More violence in Bishkek, but Sunday’s elections appear safe
Bishkek (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A few dozen protesters stormed and thrashed the headquarters of the nationalist opposition Ata-Jurt party in Bishkek. However, if it remains circumscribed, such an incident should not threaten parliamentary elections set for this Sunday.
The protesters broke into the party's offices, breaking computers and other equipment, throwing party documents and campaign material out windows and setting them on fire (pictured) after they heard a recording, recently aired by local media, in which the party's leader said he intended to put Kurmanbek Bakiyev back into power after he was ousted back in April by a popular uprising. The party's spokesman however denied the allegations, saying the tape had been edited. He also accused police of standing idly by for hours without intervening.
Experts view the current situation as highly dangerous. The possibility that supporters of the former ruler and the new leadership might come to blows is very real. Nevertheless, unless fresh violence breaks out, Kyrgyzstan's electorate of some 2.8 million should be able to vote. They will still face a hard puzzle, with 29 political parties battling over 120 parliament seats. All voting will be for party lists, not individual candidates.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe is set to deploy hundreds of observers and monitors on Election Day to ensure that everything goes right.
The caretaker government of President Roza Otunbayeva wants to legitimise Bakiyev’s removal from office and its takeover as well as prevent more clashes like those that broke out in the south last June, officially causing the death of more than 400 people and hundreds of thousands of refugees.
There is also great concern that the losers might not accept the outcome of the vote. The danger is that violent protest might break out again in some of the provinces and create de facto independent areas with the backing of Muslim terrorists, some of whom are active in border regions.
Meanwhile, the government has announced that after the election it intends to create Central Asia's first parliamentary democracy, a goal backed by the United States, in which the prime minister will have more power than the president does.
However, confrontation is expected between Omurbek Tekebayev, the architect of the constitutional reforms that made the election possible, and one of his main rivals, Almazbek Atambayev, interim President Roza Otunbayeva's deputy in the immediate aftermath of the April revolt.
Both the United States and Russia have air bases in the country and are closely monitoring the situation.
For Russia, Felix Kulov, once a prime minister under Bakiyev, might be a better candidate. Kulov last month visited Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at his residence near Moscow. Kulov’s party is opposed to US-backed democratic reforms, which, in its view, would only favour partisan interests and extremist groups. Atambayev also travelled to Moscow to meet Russian leaders.
The south remains the great unknown. The region has a large Uzbek population and many Uzbeks blame the government (as well as Russia and the United States) for abandoning them in June when ethnic Kyrgyz went on a rampage. Only Muslim groups came to their aid.
Kyrgyzstan, a nation of 5.3 million people in a resource-rich but conflict-prone Central Asia, has a strategic position in the heart of the region, wedged between Russia, China, Afghanistan and Iran.