Wednesday 2 November 2011

Kyrgyzstan dreams of stability after imperfect elections

After a difficult test, the people of Kyrgyzstan have reasons to celebrate. The October 30th presidential elections took place with no violence. Of course, there were protests from oppositionists, who claimed that there were huge problems with voter lists, multiple voting and other irregularities. Certainly there were flaws – not a few indeed. But, at least, according to international observers, it was a valid election, in which around three million people cast their ballots to choose Almazbek Atambayev as President for the next six years. Compared to its neighbours Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, ruled by Soviet kings that certainly will remain in power until their very last seconds in this planet, Kyrgyzstan has shown that it is a beacon of democracy. It is very, very unlikely that the Kyrgyz will inspire, anytime soon, any change whatsoever in other corners of Central Asia. However, apparently, its path is starting to become a source of envy, as can be seen in this brilliant article.

Atambayev relied on the industrial and Russified north and Uzbeks from the south to defeat his two main adversaries, nationalists who commanded strong support from the southern Kyrgyz. Hundreds were killed in violent ethnic clashes in June last year, mainly in the south. Now, apocalyptic forecasts of more violence are not entirely out of question yet, as the defeated candidates didn’t recognise the preliminary results and might still be planning to rally their supporters - small groups of protestors have already taken to the streets. However, it is reasonable to think that the Kyrgyz are a bit tired of all the instability that, since 2005, resulted in two presidents being ousted during popular revolts. Besides, Atambayek triumph was a clear one – with around 63% of the ballots, he avoided a potentially complicated second round. Had he won by a whisker, certainly the opposition case would be stronger. In other words – if there were irregularities, probably they were not, on their own, enough to elect the former prime-minister.

Well, what now? First and foremost – no big changes on the horizon. Atambayev is a strong supporter of the Parliamentarian experiment in the country, unique in Central Asia, and is not expected to return powers to the executive, as other candidates promised. He also will go on strengthening its links with Russia. The US has already been warned – its lease of an air base in Kyrgyzstan, used to support the war in Afghanistan, will end in 2014 and will not be renewed, said the president elect in remarks after his victory. Finally, Atambayev will certainly not adopt any nationalistic measures that might have a negative impact on the southern Uzbeks, who have given him their support.

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