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‘With the Support of the Lord': On the Campaign Trail in Ex-Soviet Central Asia's Only Democracy

In Kyrgyzstan's 2010 election the Green Party came up with the slogan 'Against All', which is also a category on the ballot for voters who do not favour any of the parties. This year, no-one has tried the same trick, but there has been plenty of other tomfoolery at work. Photo taken from Mylesgsmith.com and used with permission.

In Kyrgyzstan's 2010 election the Green Party came up with the slogan ‘Against All’, which is also a category on the ballot for voters who do not favour any of the parties. This year, no-one has tried the same trick, but there has been plenty of other tomfoolery at work. Photo taken from Mylesgsmith.com and used with permission.

As an October 4 parliamentary election approaches in Kyrgyzstan, political parties are going to extreme lengths to win the hearts and minds of voters accustomed to being forgotten once the ballot is over.

A total of 14 parties will compete for the parliament in an impoverished country of nearly six million people surrounded by landlocked dictatorships.

Unlike votes in neighbouring Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, where three men have ruled for over two decades each, there will be no 90 per cent plus turnouts and unopposed landslides.

Due to the constrictions of its mixed parliamentary-presidential constitution, the maximum number of seats any party can win in Kyrgyzstan's 120-member Jogorku Kenesh (national parliament) is 65.

Even if one party takes that many, there will still be 55 up for grabs. For that reason parties are using all the space available to them for political campaigning.

[In the picture: The Ata-Meken party uses the rump of a cow to big up its brand] Translation: Political campaigning a-la Kyrgyz.

Parties that have been particularly active in campaign season include Ata-Meken, The Social Democratic Party (SDPK), Onuguu-Progress, Respublika-Ata-Jurt, Butun Kyrgyzstan-Emgek and Bir Bol.

The race favourite is the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, effectively led by President Almazbek Atambayev. SDPK is the only Kyrgyz party that has been represented in all five ruling coalitions since the last elections in 2010.

But while SDPK will be able to call on ‘administrative resources’ to ensure votes go their way, many point to the fact that little has changed in the country in the five years they have controlled key positions in government.

The below image spread quickly through the Kyrgyz internet. Although the man pictured in the image could be a homeless person, a drunk, or just a man sleeping on a warm autumn day in the republic, many have speculated he is an employee of a rival party aiming to make SDPK look bad.

[In the image: a man unconscious on a bench in front of an SPDK campaign ad reading SDPK – Your Tower of Strength!] Translation: SDPK our tower of strength!

Another popular party practice during this campaign has been free concerts for citizens. In the first half of the event, party politicos stand and make promises, while in the second famous Kyrgyz pop singers take over and entertain the people.

Many have argued that the songs help the parties by making the audience forget the promises that have just been made. According to the NGO Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, over a hundred free concerts were held in the first two weeks of the campaign that began on September 4.

With parties short of genuine policies, base populism has been the order of the day.  One party led by rebels from a faction in the current parliament decided to name itself after the country.

The slogan of ‘Kyrgyzstan’  is ‘Others Promise, We Do!’, but the motto was trolled on social networks as ‘Others Promise, We Promise Even More!’

A more minor party meanwhile, Great Kyrgyzstan, has been attempting to capitalise on the growing popularity of Islam in the majority-Muslim country, using the winning slogan ‘With the Support of the Lord’.

[In the Picture: Candidates hold their hands in the prayer position in a PR article featuring slogans ‘With the Support of the Lord’, ‘Don’t Sell Your Vote, Think, My People!’, ‘Our Strength is in People’s Belief’] Translation: This recent campaign ad almost killed me.

Many members of the public have expressed concerns about the expense and waste of a campaign in a country where the average wage is just over $200 per month, and few expect the politicians to stay true to their pledges once inside the legislature.

General disaffection towards the political class driving the campaign has even spawned a mini-meme where tweeps invent the electoral promises of a fictional “Idiots of Kyrgyzstan” Party:

“Idiots of Kyrgyzstan” Party: No matter who you vote for, we'll end up in power anyway.

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