Bakiyev win in Kyrgyzstan a victory for continuity if not democracy

By bne IntelliNews August 6, 2009

Clare Nuttall in Almaty -

Kyrgyzstan's July 23 presidential elections resulted in a decisive victory for sitting President Kurmenbek Bakiyev. While the OSCE has criticised the election process, Bakiyev's peaceful return to power has been welcomed by businesses and international investors as a sign of continuity, though not by democracy advocates.

According to the final data from Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission, Bakiyev won 76.4% of the vote, with his closest rival, Almazbek Atambayev, taking just 8.4% of votes cast. The CEC also announced that the elections were in line with the law and that at 79.1% of the electorate, turnout was well above the required threshold.

Kyrgyzstan's opposition leaders have slammed the polls as illegitimate. Atambayev, the main opposition candidate, suddenly withdrew his candidacy halfway through election day and urged his supporters to rally in protest against violations in the electoral process. "We will not recognize the results of the recent elections, which we consider to be illegitimate because of a large number of violations," he said. "The opposition believes that Kyrgyzstan no longer has a legitimate leadership and a legitimate president." Atambayev's staff told journalists that groups of voters had been bussed from one polling station to another to cast multiple votes, and that voters in the regions had been intimidated.

Good, but not fine

While both the election commission and representatives of the Commonwealth of Independent States observer team said there had been no serious violations, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had some criticisms. In a statement issued the day after the election, the OSCE said that Bakiyev had gained an unfair advantage over his opponents, through the use of administrative resources and bias in the media coverage, which prevented the electorate from making an informed choice. It also confirmed opposition complaints of obstruction of campaign events and pressure and intimidation of opposition supporters in the run up to the vote.

Election day was marred by many problems and irregularities, including ballot box stuffing, inaccuracies in the voter lists, and multiple voting. The process further deteriorated during the vote count and the tabulation of results, with observers evaluating this part of the process negatively in more than half of observations, the OSCE's report said. "Sadly, this election did not show the progress we were hoping for and it again fell short of key standards Kyrgyzstan has committed to as a participating State of the OSCE. The conduct of election day was a disappointment," said Radmila Sekerinska, the head of the election observation mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), in a statement.

However, the fact remains that Atambayev and the other opposition candidates largely failed to mobilise mass popular support either at the polls or on the streets. The day after the elections, observers in Bishkek described the situation in the city as calm. "Its nothing like the day after the 2005 presidential elections, when it was extremely tense," one told bne.

Eight months before, in the run-up to the October 2008 local elections, the mood was very different. Electricity and hot water blackouts, combined with fears that the crisis was about to deepen, had increased popular discontent with Bakiyev's rule. It was feared at the time that a victory for the pro-presidential Ak Zhol party could spark violent protests similar to those in the March 2005 Tulip Revolution.

Those fears never materialised. Kyrgyzstan's economy has continued to grow, and Bakiyev ran his re-election campaign mainly on an economic platform, highlighting the fact that it was one of the few countries in the region to achieve positive GDP growth in the first half of this year, albeit a modest 0.3%. Bakiyev also managed to raise a $2bn loan from Russia and a further $150m in non-repayable aid, as well as securing new financial commitments from Washington after the US was allowed to retain use of the Manas airbase.

Robert Genkin, managing director of Bishkek-based MGN Capital, says that the impact of the international crisis on the country has been smaller than expected. "Kyrgyzstan has experienced a spillover from the decrease in trade with Russia and Kazakhstan. However, at more than $1bn, remittances still account for a significant percentage of GDP and this has this has decreased only moderately. The banking sector is less integrated into the world economy than, for example, Kazakhstan's and has proved to be quite resilient, which is encouraging."

He believes that the outcome of the election is a positive thing for the country. "The outcome is good for a number of reasons. Firstly because it is a sign of continuity - even two years ago, there was uncertainty and a fear of further changes and instability. The government is also improving the climate for business and investment; FDI almost tripled in 2008, close to $600m."

Kyrgyzstan has climbed the World Bank's "Ease of Doing Business" index to 68th place in 2008, and is aiming to enter the top 20. The country has also managed to attract a diversified base of investors from countries including Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Kuwait, who according to Genkin, are interested in a wide variety of projects across a broad sector range including agriculture, light industry, energy, transport, among others in Kyrgyzstan. "Although this has slowed in 2009, compared to other countries such as Kazakhstan the trend is quite positive."

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