Tensions Rise as Kyrgyzstan Closes in on Vote
At the tail end of a parliamentary campaign that has been more civilized than naysayers had feared, tensions among political opponents have heated up, threatening to exacerbate the country’s simmering north-south divisions only days before the October 10 poll. On Wednesday afternoon, angry protestors broke into the Bishkek headquarters of the wildcard nationalist party, Ata Jurt (“Fatherland”), after one of its leaders reportedly called for President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a native son of the south who was ousted in street demonstrations in April, to return to Kyrgyzstan. A man resembling Ata-Jurt candidate Kamchybek Tashiev was recorded addressing an audience during a campaign-stop Q&A. Apparently trying to curry favor with Bakiyev supporters, the man implied that he supported Bakiyev’s return. Ata Jurt has alleged foul play, saying the video was manipulated. In the grainy tape, a voter appears to ask Tashiev why, as a former Bakiyev-era minister, he didn’t take any measures to keep Bakiyev in power (presumably in April). The Tashiev-like character replies: “We weren’t able to keep him in power, but ultimately we’re the only ones who can bring Bakiyev back to the country.” On its website, the party insists it has nothing to do with Bakiyev. Even so, relatives of those killed during Bakiyev’s overthrow on April 7, stormed the Ata-Jurt office, tearing down a large banner and setting fire to campaign materials on the street.Several unpublished polls show Tashiev as one of the most unpopular national politicians in Bishkek, though he enjoys strong support in the country’s south. With the rising tensions, if Ata-Jurt fans feel they are persecuted in the north, they may strike back in their southern strongholds, further dividing the country. Ata-Jurt has contributed to ethnic tension during the campaign, with candidates repeatedly discussing the rights of Kyrgyzstan’s “titular nation.” Those intent on protecting the rights of the “titular nation” aren’t too clear what they mean. They speak of needing more “respect.”In an interview published on September 16, Tashiev told Ferghana.ru: “The titular nation should be the title, it cannot be lower than other nations living in this country. Let them respect our traditions, language and history, only then people will live peacefully. But if any ethnicity in our country, Russian, Uzbek, Turkish or Chinese say they are on a par with the Kyrgyz or above them, then the state will collapse.”Other members of Ata-Jurt have sought to take advantage of nationalist sentiments in the south. At two rallies in southern cities, according to the OSCE’s election monitoring mission, a candidate reportedly said only ethnic Kyrgyz should be allowed to own property in Kyrgyzstan.And today, Osh Mayor Melis Myrzakmatov, a self-declared nationalist, emerged from almost two months of silence since establishing the city’s de facto independence after flouting Bishkek’s request that he step down, and said, referring to the ethnic violence earlier this year, “the June events showed that the city of Osh is a bastion of Kyrgyz statehood. Certain political adventure-seekers with separatist views were the reason that a threat arose to the integrity of the state, to the national language and culture, and also to the state boundary of Kyrgyzstan.” Provisional President Roza Otunbayeva has warned parties she has the power to cancel elections if the “integrity and unity of the country" is at stake.Over the next few days, integrity and unity will be put to a test.
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.