Danil Bekturganov: Kyrgyzstan in 2015 – looking from outside perspective
“Kyrgyzstan is building stability on the basis of properly structured administration, and this positively distinguishes it from its neighbors. Of course, not all and not always is running smoothly, there are a lot of problems at the local level, at the level of crime, corruption, cronyism and other complexities. However, the system was laid down correctly, and there is hope that Kyrgyzstan will overcome all the “growth pains”. The elections showed that Kyrgyzstan is interested in a fair process and sees it as a guarantee of its stable future”, noted Danil Bekturganov, President of PF “The Civil Expertise” (Almaty, Kazakhstan), in an article written exclusively for CABAR.asia.
I have been lucky to observe the electoral and political processes in Kyrgyzstan several times since 2003, and each time, this country has a new surprise for me. I used to walk on the cold shores of Lake Issyk-Kul in February 2003 and wondered how such a poor and small country was not afraid to put a question of amending the Constitution to a referendum, and our large and rich country was afraid to do so. I traveled to areas in Jalal-Abad in the spring of 2005 and was surprised at how easy it was to push an avalanche of popular anger that could sweep away the old regime. I wondered again in Bishkek in 2010, first in April and then in June, and the last time – in September. The election in September 2010 sharply smelled hope in contrast to the June referendum, which, frankly speaking, smelled fear and blood … and the election in October 2011 seemed interesting and competitive, in contrast to the boring and predictable presidential election in summer 2005. How could such diverse events and diverse campaigns, and with such diverse results, happen in that country in such a short time? How does this country live, and where is this country moving?
This time, my opinion was not formed by direct observations. Conversations seemed much more interesting – depth interviews with Kyrgyz and foreign experts. Representatives from business, government and civil society shared their views about the elections and about the prospects for the post-election period, and their views are, in my opinion, more interesting than dry statistics of the voting results.
Expert opinions were arranged around two main points: assessment of the election process itself and the assessment of the prospects of the political development of the country.
Experts are unanimous in the opinion that the recent election to the Jogorku Kenesh on October 4 was a step forward not only in terms of the transparency of the electoral process; elections ceased to be an extraordinary event with unpredictable consequences, elections have become a routine process. However, experts point to a number of issues which require special attention and coverage. This is a problem associated with the use of biometric control systems, the related problem of the quality of the voter lists, and the problem with the possible bribery of voters. Since both of these issues are extremely important for the assessment of the electoral process and party building, the experts gave a detailed explanation.
Biometric Control System
Biometric Control System is a complex, which was created with the aim of improving the quality of voter lists and preventing the most common violations – ballot box stuffing, family voting and carousel voting. However, the introduction of this system has been associated with several serious problems and difficulties. Experts believe that the main problem is the lack of serious guarantees of safety of the information.
According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), there are 2,761,339 voters in Kyrgyzstan. However, most likely, it is not the total number of voters, and it is only those voters who have registered in the system and provided their biometric data. For comparison, during the elections in 2010, voter lists included 3,006,231 people. Thus, we can conclude that more than 200 000 people have not reported their data and were out of the electoral process. The reasons for refusal to provide biometric data can be various, but given the wide publicity that accompanied the news of the loss of two drives with biometric data of citizens, the main reason for the reluctance to submit their data was the fear that the data could get into the hands of criminals and be used against their respective owners. Experts stress that this event (theft or loss of data) is a serious miscalculation of the authorities that nullifies the efforts to clarify the need for biometrical data collection, and the collection of data directly itself. In addition, this was the reason of the failure to meet one of the main objectives of the introduction of a biometric system – drawing up a reliable list of voters.
In addition to problems with the data, the use of biometric monitoring system experienced technical failures. On the morning of the day of voting, there were a lot of messages in the press and social media about the errors in the biometric system, which is why there were long lines in some districts. On the site of the CEC in the morning of the day of voting, there was information about the voting stations, where either there was no connection, or the connection was weak and unstable; but this information was not updated, and by the end of the voting day, the site itself of the Central Election Commission ceased to be opened because of the large number of requests. In the voting stations, where there was no communication, the biometric system could not be used, so the traditional voting procedure with transparent ballot box was used there; however, the traditional procedure does not save from traditional violations – ballot box stuffing, carousel and family voting.
In the morning, there were reports of large crowds of students in some voting stations, which gave rise to rapidly spreading rumors in social networks about carousel voting and delivery of voters. Indeed, in some voting stations, we observed large crowd of young people, and numerous photos were published in the news and social networks. However, most of all, these clusters of students gathered in the so-called “additional voting stations” that had been organized specifically for students in Bishkek, so that they could vote at the place of study – otherwise, the biometric system would refuse them, based on non-compliance of the physical location with the data on residence registration. Of course, we cannot completely exclude the possibility of carousels and other violations. An indirect confirmation of the attempts of carousel voting was the reports periodically appearing in social networks that someone was not able to vote, because the biometric system showed that he or she had already voted. However, there is the likelihood of refusal of admission to voting because of equipment failure. In general, these reports (of non-admission to the vote on the grounds that this or that person had already voted) appeared mainly in the morning, while in the evening, there were not such reports at all. This suggests that in most cases, these were attempts of the carousel voting. Perhaps, organizers of carousel voting realized that it was not possible to overcome the biometric system, and they stopped trying. If so, it must be admitted that the biometric control system has fully met the expectations, and carousels with the ballot box stuffing and family voting remained in the past.
Bribery of voters
Unfortunately, the use of biometric monitoring system does not guarantee against the other most common violation – bribing voters. Indeed, it is very difficult to find a logical explanation for the fact that the micro-parties that had appeared from nowhere just a month before the election, gained such an electoral weight, which allowed them to overcome the 7% barrier, while the old parties with an established reputation gained a very small percentage. In the pre-election period, there had been a number of politicians who changed one political party to another, significantly reshaping the political map of the election. So, Vice Speaker Bakhyt Torebaev from “Respublica” left the party and joined “Onuguu – Progress”; also, such prominent political figures as Altynbek Sulaimanov Nurtai Murashev and Iskhak Pirmatov left “Respublica” for the party “Bir Bol”. The leader of “Respublica” Omurbek Babanov united with the party of “Ata Jurt” Kamchybek Tashiyev. A week before the voting day, the CEC withdrew the leader of “Ata Jurt” Kamchybek Tashiev from the election race for beating a candidate from the party “Onuguu – Progress”. In a democratic country, such transitions of politicians from one party to another party would undermine the trust of the electorate, and the withdrawal of a politician from election race for negative motives could lead to the removal the whole party from the election process. However, in the Kyrgyz Republic, all these parties had successfully overcome the 7% barrier. Experts voiced the view that these results could be obtained by bribing voters.
In general, the bribery of voters is a very difficult to prove violation. Moreover, the principle of civil law requires that a person who was directly affected by the offense should make a complaint to the court; under the proportional electoral system, such a person cannot be detected, because not a man, but the party list is suffering of bribery. Bribery remains unpunished and, as experts assume, bribery will be the main “black” election technology in the upcoming 2017 presidential election. There is not efficient technology to confront bribery, according to experts; only increasing awareness of citizens and improving the standard of living can give some protection from the use of this “black” technology. Perhaps, a large information campaign under the conditional slogan “Do not sell the country, do not sell yourself!” can produce the positive effect. But it is difficult to assess the effectiveness of any, even the most effective and intensive propaganda, in conditions of total poverty of the population…
In conclusion, it is necessary to note the overall situation and electoral atmosphere which is formed from the attitude of people in the electoral process. If during the observation of elections in 2010 and 2011, there had been certain nervousness associated with high expectations of the electoral process and the fear of another rebellion with massacres and victims, the election in 2015 took place in a very calm atmosphere. And it was not a “peace of doom”, like in countries where the election results are known before they are declared; the election in Kyrgyzstan has really become the instrument of the citizens of their right to govern the country. This is the most important achievement of the election campaign in 2015.
The ruling coalition
Expert forecasts about the composition of the future parliamentary coalition differ. Objectively, the process of party building in Kyrgyzstan is not natural – with rare exception, parties are not built around ideology and interests of the target groups; parties are built around individuals – oligarchs – and serve their interests. The truth is that, even in a united framework of a party list, political figures use the membership in the Parliament not to promote the interests of the party and programs, but only to promote their own interests. Therefore, the ruling coalition in reality will emerge on the basis of personal relationships and interests of parliament deputies, rather than on the basis of the similarity of the declared objectives and programs of political parties, although, of course, there will be used the most democratic rhetoric. Leaders of all political parties that are in the Parliament are rich and even super-rich by the standards of the Kyrgyz Republic; and the very existence of political parties depends on funding that is allocated by party leaders. Thus, their financial and business interests will prevail in making decisions, and under certain conditions, all the parties that pass the 7% barrier can enter in the ruling coalition. Though, most likely, the coalition will consist of the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (given the history of its creation) and Bir Bol and Onuguu Progress that joined SDPK. It is possible that Ata-Meken of O. Tekebayev will also join the coalition. The party “Respublica – Ata Jurt” will be the nominal opposition, and if the leader of the “Ata-Jurt” K. Tashiev wins the trial, and his name is restored in the party list, the opposition will be real.
Some experts express the view that the President Atambayev will not run for president; Instead, using the ruling coalition, he will give the majority of powers to the government and will take the post of Prime Minister. This point of view has a right to exist, because the composition of the Jogorku Kenesh, and, most importantly, those parliament deputies, who will play a leading role in the Parliament, allow making all the necessary amendments.
Regardless of the manner how the ruling coalition forms, domestic and foreign policy of the Kyrgyz Republic will not change, and the influence of the main factors here will maintain the same trend that was observed before the elections. What are these factors?
A few main factors have external influence on the country. Experts believe the main are “Islamic”, “Russian”, “Western” and “Eastern” factors. The major and most serious factor in the long term is believed to be the Islamic factor, both its radical component, including the problem of ISIS and citizens of Kyrgyzstan fighting for it and the influence of “soft Islamization” – Islamic banking and related possible conflicts of interest in the banking sector, which is already weak. The influence of the Islamic factor is compounded by problems with the demarcation and delimitation of borders in the most problematic areas in the south. There is a growing influence of Russia – the ambiguity of the situation with Kyrgyzstan’s entry into the EEU so far confuses the Kyrgyz elite little. The ghost of the future well-being associated with the alliance with Russia is pushing the political establishment for the actions with unpredictable consequences – such as the denunciation of the Treaty with the United States. The influence of the United States and western countries in general, is slowly but surely getting weaker – and largely, it is the fault of Western countries themselves who do not want to build relations on a stable long-term basis. The economic expansion of China remains high, other major regional players – India and Pakistan -are also raising their head.
In general, experts agree that there are no new external threats to Kyrgyzstan. All of the main factors are well known, and the political development of the country is built taking into account their impact.
Experts believe that despite the difficulties, Kyrgyzstan is taking steps in the right direction. Kyrgyzstan managed to save the light industry, despite the hegemony of China and a giant trade turnover with China. Kyrgyzstan has not only restored the number of cattle which considerably fell in the 1990s, but also to increased it. Experts cite figures: during Soviet times, there was about 8 million head of cattle in Kyrgyzstan, in the 1990s, it has fallen to 2 million. Now this number has reached 12 million – the most objective maximum in the current economic environment. The food industry is booming. In the complete absence of energy resources, Kyrgyzstan maintains political and social stability. Experts believe that the reason for this is the availability of functioning institutions of local self-government.
Republican authorities has shared powers with the local authorities, as there was nothing else to share. As soon as the local authorities have received their budgets, it created a kind of safety bag that protects the state from social upheavals. When the problems are solved at the local level, the protest energy is channeled to the local level and simply does not reach the national authorities. The previous regimes had accumulated in their hands the power and authority, forgetting that they accumulated responsibility, too. Roughly speaking, the situation created a huge gap between the authorities and the population in the country, and the President was responsible for each ripped faucet or leaking roof. This is what has led regimes of Akayev and Bakiyev to collapse. Kyrgyzstan, in contrast to neighboring Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, has no natural rent and cannot afford to have a large and well-equipped repressive apparatus.
Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have political regimes with ultra central, but is absolutely irresponsible power authorities, which partly buy stability at the expense of the money from natural resource rent, partly keeps the situation under control with the help of a powerful repressive apparatus consisting of the police, the Republican Guard, Security Service and other security services.
Kyrgyzstan is building stability on the basis of properly structured administration, and this positively distinguishes it from its neighbors. Of course, not all and not always is running smoothly, there are a lot of problems at the local level, at the level of crime, corruption, cronyism and other complexities. However, the system was laid down correctly, and there is hope that Kyrgyzstan will overcome all the “growth pains”. The elections showed that Kyrgyzstan is interested in a fair process and sees it as a guarantee of its stable future.
Danil Bekturganov, President of PF “The Civil Expertise”