21 December 2007

Critics 'don’t believe' Kyrgyz election results

The political party created this past fall by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev swept 71 of the 90 seats in the parliamentary elections last Sunday in Kyrgyzstan, while the top opposition party was frozen out, which led to small-scale demonstrations and arrests this week.

Despite obtaining 8.3 percent of the popular, Ata Meken gained no seats in the single-chamber legislature because it failed to also capture least 0.5 percent of the vote in the Kyrgyzstan’s six oblasts, or provinces, and some key cities. Election officials said Ata Meken failed to clear the half percent barrier in the southern city of Osh, a stronghold of President Bakyiev, by a few hundred votes. Party leaders claim they met the threshold.

Two other parties, the communists and social democrats, gained 11 and nine seats, respectively, because they met the 0.5 percent requirement, even though each earned a smaller percent of the popular vote than Ata Meken. Under Kyrgyzstan's recently revised election rules, a party also had to receive 5 percent of the total vote to qualify for seats. Voters, for their part, could also cast ballots for parties rather than independent candidates.

The elections rules were approved October in a constitutional referendum widely criticized as unfair by independent observers.

Ata Meken’s leaders this week accused the government of rigging the results of Sunday’s election and threatened to challenge them in court. Several party members went on a hunger strike Thursday to protest the official count, while 15 young supporters demonstrated in front of the election commission carrying signs declaring “I don't believe!,” according to The Associated Press. Police arrived within minutes to break up the unauthorized rally.

When the parliament met for its first session Friday in the capital, Bishkek, some 60 supporters of Ata-Meken protested in a nearby square, also holding placards that read “I don't believe,” the AP reported. Police swiftly moved in and detained 17 men, according to the party.

Kyrgyzstan, a nation of 5 million people, has seen political turmoil since 2005, when street demonstrations forced then-President Askar Akayev from power. Bakiyev, who created the Ak Zhol party shortly after the referendum, has clashed with defiant lawmakers over the range of his powers. After a series of large-scale street protests, police in March cracked down, using tear gas and stun grenades to break up a demonstration.

Kyrgyzstan had long been considered the most democratic among Central Asia's five predominantly Muslim nations, but Bakiyev’s critics claim the new election rules were written to produce the elimination of an effective opposition party. The social democrats and communists have sided with the president in the recent past.

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