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Elections in Kyrgyzstan Inconclusive

Most Legislative Races Forced Into Runoffs; Monitors Fault Atmosphere

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, March 1, 2005; Page A10

MOSCOW, Feb. 28 -- More than half of the races for seats in Kyrgyzstan's parliament were forced into a second round of voting when candidates failed to win absolute majorities in elections Sunday, according to preliminary results released Monday in the capital, Bishkek. That leaves the Central Asian republic to face another period of high political tension around the March 13 runoffs.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Monday that the vote "fell short" of international standards for democratic elections, citing an uneasy atmosphere heightened by government attempts to label the opposition as extremists and raise the specter of civil war.

A Kyrgyz man tussles with a government supporter during an opposition rally in the capital a day after the country's parliamentary elections. (Ivan Sekretarev -- AP)

"These elections were more competitive than previous ones, but sadly this was undermined by vote-buying, deregistration of candidates, interference with media and a worryingly low confidence in judicial and electoral institutions on the part of voters and candidates," said Kimmo Kiljunen, who oversaw the organization's 200 short-term election monitors.

The 55-nation OSCE also criticized Sunday's parliamentary elections in neighboring Tajikistan, saying they "failed to meet" international standards.

"The overall process was a disappointment," Peter Eicher, head of the election observation mission, said in Tajikistan Monday. "We had great hopes for the election because of improvements in the legal framework and the participation of six parties and many candidates. Regrettably, however, there was too much official control over the political campaign, too many government officials directing election commissions and a pattern of government interference with the independent press.

"Although a great many election officials worked hard and did their jobs well," he added, "election day procedures in a disturbingly high number of areas were not conducted honestly."

Meanwhile, following the routine of election monitoring in this part of the world, teams of observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a grouping of post-Soviet states that includes Russia, said there were no serious violations during the voting in either Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan.

"CIS election observers believe the parliamentary elections in Tajikistan complied with national election laws and have declared the elections legal, free and transparent," Vladimir Rushailo, executive secretary of the CIS and a former Russian interior minister under President Vladimir Putin, said at a news conference in the capital, Dushanbe. CIS observers in Bishkek made a similar statement.

The parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan are regarded as a key indicator of the country's political mood, and of the government's willingness to tolerate a growing opposition before the presidential election in October.

President Askar Akayev, who has been in power since 1990, is prevented by the constitution from running again. "I have not had, and do not have, intentions to change the constitution," Akayev said after voting Sunday.

But some in the opposition say they fear that with a two-thirds majority in parliament the president could amend the constitution or push through a national referendum allowing him to run again. Alternatively, he could reduce the considerable powers of the presidency and transfer them to parliament, where family members and close associates have won seats or are seeking election.

Nearly 400 candidates, including Akayev's son and daughter and his wife's two sisters, ran Sunday in 75 single-seat constituencies. More than 40 seats remain to be decided in the second round. Akayev's son won easily in the first round in his father's home constituency, but the president's daughter, Bermet Akayeva, who is seen as a possible successor, was forced into a second round when she failed to draw more than 50 percent.

A leading opposition figure, Roza Otunbaeva, a former ambassador to the United States, was prevented from running in Akayeva's district because she had not resided in the country for the last five years.

In one district, where protesters had blocked a key highway after a candidate was thrown off the ballot, 66 percent of voters cast their ballots against all candidates, necessitating a new election.

The harassment of opposition figures and the independent print press during the campaign led to speculation that a flawed vote might trigger a popular revolt along the lines of the recent Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Akayev has accused foreigners of fomenting a revolutionary atmosphere.

On Sunday, the Foreign Ministry criticized U.S. Ambassador Stephen M. Young for his statement in a recent newspaper interview that U.S.-Kyrgyzstan relations could be affected by any complication in the country's democratic development. The ministry called the comments an "attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of the country."

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