” People have become less naive and more rational in their dealings with political parties. The only problem that voters cannot solve is that they have to choose from what is there, if there is not any political party which could be fully trusted in. This election will most likely be held under that unofficial slogan”, said analyst Tamerlan Ibraimov, director of the Center for Political and Legal Studies (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan), in an article written exclusively for CABAR.asia.
It has long been known that the elections in Kyrgyzstan are not a battle of ideas and programs to improve the lives of people, but a clash of personalities, their ambitions, and administrative and financial opportunities. Unfortunately, the upcoming parliamentary election in October is unlikely to become an exception.
Yes, there is political pluralism in Kyrgyzstan. It exists even despite a certain pressure on politicians and their supporters who openly criticize the government. It is enough to look at the colorful palette of lists of political parties to make sure that they included various representatives: the followers of the ruling authorities seeking to get closer to power; those openly and vehemently criticizing the authorities, and those who are indifferent to the government and the opposition but want to get into the parliament, thinking only of their purely mercantile interests.
However, political freedom in Kyrgyzstan has not yet resulted in a well-structured political field of fundamental ideological questions. Moreover, the political freedom won as a result of the two revolutions (or upheavals) has not yet led to the emergence of a new generation of politicians who differently understand the extent of their responsibility to society compared to previous ones. The same people play major parts on the political arena, and so far, they do not express any desire to leave for political retirement.
In order to verify the validity of the above, it is necessary to look at the programs of political parties and – most importantly – at the content of party lists submitted to the CEC for participation in elections.
Let’s look at the key messages which the parties use on the eve of the election. Seven parties who have the best chances to get into the new parliament are the Social Democratic Party, “Ata-Meken”, “Respublika-AtaJurt”, “Kyrgyzstan”, “Bir bol”, ” Butun Kyrgyzstan-Emgek” and “Onuguu”. There are, of course, “Zamandash”, “Ar-Namys”, “Azattyk”, “Meken Yntymagy” and other parties, but their chances of getting into parliament look bleak. And it’s not because of their programs or even odious nature of some politicians in their ranks. Odious politicians are in the ranks of all parties. Elections are won by those who works in the field, in each region, who have their own representatives and activists able to convince people, to collect their votes and strongly resist the competitors. The first seven parties have clearly more such opportunities than the others.
Now about the messages of the parties. The main message, which the President Atambayev has repeatedly placed emphasis on, is that the SDPK party will bring a new generation of political elites to the parliament. Let’s take a look at the party list of this party. We do not see any new political elite there. There are old politicians, the potential of whom has long been known. There are also names of some unknown people. The old political “guard” cannot be called new, because this will clearly develop a cognitive dissonance. At the same time, the unknown people can hardly be called “elites”, because they still need to grow in political sense. Maybe, the idea is that either the old people will show their new face, or the unknown people will suddenly manifest themselves. Hopefully…
Another important message of the party in power is the stability and development, the impetus to which was given by the President Atambaev himself and his party supporters. It’s hard to argue with the fact that after 2010, we live in a period of relative stability. At the very least, there have not been any significant social unrest and cataclysm. However, if this was the real basis for the development is an issue extremely often debated in society. Yes, there was development of individual politicians, or rather their social and financial capital, but was there the development of the society?
Some politicians and supporters of the Social Democratic Party, and they are many, will certainly defend the reached status quo in the politics during the elections. Votes of state employees, pensioners and ethnic minorities will most likely be given to the party in power. In addition, the Social Democratic Party, as a party of one leader, can still rely on the charisma and courage of Atambayev, who at different times has been almost the only asset of this political organization. In other words, the Social Democrats have a good chance to get the largest number of seats in the new parliament. But will it be the beginning of a new policy? There are not many reasons to hope for it.
The main opposition party is the party of “Ata Meken“. The irony is that “Ata Meken” has consistently been part of the parliamentary majority coalition together with the Social Democrats during recent years. However O.Tekebaev, the sole leader of the party, has managed to acquire the image of an opposition politician. This again suggests that in Kyrgyz politics, personal relationships and ambitions of politicians are more important than formal statements and political platforms. In terms of key messages, “Ata Meken” is no less, and perhaps more controversial party than the Social Democratic Party.
Trying to gain the sympathy with voters, Tekebayev is constantly using the slogans of the extreme left character, for example, his proposal to nationalize Kumtor or legalize squatters’ land. What is it: populism or true beliefs of the main socialist in the country? If we look at the program of “Ata Meken”, it is full of such phrases as “social state”, “we are for the market economy, but against the market society”, “private property should be put under the political control of the government”. Such things should not be read during the night, otherwise you risk to see how the specter of communism once again is spreading its hands over the country. If, however, you read it in the morning over a cup of bourgeois coffee and look at the personal composition of the Party, you will see the name of Joomart Otorbayev whose reputation does not fit with the radical socialism, because he is liberal.
There is a well-known aphorism that the severity of our laws is compensated by the non-compliance. With regard to the party programs, it can be paraphrased as follows: radical nature of party programs is compensated by the formal attitude towards them by the party members themselves. The decisive factor for the “Ata Meken”, as well as for the Social Democrats, will be not the party program, but the fact how and what tools the party representatives will use in the field. And probably, in case of “Ata Meken”, such formal attitude is even for the better.
The party “Ata Meken” united blatant socialists, desperate liberals, absolute nationalists, notorious bureaucrats and sworn fighters against corruption. And yet they somehow coexist in one pot, as their desire for power is too strong. “Ata Meken” has all the chances to get back to the Parliament, and the creativity of Tekebayev will contribute to it.
The party “Respublika-AtaJurt” is a typical example of the quirkiness of party alliances. Two politicians, who yesterday harshly criticized each other, today joined together in an undying quest to make life in Kyrgyzstan better. The logic is clear: north and south begin to unite. By the way, all the other parties have also shown this logic. The parties do not have any new trends. The main message was the timeworn idea of another constitutional reform. One can read the phrase “The constitution that would change Kyrgyzstan” on many posters of this party. From informed sources, it became known that the party has even two drafts of Constitution, i.e even O. Babanov himself who conceived the constitutional reform does not know which one is going to change our Kyrgyzstan. Of the strengths of this party, we should note the undoubted organizational talent of Babanov, who at the right moment can mobilize people, as well as relatively good representation of the party in all regions of the country.
Parties of “Kyrgyzstan” and “Bir Bol” are largely similar to each other. Both have appeared recently, both are focused on the financial opportunities of major businessmen, and the lists of both have many names of former public officials. Another unifying factor is that people who are now at the head of the power pyramid in the republic participated in drawing the party lists of both parties. Some sharp-tongued experts call them clone-parties of SDPK. In fairness, it should be noted that not only these parties are called clones. The parties of “Zamandash”, “Butun Kyrgyzstan-Emgek” and “Respublika- AtaJurt”, according to many, also received a start in life with the approval of the top country leadership, and their lists were also formed under the control from the top. However, it does not matter. Even if it is true that these projects came from the White House, there is nothing to guarantee that within a short time, these parties will not start coming out from under the control of the authorities. We’ve already seen this, and it will happen again and again.
As for the programs of “Kyrgyzstan” and “Bir bol”, they have a bright shell, which, on the idea of spin doctors, must attract the attention of voters. “Leap of snow leopard”, according to “Bir Bol”, should lead our country to a new stage of economic and political reforms. “Seven Steps”, which will help to build “100 mills”, according to “Kyrgyzstan”, will change the face of the republic beyond recognition. Do the citizens believe that? We must ask them. For some reason, it seems to me that even the members of these parties themselves do not know their programs well, and especially do not believe in the feasibility of the stated goals. The strengths of these two parties are the existence of serious financial resources and a relatively good representation in all regions of the country. But they play on the same field and will obviously interfere with each other’s activities.
The party “Butun Kyrgyzstan-Emgek” is also the result of the union of the South and the North. In terms of articulation of their ideological priorities, even formally, it seriously fails. The commitment to neo-conservatism, repeatedly stated by the party leaders, convey nothing to voters.
The two leaders of the party are well known to the electorate, and that is their advantage. But they clearly lack activity, ideas and creativity. The impression is that this is a party of lazy politicians who hope for a miracle and rely on their checked electorate. With these sentiments and uncomplicated labor schedule, it will be difficult for this party to get into the Parliament, although this party is still in the group of favorites, because the electorate of A.Madumarov and financial resources of A.Salymbekov still can produce small miracles.
The party “Onuguu-progress” is a pronounced example of a regional party that has good positions in the Jalalabad region. For some reasons, it has not entered into an alliance with other political entities, which could significantly strengthen its chances. Nevertheless, even in this form, this party looks good among the leaders of the pre-election race. Of course, there are fewer chances to get into the parliament in comparison with the above parties, but still it is possible. “Onuguu” focuses on its practical projects in agriculture – the creation of MTS and leasing. In recent months, the project “Shining City” has also became know to the public. As a result of this project, a number of urban households received more lighting over the entrances. We will soon find out if voters value these efforts. Something tells me that bringing light into the lives of citizens is not enough to get to the Parliament. To win the election, parties need other components, too, such as a broad representation of the party and the presence of influential supporters across the country, which the party “Onuguu” still obviously lacks.
The remaining seven parties that will participate in the elections, of course, also have a chance to get seats in the Parliament, but this chance seems to me purely hypothetical. The collection of financial, administrative, organizational and human resources of these parties is unlikely to allow them to overcome the 7-percent barrier in elections. By the way, Felix Kulov, leader of Ar-Namys, was one of those who fought for making this electoral barrier even higher. Perhaps, as it has happened before with politicians who reformed the electoral legislation, this change will boomerang against them.
The consciousness of the electorate
With regard to the consciousness of the electorate, it is difficult to say whether it has changed or not. If we follow the principle “Demand breeds supply”, no significant change took place in the past five years. We sill have regionalism, clan and territorial markers, relying on local respected people, including criminals, as well as dependence on the electoral purse. The main leitmotif of party organizations at this election is not the ideological similarity of party programs, but the North-South cooperation scheme.
On October 4, people will still vote using the old principle – voting for “their” candidates (on the territorial, tribal or ethnic basis, or on the basis of possible profitability in terms of career development, or the protection of business), or for those recommended by relatives and authorities, or for those who seem to be less evil than others. The ideology of the parties will play a less significant role than all of the above factors.
However, it is well known that you can never enter the same river twice. Even against the background of widespread distrust of voters on policy promises of parties and their leaders, the growth in requirements with regard to political organizations is quite noticeable today. People have become less naive and more rational in their dealings with political parties. The only problem which voters cannot solve is that they have to choose from what is there, if there is not any political party which could be fully trusted. This election will most likely be held under that unofficial slogan.
In conclusion, it should be noted that despite the fact that the lists of all parties have the names of former officials with tarnished reputation, representatives of the criminal world, odious politicians and the current MPs who do not know how to do anything, the party lists also have a number of new people who may start working honestly and at a good professional level.
These people were included in the lists of many parties not based on their ideological commitment, but on some randomly determined principle. It looks as if someone from above threw a pinch of people who are willing and able to work for the benefit of society into the “soup” made of bankrupt politicians. The only hope of society is for them to change something in the country, not for political parties. If the new parliament has the necessary number of such people, they would be able to make the parties in the parliament work in a new way.
Tamerlan Ibraimov, director of the Center for Political and Legal Studies
The views of the author may not necessarily represent those of Cabar.asia