10/01/2015, 00.00
KYRGYZSTAN
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Kyrgyz elections: despite politicians wooing Christian voters, “friendship” might not survive the poll

by Sergei Colubr
As Kyrgyz prepare to cast their ballots this Sunday, candidates visit parishes and churches for support, as the country’s deputy prime minister did last Sunday, when he visited Bishkek’s Catholic church. Since religious communities must register, the country’s only three Catholic parishes might be de-registered because of new rules. Violent episodes have marked the current campaign.

Bishkek (AsiaNews) – Some 2.7 million Kyrgyzstanis go to the polls next Sunday to choose a new parliament. Despite widespread voter fatigue in the Central Asian nation, the election remains crucial.

Although a predominantly Muslim nation, many candidates are wooing Christians for their support, visiting local communities, including Protestant and Catholic parishes.

In a gesture welcomed by Catholics, Deputy Prime Minister Valery Dil visited Bishkek’s Catholic church last Sunday.

Still Christian leaders fear that such a show of “friendship” by political leaders might not outlast the election or bring any improvements. The main bone of contention remains the obligation to register religious groups with the authorities.

For Catholics, this is a major issue. The country has three Catholic parishes: in the capital Bishkek, Talas and Jalal-Abad. Like all religious groups, Catholic communities have had to register with the authorities to be allowed to operate.

Until now, this required submitting the names and signatures of 200 people in any given province.  At present, all three Catholic parishes might not be able to renew their permit if parliament adopts proposed new regulations requiring 500 signatures.

Religious buildings are another major issue. In a country that is 88 per cent Muslim, getting a permit to build a mosque is easy. The same cannot be said for other faiths. In fact, the Catholic parish in Talas has been waiting for the past three years to get the go-ahead to build its church.

After almost 25 years of independence, Kyrgyzstan is trying to conduct democratic elections, but it is very far away from a culture of dialogue.

One case in point came last Saturday when Kamchybeck Tashiev, a former police general and minister of Emergencies who heads the Ata-Zhurt and Respublica Party, severely beat up a political opponent. As a result, he is no longer running. In the 2011 presidential election, he came in third.

Despite such incidents, most Kyrgyz still hope in a peaceful future, mindful of their country’s recent violence. In 2010, the regular army and Uzbek protesters clashed in Osh and Jalal-Abad with 400 people dead, 2,000 wounded and 400,000 people, mostly Uzbeks, displaced.

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