Kyrgyzstan: Cast your votes!

The October 10 parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan are likely to be the freest and fairest in the country's young history. As such, they offer a perfect opportunity to test the impact of the Internet on public life in the country.

Website [eng] ran a brief feature on a new initiative set up by Milieukontakt International [eng], website, which offers visitors ‘easy-to-use tools to compare political parties’ promises before Kyrgyzstan’s October 10 parliamentary polls.’

Whether or not the website, translated into Russian, Kyrgyz, Uzbek and English, has come into being too close to the vote in order to make an impact on proceedings is unclear. Nevertheless, Kloop blogger Sato showed enthusiasm for the project in a short post on October 6.

“29 parties fighting for [120] seats in parliament. The devil himself breaks a leg trying to find out Who? What? Recently the site “Choose”[has appeared], which, I believe, provides a simple way around voting in batches.”

As to the predictive powers of the online polls in the country, much doubt has already surfaced. But one of the largest, taken by news agency AkiPress [ru] will surely provide an interesting indication as to whether small-scale internet usage (7,803 voted in total) can produce samples representative of  nationwide trends.

In that poll, Omurbek Tekebayev's [eng] party Ata Meken come out on top with 27 seats, followed by Ata Jurt (20) Ar Namys (17) and Ak-Shumkar (17). Certainly, the poll is unable to relate to some of the finer details [eng] that will determine the outcome of the vote. For instance, if any one party is to pass into the parliament, they must first receive a 0.5% minimum share of the vote in every region.

That may be a problem for Ata Jurt [ru](Fatherland). Hugely popular in the South of the country, they face the very real possibility of receiving less than that share in the northern region of Talas. That worry has been compounded by an attack on the party's Bishkek HQ on October 6, which Kyrgyzstani citizen media portal [ru] captured on video.

The attack, seemingly carried out by relatives of those who died on the capital's central square on April 7, came less than 24 hours after a video [kyr] surfaced on youtube appearing to show party leader Kamchybek Tashiev promising a crowd in Kyrgyzstan's Batken oblast that their party would return former president Kurmanbek Bakiev to office.

In an interview with [ru], linked on their party website, Tashiev assured voters the video was a fake: “We have an expert opinion that the video is mounted. I cannot even say right now exactly where it was shot. We spent 20 days in 190 meetings and never filmed them ourselves.”

Apparent poll leader Tekebayev has also suffered in what has proven to be a viscious smear campaign between the parties. According to RFE/RL's Bruce Pannier [eng], a repost of an old video has emerged showing Tekebayev asphixiating an unknown female with a belt whilst mock campaign slogans such as “I'll give you democracy” appear in subtitle form.

Pannier notes that few have paid attention to the smear, something an anonymous comment immediately after the article attributes to the fact that “most people in Kyrgyzstan can't afford to use broadband internet.” But it is getting harder to access this kind of video online in Kyrgyzstan at any rate. According to [eng], the Ministry of Culture and Information has written a strongly worded letter to ISPs in the country, encouraging them to block sites displaying “erotic content.”

In a typically offbeat approach to Kyrgyzstan's big day, Bishkek-based English language magazine The Spektator has contributed “Nevermind the Ballotts”, a no holds-barred ‘style guide’ to the October 10 elections (pp16-19 of scribd). The mischievious publication had the following to say about the man who could potentially be Kyrgyzstan's next Prime Minister:

‘(Alleged) sex, (planted) drugs and an appreciation of the sounds of the komuz[traditional Kyrgyz musical instrument] - O.T [Omurbek Tekebayev] has a bad boy appeal that certainly registers with the ‘zhigits’ [young males] prone to looting supermarkets and smashing up restaurants every five years. Still, if Tekebayev wants to wind up on top of this vote, he might want to play down his wilder side. I’m going to advise a discrete three-piece and a red tie – his party’s colour – for what might just be a golden day in autumn for Ata-Meken.’

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