Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan have passed legislation that will greatly limit the rights of independent monitors at the upcoming presidential election in October.
The rules will limit international and local nongovernmental organizations to just one representative per polling station. Observers will no longer be able to record written complaints on-site, but will instead be allowed to do so only verbally, meaning no paper trail is to be created. Also, monitors will be required to register beforehand at one specific polling station. If reports come in about violations at another polling station, monitors will not be permitted to go and continue their vetting activities there. Since nongovernmental organizations have limited resources and staff, the rules mean many polling stations will go unmonitored by anybody but party political representatives.
Rights activist Dinara Oshurhanova said the rules will open the way to malpractice and fraud.
“Unprincipled members of the Central Election Commission will know and take advantage of the fact that we have no right to file formal complaints,” she said.
Oshurhanova said the strongest support for the legislation has come from the pro-presidential Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, or SDPK.
“Political players will turn a blind eye to violations of the law if the result goes in their favor. This law is coming straight from the authorities,” she said.
Out 115 lawmakers present in parliament on May 31, 106 backed the bill in its third reading, so the legislation will now be sent for approval to President Almazbek Atambayev. There has been negligible public discussion about the legislation.
One of the drafters of the bill, SDPK lawmaker Muhtarbek Ainakulov said that the legislation is required to avoid unnamed outside parties overly influencing the outcome of the vote.
“Nongovernmental organizations, as we have seen, receive funding from overseas. It can sometimes happen that they are interested in promoting certain parties and candidates,” Ainakulov said.
Similar vague and undocumented portents are commonplace in Kyrgyz politics, where claims of ominous Western meddling are circulated as a matter of undisputed fact.
Rejecting the objections of critics of the vote monitors bill, Ainakulov insists that SDPK has been a driving force for making elections in Kyrgyzstan a more transparent affair.
The presidential elections are now scheduled to take place on October 15. They will mark the first peaceful transfer of power from one president to another.
For all the accusations of possible foul play ahead, the outcome of the election is far from certain.
There are two strong candidates in contention — current prime minister and SDPK nominee Sooronbai Jeenbekov and former premier and wealthy businessman Omurbek Babanov.
Jeenbekov is likely to enjoy the benefits that come with the support of the SDPK and the benediction of President Atambayev, who is barred constitutionally from running for a second term. His premiership gives him significant public profile and his base of support in the country’s south could prove decisive.
Meanwhile, Babanov is helped by his substantial fortune and has built a credible political force in the shape of his Respublika party.
This article has been updated to reflect approval in the third reading.