points,” the Itar-Tass news agency quoted Otunbayeva as saying.
One party that has faced close scrutiny is Ata-Jurt, or Fatherland. The party’s ranks are filled with former officials in Kurmanbek Bakiyev's administration, which collapsed in April. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive]. The party has a significant following among ethnic Kyrgyz in southern regions that are considered strongholds of support for the former president. Bakiyev’s former minister of emergency situations, Kamchybek Tashiev, the former State Tax Service chief, Akmatbek Keldibekov – both from the South – and Bakiyev's former chief of staff, Myktybek Abdyldayev, are prominent party leaders. Tashiev, in particular, has frequently stated that Kyrgyz are not accorded the respect that a titular nation deserves.
“In Kyrgyzstan there are people of various ethnic groups and it will remain so, but the Kyrgyz are the basis of this nation,” Tashiev said in comments published in an August edition of the Obshchestvenniy Reyting newspaper. “All the people living in Kyrgyzstan must live in peace and accord and they have to respect our traditions, our history.”
In an interview with EurasiaNet.org, Tashiev rejected accusations his party is nationalistic, while insisting that Ata-Jurt would promote the rights of the “titular nation.”
“As a political party we represent the interests and rights of people from all nations and layers of the population,” Tashiev said. “The party protects national interests and the culture and unity of the titular nation [i.e. Kyrgyz], which can be interpreted mistakenly as an expression of nationalistic views.”
Tashiev believes integrating minorities into “Kyrgyz culture” will help prevent future inter-ethnic conflicts, as long as they acclimate to Kyrgyz society. “Be it an Uzbek, Russian, Turk or Dungan who decided to live and make a career in Kyrgyzstan, he should know the language and culture of Kyrgyz, and respect the spirit and culture of the titular nation,” he said. “When smaller ethnicities conflict with titular nations, and try by force to get some power or political preferences in the country, it could lead all of us to a new dead end.”
Some observers believe Ata-Jurt is being subjected to unfair attention. “Ata-Jurt is trying to revive the idea of unity among Kyrgyz,” said Bakyt Ibraimov, an Osh-based journalist. Every political party has tried to develop a distinctive political profile for the election campaign, he added. “Ata-Jurt – especially considering the June interethnic clash between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks – decided to focus on the Kyrgyz as a titular nation as [such a platform appeals to] the majority of the electorate,” Ibraimov said.
Ibraimov went on to assert that the complaints against Ata-Jurt had more to do with the party leadership’s close connection to the Bakiyev administration than to irresponsible campaign tactics. “It is nothing more than black PR by their political opponents,” he said.
Baisalov, the provisional government’s former chief-of-staff, also saw a political motive in the criticism of Ata-Jurt. “There is no need to demonize Ata-Jurt for allegedly having connections with former president Bakiyev,” he said. “All current parties […] have leaders who, in the past, used to work in ministerial positions under former presidents.”
Ulan Temirov is the pseudonym for a journalist based in Bishkek.