Despite the dreary rain signaling the end of the summer in the Chui Valley, the people of Kyrgyzstan are anxious and hopeful this week. The reason for so much worry and excitement is that on Sunday October 10, a new parliament will be elected. As the winners of the race will comprise the first new government after the April revolution, the stakes feel exceptionally high. In a referendum this summer championed by acting president Roza Otunbaeva, Kyrgyz voters approved changes to the constitution that would move the bulk of power away from the executive branch and into the hands of parliament. The idea behind the changes was to prevent abuse of power by the president and his or her family, of the kind that was endemic to the regimes of both former heads of state, Akaev and Bakiev.
In the democratic fervor that has characterized the revolution, a wide variety of parties are taking part in this year’s elections. In fact 29 parties registered according to Kyrgyz law, and all will appear on Sunday’s ballot. As Mirajidin Arynov points out on neweurasia, most parties in Kyrgyzstan rely on selling the public their main candidates rather than developing a comprehensive ideological platform. From some of the rallies I attended, I can attest that many of the promises that politicians put forth are unrealistic and populist. In a both absurd and telling gesture, the slogan for the Green Party is simply “Against all!”
For the election day, I will be with a photo journalist friend in Osh, the southern city that was wracked by ethnopolitical violence in June. We are hoping that everything surrounding the election will go smoothly, but if there are any irregularities it is important that scholars and journalists are present to document what takes place. In addition, the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights is sending over 200 election observers across the country to monitor what happens in polling stations and at ballot counting centers. Their report on the freedom and fairness of the election should be released roughly 24 hours after polling stations close. I participated in their election observation mission in Tajikistan earlier this year, and believe they have tested and objective methodologies for observation and monitoring of election activities.