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IWPR Kyrgyzstan: We should not flirt but work with the Muslim electorate in Kyrgyzstan

Instead of using the Islamic factor in short-term political interests, it is necessary to have a dialogue with Muslims and prove the effectiveness of a secular form of government, otherwise they would become even more convinced of the need for a theocratic form of government and make a third Islamic revolution, according to experts at a IWPR round table «The role of the Islamic factor in the upcoming parliamentary elections”.
As of today, religion has moved beyond a certain moral and spiritual institution. We can say that religion, including Islam, has become a tool of political games. Various political actors are actively using Islam to achieve their goals, and often, it reinforces the negative trends in the religious sphere. The popularization of radical ideas and views and the substitution of moderate Islam happened on the wave of populism, which, of course, affects the situation in the country.

Theologians, political scientists, representatives of the Presidential Administration, the Muslim community and other experts discussed this important aspect of the forthcoming parliamentary elections at the roundtable, held on April 21, 2015, at the IWPR office in Bishkek. It was organized in the framework of the project “Creating a Culture of Investigative Journalism for Furthering Democratic Reform –
Linking Human Rights Organizations, Government Officials and the Media” funded by the European Union and the Government of Norway.

“At the moment, many political parties have exhausted their ideological and value potential, they all adhere to democratic, social platforms, so the use of Islamic slogans will be relevant. The Muslim community, which is the largest in the country, is more and more of interest as an object of politics of various forces in the country. Actually, it is a ready electorate, for which it is much easier to find the suitable slogans and appeals”, said Abahon Sultonnazarov, the IWPR Regional Director for Central Asia, in his welcoming speech.
Experts believe that political parties will try to win the votes of Muslims through Islamic rhetoric, but it will be negligible.
The more important issue is the low level of trust and skeptical attitude of the so-called Muslim voters to political parties and the government as a whole.
According to Kadyr Malikov, while Kyrgyzstan’s society is in a political and social crisis, ambitious radical religious groups are gaining popularity among the population, and citizens listen to the leaders of these groups, not to politicians.
“There are two questions: whether the Muslims are of interest for politicians and for the government, or we are talking about political Islam, which sees only Islam as a model for development of the state. At today’s elections, there will not be bright manifestations of political Islam, whose basis will be the principles of Islam, but we can already see the facts of using Muslims by secular parties to attract votes”, said Kadyr Malikov, director of the analytical center “Religion, Law and Politics” at the roundtable.
An expert from the Presidential Administration Sanjar Tazhimatov also agreed that the Islamic factor as an ideology will play a minor role in the elections, as few Muslims adjust all aspects of their lives only on the basis of Islamic principles.
“Most people will go to the polls on the basis of their civic identity, regional or tribal, but unlikely on the basis of religion. I think it is too early to say that the people are united around Islam as a political entity. In the future, it is possible, but not now”, said Sanjar Tazhimatov, expert of the Presidential Administration.
The representative of the Presidential Administration added that, in order to keep Islamic principles from becoming too popular among the population and from winning over the principles of secular rule, they created a Concept of religious policy. They are currently engaged in the ideological outreach.
Professor, Doctor of Historical Sciences Zainidin Kurmanov believes that in the next convocation of the Jogorku Kenesh, the number of parliament members who clearly demonstrate their commitment to Islam will increase, and the growing attention of the electorate to Islamic ideas is a response to existing problems under a secular rule.
“This movement is considered as a serious alternative to rampant corruption, poverty, plunder of natural resources, a decline of morals and ethics demonstrated by the secular authorities in many countries, including and the Kyrgyz Republic. However, this slogan is not perfect either. If we see the example of the Muslim countries, with the exception of oil-producing countries, the economic breakthrough was made only by two countries – Turkey (17th place in the world) and Malaysia (30th place)”, said Zainidin Kurmanov.
Roundtable participants agreed that in order to keep ambitious Islamic political ideas from prevailing over the principle of secularism, it is necessary to ensure a balance – to involve Muslims in the political structures and to solve current social and economic problems in the secular plane. Only a skilful approach by the government and policymakers can ensure a comfortable coexistence of all religious groups, but the basic rules of the game should be regulated according to secular principles.